Do you want an updated house or like the idea of designing your own home but can’t decide if you want to go the new build route or purchase an existing home and update it yourself? As a realtor with a background in interior design, let me give you my professional recommendation!
To get on the same page, let me break down the pros and cons of each first!
(+) No messy construction on your part. Everything is done in the ballpark of 6-9 months and you don't even have to lift a finger (or hammer).
(+) You have the Design Center to help design your entire home. It's a simple, straightforward design process. They make it very easy for you.
(+) The house shouldn't have any major repair issues; if you do, they should be under warranty. You won't be replacing a roof, garage doors, windows, AC, and Heater - those heavy hitters are totally off the table (for the first 15-ish years at least). This brings SO much peace of mind to buyers!
(-/+) There are limitations to your design and structural options. The builders are building speck homes, not custom homes. You will only be able to make a handful of small changes to the floor plan you've selected. You are also limited to the finishes the Design Center offers. (However, these limitations might be a pro for some people who don't like too many options!)
(-) You will need cash on hand for fees and overcoming a low appraisal. As discussed in my previous blog posts (A Warning and a Disclaimer & 3 Reasons You Need a REALTOR when Purchasing a New Build), there will be "unexpected" upfront costs that you need to be financially prepared for. You also cannot back out of the deal without losing all of these deposits (Design Center deposit, earnest money, lot fee, etc.) You'll need to be fully committed mentally and financially to this decision and have extra cash on hand to make the transaction work.
(-) You will likely be overpaying for the home right out of the gate. It is expected that you will agree to pay the listing price knowing the appraisal will come in lower. That is cash out of your pocket that you'll never see again as it doesn't go towards your downpayment, it just goes to the builder directly. No equity. Nothing.
(-) It takes on average 2 years to overcome any overpayment and cash upfront (as previously mentioned), and costs associated with selling. On average, it takes 2 years of building equity to ensure you'd be able to sell at a profit.
(NOTE) To sell profitably/break even, you must have a new build that is above builder grade or it almost doesn’t count in this scenario. If you go the new build route but select Formica countertops, brown square tile, and faucets that look like they belong in a gas station bathroom, you've done it wrong and your home will be just as hard to sell as an outdated 20-year-old home. If anything you've hurt the value potential of this newly built home. If you can't afford anything above the builder-grade finishes, you need to purchase a pre-existing house because you will save yourself a heck of a lot in upfront cash, and your purchase price/mortgage will be significantly lower!
Buy a Pre-existing Home and Update it Yourself (or with a contractor):
(-) No messy construction. You will be a month without kitchen countertops, dust everywhere, and so so so much cleaning. If a contractor does the work, it can go quicker and they should be great at cleaning up after themselves.
(-) No one is there to help you design the home. Unless you hire an interior designer, you are on your own. (For me, this would be a pro, not a con haha)
(-) The home may need some major repairs. Roof, AC, heater, water heater, windows, etc. Hopefully, you can find one that has been well-maintained and comes back with a squeaky-clean inspection report, but repairs are inevitable with an older home and these heavy-hitters are costly.
(-/+) Design and structural options are endless. No limitations whatsoever, you can move/take down walls, add feature walls, and whatever finishes you want! The unique tile you keep seeing on your Instagram ads that makes you drool every time you see it, it's yours! And the restoration hardware kitchen handles you dream over, you can have them! (For some people, this is a con because endless options are too overwhelming and I get that.)
(+) More established neighborhood/community. New Builds are often on the outskirts of a town/city and may not have the grocery stores, Costco, Target, and Starbucks established yet. Purchasing a pre-existing home means you're buying in an already established neighborhood, which is a much more pleasant experience for you and future buyers. Even the mature landscaping can be so refreshing and add to your enjoyment!
(+) Immediate equity once you finish any renovations. 3 years ago (1 year after buying the house) we renovated our kitchen, took down walls to create a more open-concept living area, renovated our living room fireplace/TV situation, and added a lot of fresh paint. We had our house appraised after these projects and our home value went up $120,000. Instant equity within 1 year. When you do renovations to an outdated house, you are building instant equity. This gives a lot of comfort in knowing that if you need to sell at any given time, you've built a nest egg of equity and will be able to profitably sell.
(+) Lower purchase price and you probably got a good deal on the house. This means you will have a lower mortgage payment and less money out the door in interest. Financially, this is a HUGE pro.
(+) Renovations will cost less to hire a handyman/contractor than asking the builder to do them. For example, if you wanted a sound system put in, fun feature walls in the bedrooms, or your fireplace to be all cutesy, it would cost an arm and a leg more to ask the builder to do it. It will also jump up your purchase price astronomically. But if you do all these things to a pre-existing house, it's pennies on the dollar comparatively. Especially if you can DIY these smaller projects!
Which one is for you?
The New Build Route is for you if:
Money isn’t a factor or tight upfront to purchase.
You need help with designing a home and don't mind limited options.
You don't want to deal with the mess of renovations.
Buying a Pre-Existing Home & Updating it is for you if:
You want to leverage and stretch your money as much as possible.
Want the freedom and autonomy to design your own home with all the endless options.
You don't mind dealing with the mess (probably because it's worth it to you to take the more affordable route).
Purchase the pre-existing home and update it. Ideally, purchase a home that's no more than 25 years old and comes back with an incredible inspection report. We don't need to be buying money pits, but we do want to build equity.
As an interior designer, I need endless design options and if I want to take out a wall I need a "yes ma'am" kind of response. Sure you can take out a wall or add different backsplash after you close on your new build, but you just paid an arm and a leg for the house and now you're going to pay even more to customize it? No, thank you. That leads me to my second reason:
As a realtor, I want to vomit at the idea of seeing cash flying out the door. Real estate is every homeowner's largest asset and as such, every penny should be leveraged! Buying a pre-existing home and updating it yourself is the best way to do that.
Lastly, "Equity" is the name of the hill I will die on. I, personally, want the peace of mind that I could sell my house at a profit ASAP. I love the reassurance of sitting on a nest egg of equity. To know I would have to stay in a new build for at least 2 years to profitably sell makes me feel Claustrophobic.
My recommendation may not be for everyone! For some clients, the convenience, ease, and peace of mind are worth every penny especially if they know they will be in the home for 2+ years; and I totally get that. If this is for you, that's awesome! A new build is the route to go.
Every buyer has their own priorities and there's a dollar amount tied to each. At any given dollar amount, one may tap out while others feel like they got a steal of the century. Money has a definitive value, but convenience, physical labor, peace of mind, creativity, and simplicity do not.
If you are not sure which route to go - let's have a chat! We can dive into this further. After reading this post you now know which route you'd like to go, let's get the ball rolling! Lastly, if you have any questions, please reach out! I live for this stuff :)
Jessica Doberneck of