Sunday, July 8, 2012

New Home vs. Existing Home: The Dilemma

I love old houses.  I also love existing neighborhoods with their charm, landscaping, and very nice houses.  I can't afford to buy a house in most of those charming, great areas.  So my options were to buy a 30, 40, 50, 60, 100 year old fixer upper and sink a good deal of money into it.  In some modest areas I looked at 100 year old houses that were small, had asbestos, needed massive repairs and were in the 90k range.  Crazy to think that these weren't even really acceptable areas to live in.  The houses easily needed 30k worth of repairs to make the houses viable to live in, and I could have easily 'invested' 40-50k to make the houses suitable.  Is it a good idea to invest 140k into an area that isn't that great to begin with?  Then there were the nice, but declining areas where 60 year old cape cod's were selling for the 90s through low 100s and they too needed at least 10-15k worth of repair work, paint, carpet/refinish floors, etc.  My issue here was the fact that the area was in decline, and I couldn't see getting the money back in the next 3-10 years.  Option three:  buy a total wreck in an 'up and coming' part of the city for about 35-40k and invest 60-70 thousand into the house to make it something nice.  Sounds great, but if I need to leave Dodge in the next few years, who's going to come in and pay me for my 95-110k 'investment'?  So option four: purchase a new house suddenly seemed good. 

My honest opinion:  If you can afford to buy in the great, existing neighborhood DO IT!  Really great neighborhoods seem to maintain their value over time, they have wonderful houses, owners tend to invest in keeping their houses maintained (part of what makes it a great area), they tend to have solid schools, libraries, services.  If you can afford it, why not enjoy that life? 

If you can't afford the great area but you really have to live in a house with 'character' then go for it.  Enjoy the repairs, and learn to do them yourself so you have more satisfaction in owning your house.  In many ways, I wish I had chosen this option.

Then there is the new construction option.  I love my house.  The floor plan is great, and I like the area a lot.  But new houses are not built the same as old houses.  In some ways new houses are better (energy efficiency, open floor plans, modern technology built in) but in many ways the quality of materials used is just bad (lower quality lumber, minimal trim/detail work).  MDF trim can look nice, but it can also be problematic.  Just because those cabinets look great doesn't mean they won't fall apart the moment they get wet.  Further, old houses have had time to settle; new houses will settle as you live in them and it is unnerving to see your brand new house crack, and settle around you. 

I was truly surprised by all the work I've needed to do with my new house.  I have cracks in my concrete, drywall pulling away as the wood framing dries, squeaky floors, some bad floor joists (all but one has been repaired), and all sorts of quirks.  I guess my point is that just because it's new doesn't mean it's perfect, nor lacking in quirkery. 

So in the end, if you want new, build new.  If you like old, go for old.  But please don't think that either is going to be easy, nor will it be without serious issues/problems/quirks.  One more thing:  MONEY.  I really underestimated just how much money I would spend on my house!  Appliances, rakes, shovels, dirt, flowers, plants, shrubs, patio bricks, furniture, storage shelves, paint, caulk, tools:  all this 'stuff' adds up to thousands of dollars of money I somehow new to save for, but I didn't really grasp just how much money I would need to spend in the months after my purchase.  I love my house, but it is NOT a financial investment, it is a personal investment.  A very expensive investment of time, effort and money.  Please don't make the mistake of thinking owning a house is cheaper than renting:  there is no way owning a house is less expensive than renting.   You may get more square footage for your dollar by owning versus renting, but renting requires far less outlay of cash, and costs less on a monthly basis.  Renting is easier (good landlords do the work for you and they deserve to make some money in the process).  Renting is less expensive, and renting can be a very smart choice.  Personally I'm still unsure if I made the right choice for me in buying a house, but in the end, I love my house and I'm happy I've gone through the process.  How long I own my house is another matter as I have a feeling I'd prefer to be a renter than an owner. 

Ryan Homes Quality:  the good, the bad, and...

There are a lot of blogs taking you the reader through the process of building a Ryan Home.  If you search you will find some good, some bad, and some just ridiculous (complaints about uneven [small] gaps under a counter top, etc.)  If you search the web you will also find massive complaints about the company.  My opinion is that Ryan Homes builds a fair product for a fair price.  I have no illusion that after 10 years Ryan Homes is responsible for a bad toilet seal, or that they are responsible for lax building codes in your community.  They build a house up to code, but rarely above code.  They didn't lie to me, they didn't deceive me.  My house is very similar in quality to the model house I viewed. 

Modern construction materials aren't always as good as what you will find in an older house.  But modern houses are more energy efficient, and they tend to have better floor plans.  Yin-yang, give-and-take, you get the idea?  There are pros and cons of old and new homes.  You have to decide which is best for you, Ryan Homes can't do that for you.  If you're unsure, visit as many of their models as you can, spend time in them.  Take your shoes off, walk around, feel the walls, inspect the corners, the small details.  Spend enough time in them to look beyond the great interior decorating and get to know the basic design, materials and construction quality.  I feel my house is basically well built to modern specifications.  It isn't perfect, but it is good.  I didn't pay a fortune for my house, in fact it cost me less than quite a few of the older houses nearby -once new Ryan Homes, or other value builder homes- that haven't all been updated over the years.  Those houses may have better lumber, but it is now old lumber that has had time to dry out, rot, and be stressed.  I can see how the houses have settled, and I have landscaping, but I also have the need to insulate and replace old building systems that are at the end of their lifespan (windows, roof, furnace, etc.).  As you know, I decided to buy new.  You need to way the pros and cons of all your options and make the best decision for yourself.  Ryan Homes will build you a good house, if that's what is right for you.  Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the wonderful story! I'm not sure if I could ever top it. As soon as I find some movers in Vancouver, I'll see about writing my experiences. I doubt that it will be as good of a story as yours is, but I'll still try. Thanks for sharing!