Updated: Apr 28
When you watch HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” do you marvel at all the history and charm of older homes that come through in the end? Or do you wonder why anyone would go to such trouble when they could just buy new?
Your reaction could tell you a lot about what kind of home buyer you are. But what it doesn’t tell you is whether that impulse will translate into a good financial decision. There are many factors to consider when buying a home, but few are as important as the age of the house you choose.
Today, we’re going to discuss which is the better buy: an old or a new home. First, let’s start with the basics.
What is Considered a New Home?
In general, “new” is a relative term. A teenager’s “new car” may be a family hand-me-down. A person’s “new iPhone” could be unused, but still be several generations old. For our purposes in real estate, a “new home” is a newly completed construction that has not yet had any inhabitants. It’s shiny and fresh, and it’s ready for its first buyer to start building its history. On the flip side, we’re calling “existing” or resale houses old homes.
Which do Buyers Prefer: New or Old Homes?
You may already know which type of home you prefer. But are you in the majority?
A 2018 study by the NAHB Economics and Housing Policy Group examines buyer preferences across generations. In general, Millennials (born 1980–1996) have shown a clear, upwardly trending preference for a new home offered from a builder, and they finished significantly higher than other generations at the time of this study. On the other hand, older, experienced buyers are significantly more likely to want a custom home built on an owned lot.
However, when it comes to buying existing homes, there is no significant change in preference across generations. According to this report:
While this indicates shifting preferences for Millennials, it is still important to realize that the market for housing is heavily tilted towards existing homes, which is almost five times bigger than the market for new homes, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Association of Realtors.
Which is the Better Buy: New or Old Homes?
Depending on your needs and preferences, there are just as many reasons to choose an old home as a new home. Here are a few key points to consider, and how the age of your home could impact each one.
Affordability and Size
As the cost of construction has increased, so have the cost of new homes. Brand new homes will usually cost more and be placed on smaller lots, closer to neighbors. However, while they may be more affordable up front, older homes often need a little TLC. Depending on the scope of updates needed, from fixtures and plumbing to roofs and siding, older homes could end up costing more in the long run. However, older homes tend to be on larger lots and offer more privacy. So if outdoor entertaining is a priority, an older home may be the way to go.
Home Care and Maintenance
With new construction, all of the primary work is done for you. When you move in, you don’t have to lift a finger, a paint brush, or a hammer if you don’t want to. What’s more, you shouldn’t need to anticipate any major repairs or upgrades for some time. With new appliances, plumbing, heating, and air, you should be able to live worry-free for at least a few years. And since the new home was built with the latest building plans, designs, and materials, you can be sure their systems already meet today’s codes and standards. A builder’s warranty would offer even more protection.
On the other hand, did you know that 25% of new homes will suffer some type of structural distress? Older homes have weathered a fair number of storms already and have proven their worth. If you’re handy around the house and enjoy a good DIY project, it could be worth it to you to buy an older house with a proven foundation and renovate room by room to your own standards. If you have the space and the time, transforming an older home into your private haven could be a major attraction.
The Other Costs of the Home
As we’ve written before, there’s more to the cost of the home than the purchase price. While you live in the home, you need to consider property taxes, lawn care, maintenance, security, energy use, and utilities. New construction homes are usually more energy efficient, and that means potentially lower utility bills. They are rated higher for insulation and could incorporate renewable sources of clean energy, like solar. This additional tech could save you thousands over the course of your years in the home. New-construction homes are also often equipped with the latest technology, from high-speed wired internet to digital thermostats.
Home Design and Character
New homes come with the design features in demand by today’s lifestyle. Often, open floor plans, walk-in closets, eat-in kitchens, laundry rooms, linen closets, and large master suites with spacious bathrooms are standard features. Many existing homes built between the 1920s and the 1990s often lack at least one of those features as part of their original design.
However, depending upon the decade of construction, new homes usually have less architectural detail and charm than many older homes. New homes are also less likely to have mature landscaping, and a lack of tree cover can drive up energy costs in the summer. But don’t forget, if you buy your new home before construction is complete, you can often upgrade to choose the fixtures and features you want. Even better, any additional upgrades can be included in your original purchase price, which means you can finance them instead of paying out of pocket after you move in.
Neighborhood and Community Amenities
Are you looking for a quaint, tree-lined neighborhood with mature landscaping? If so, you’ll have to wait for the patina to occur naturally in a new home. Do you have a specific neighborhood in mind? Older neighborhoods are more likely to be near city centers or active community corridors. Newer neighborhoods tend to be farther away from schools, shopping centers, and grocery stores. That could add significant time to your daily commute.
On the other hand, many new construction neighborhoods come with added amenities baked in, like community green space and swimming pools. However, neighbors may be less invested in the area. And HOA regulations could make it more difficult to make some of the exterior updates that you want.
All real estate is local. In order to make confident real estate decisions, we believe it is important for you to have timely and neighborhood-specific information. If you would like more information about buying a home in NC, our experts at EXP Realty are here to help. Contact us today to speak with a EXP agent about buying homes or land in North Carolina.