Touring a new home subdivision with beautifully decorated model homes is exciting. Walking a vacant lot and imagining your home built on it is exhilarating. Not having to overbid, or hold your breath if your offer is accepted on a resale house can make the home-buying experience less stressful.
With low housing resale inventory, many buyers are turning to builders of new homes. But between falling in love with that magnificent model home and signing a contract, buyers should know these eight critical things:
- Research the builder’s reputation.
Is this a builder who has a good reputation of delivering homes to many satisfied buyers? How are their reviews? Are there any lawsuits pending against them?
- Does the neighborhood have an HOA?
Is the house you are considering located in an existing HOA or Condo Association or will it be a brand new HOA? Who controls the HOA? Often the builder controls it until all lots are sold. Be sure to get a copy of the HOA/Condo Documents and review them carefully. Most jurisdictions provide for contract rescission within 3-5 days if for any reason the documents are unacceptable to the buyer.
- Understand the purpose of the deposit.
While an earnest money deposit is made with a resale purchase contract, not all new home contracts take an “earnest money deposit.” Builders take a deposit. Some builders do not consider it an earnest money deposit, but a direct deposit toward the construction of the house, therefore it will be deposited in the builder’s operating account rather than in an escrow account.
- Are incentives offered by the builder?
In certain situations, builders will offer free upgrades and/or closing cost assistance to the buyer. Be sure that you understand exactly what is being offered and that it is in writing with the exact terms represented by the builder’s representative. As in all real estate agreements, to be enforceable, terms, conditions, and promises must be in writing.
- What does the buyer have to do to qualify for those incentives?
“Free recreation room” or “$10,000 in closing costs” or “Free Kitchen Upgrade” and many more iterations can be offered. Upgrades and closing costs are certainly appealing. What will be required of the buyer to qualify for the incentive(s)?
Will the builder insist that the buyer finance with their lender and/or their title company? What is the actual cost of that requirement? Sometimes, the actual “cost” of the incentives exceed the benefit of the incentive. It is important to understand all costs and fees.
- What warranties and post-settlement services are included?
In Virginia, a builder must warranty their construction for 12 months after settlement. Many builders offer 10 year warranties, 2-10 warranties, and/or pass on equipment warranties. All warranties are not the same. One question to ask is whether drywall imperfections post-closing are covered. Some builders will only correct drywall imperfections identified during the pre-settlement walk-through. Others will warrant drywall for extended periods.
Will a list of the trades be available for ease of service, or must repairs/service be channeled through a central division of the builder? Is there a response timeframe? Be sure that all warranty questions are answered and verified in writing.
- Review the contract…then review it again.
The builder’s contract has been written by their attorneys to be in their favor. Aside from contingencies specifically written into the contract, once the contract has been signed by all parties, it is an enforceable contract. The buyer should expect that they will settle on the sale. Before signing the contract, be sure that all terms are written as represented, all questions have been answered, and that you are prepared to move forward with the project. Know when (if) additional deposit(s) are due. Be prepared to attend inspections and builder meetings when they are called. While most builders want to be flexible, to be able to deliver a new home, schedules must be respected. Be sure to leave the contract signing meeting with a complete contract including all schedules and selections (to that point – more will be needed later).
- The model home decoration, appointments, & upgrades are for display purposes only.
Your new house will come with plain walls, no window coverings, tiny landscape plants, and grass that you will have to water to establish.
Depending on the builder, design choices can be included in the contract price. Design options can include flooring, shade/blinds, appliance upgrades, tile, counters and cabinets, faucets, sinks, lighting, and other options as available.
With many choices, state of the art equipment, and everything bright and shiny, it is easy to begin to believe that each option is indispensable. Be careful to keep within your budget and your lender qualification. Once options are selected and ordered, making changes can become very costly.
Contracting for a home to be built can be exciting and rewarding, and can result in the house of your dreams. Done incorrectly, the process can become a nightmare. It is for the above and countless other reasons that having an experienced Realtor representing your interests can save you money and sanity.
At Properties on the Potomac, Inc. we have been helping our clients select and design beautiful new homes for more than 35 years. We know the builders, the lenders, the incentives, the warranties, and most builders’ process. We know where to look and the questions to ask.
Is a newly built house in your future? Take the first step and give us a call: 703-624-8333.