It’s not ‘new news’ that the real estate market has picked up in many parts of the country. Though lots of buyers are out shopping, inventory is still low. Nobody can predict when that situation will improve, of course. But large national home builders, as well as small local ones, are buying up land, getting plans drawn up, and starting construction on new homes.
But is a new-construction home the right path for you? Here are five things you should keep in mind.
1. New homes may not be listed in your local MLS.
Unlike a regular seller who lists their home with a local real estate agent, homebuilders often have their own employees working for them on site. They do this to have more control and to cut costs.
What does this mean for you, a buyer? Mostly, it may mean the home builder isn’t a member of the local MLS. As a result, the homes may not show up in your agent’s MLS search. The builder may be more apt to advertise online, in the paper or with billboards. So if you’re interested in newly built homes, work with your agent to make sure you’ve identified all the possibilities. (Note: Zillow has listings for new construction homes. Just choose “New Homes” in the search filter.)
2. New homes are often sold before they’re built.
A builder will generally get financing lined up and map out both a construction and a sales process. This means they’ll try to sell as many homes as possible, before they’re even built. To accomplish this, they’ll build out model homes and allow buyers to go in and review floor plans, fixtures and finishes while the homes are under construction. Depending on the state, builders need to get through some of the approvals process before they can actually start signing contracts.
For the most part, you can get a sense of what your new home would look and feel like and where it will be located in the community. Ready to move forward? You’ll likely have to put down a deposit, from a few thousand dollars to 10 percent of the purchase price.
Be aware that even if there are 100 homes in the community, they won’t all be available at once. Home builders tend to release the homes in phases. If the first 10 homes sell quickly at the asking price, and the market continues to do well, the builder can raise the prices on the second or third phase. Also, the sales cycle for a new community can take years. The last phase could end up being priced 10 percent or more than phase one, simply because the real estate market has appreciated.
3. The first buyers may get the best discounts.
A home builder, especially early in the sales process, wants to get a few homes under contract quickly. If the builder can announce they have 10 homes under contract in a few weeks, the project can seem more desirable to future buyers.
Also, builders like to go back to their lenders with positive news about the project and their investment. To do this, they need early buyers to sign contracts.
For buyers, this means there could be room to negotiate the price down early in the sales process. But with the reward, there is potential risk. By being an early buyer, you’re committed to the project. If for some reason sales don’t manifest or you don’t want to move ahead before the home is built, you risk losing your down payment. For example, right after the housing downtown, some buyers were stuck under contract on new homes where sales had stalled.
4. Builders don’t have a personal or emotional attachment to the house.
A typical seller has lived in the home for many years, raised their family or built memories there. So when it’s time to sell, the seller may experience all kinds of issues, questions and uncertainties, which can come out in the negotiation and purchase process. As a consequence, the seller may unconsciously price the home too high because they’re not ready to emotionally detach from it. They may want to know more about you or what your plans are for the property. If given a choice between two buyers, the seller may pick one over the other for non-financial reasons.
With a home builder, it’s just a numbers game. They’re focused more on spreadsheets than sentiment. They want to make sure you’re qualified and can get a loan. They set the prices based on their inventory, though there may be a little room for negotiations.
5. Discounts may be available in the form of upgrades.
Is the project you’re interested in nearing the end of its sales cycle, with many homes already sold? If so, the builder may be a little more willing to negotiate with you, not so much on price but on upgrades. If they reduce the price on your home and the sale closes, then that sale price becomes public record. But if they offered you an upgrade package (hardwood floors instead of carpet or higher-end appliances), there isn’t any way to track that. What could amount to thousands of dollars in upgrades could end up being a better deal than simply getting a price reduction.
For many first-time buyers, new construction could be a great idea. If you’re used to renting and relying on the landlord for mechanical fixes and general maintenance, you can almost be assured that your first few years in a new home will be maintenance-free.