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North Hills Monthly

Home Buying Insights: New Construction vs. Existing Homes

Mar 01, 2017 08:25AM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Photo courtesy of Wayne Homes

I moved to the North Hills from out of state just over three years ago. We started looking for houses in early June and were hoping to buy a house in time for our kids to start school at the end of August. While we had a wonderful realtor, we only had two weekends in which to conduct some seriously focused house-hunting trips; the pressure felt tremendous. I ended the first day in tears, convinced there was no place for us in Pittsburgh and that we had made a huge mistake in deciding to move.

More than three years later, I can look back on that day and almost smile. Almost. Buying a house is the largest purchase most of us will ever make, and most buyers feel the tension at some point as they weigh their wants and needs against their budget and time constraints. One of the key considerations for many people is whether to purchase an existing home or one that is newly constructed. Both have factors in their favor, and both have some challenges.

New construction

One of the biggest benefits to new construction is that homeowners can design exactly the home they want, explained Janis Ford, a licensed RE/MAX Realtor with more than 15 years of experience.

“You can put your personal touch on it,” Ford said. In most cases, buyers who purchase new construction can select the finishes—countertops, fixtures, trim and cabinets—that suit their individual design tastes, as well as paint and carpet colors.

Erin Collins, vice president of sales for Wayne Homes, said another benefit of new construction is the opportunity for buyers to select the layout that works for them. While Wayne Homes offers over 40 unique designs, the company will customize a layout to fit the buyer’s wishes. People who want a large mudroom next to the kitchen or a first-floor master suite can have input on the design and create a house that fits their exact needs.

Modern features like an open floorplan, new appliances and larger closet space are another big draw of new construction, according to Steve Carpenter, a real estate agent with Northwood Realty Services. Carpenter said that over half his buyers prefer new construction, and that there is a healthy market for new construction homes in the North Hills area. 

Carpenter cited lower maintenance costs as an advantage of purchasing a new home, and Collins agreed that not only are things less likely to break, but tend to be covered under warranty if they do. Newly constructed Wayne Homes' houses come with comprehensive warranties, and that peace of mind is a significant boon, Collins said.

“You know everything is installed properly and it’s up to code, because you’re part of the process,” she explained.

One downside of new construction is that buyers have to wait for their dream homes. Custom homes can typically take from six to nine months to complete.

Both Ford and Carpenter said that another possible disadvantage is the landscaping—or lack thereof—which often accompanies newly built homes. Buyers either pay a premium to landscape their yards or patiently wait for grass seed to sprout and saplings to grow.

New construction can also cost 30 percent more per square foot than existing homes, Carpenter said.

Pre-Owned Homes

People seeking to purchase an existing home appreciate established neighborhoods with mature landscaping and sidewalks already in place, Ford explained. Older homes tend to have more charm and character, she said, and are more likely to have features like pocket doors, hardwood floors and leaded glass that appeal to many homebuyers. 

Ford said that existing homes have lower taxes, and Carpenter explained that many first-time homeowners prefer to purchase older homes with the intention of updating or remodeling and making a profit. Existing homes provide a better return on their investment, Carpenter said.

Ford and Carpenter agreed that older homes tend to have more land than new construction, and to be closer to local attractions like shopping, restaurants and entertainment.

A possible drawback to living in an older home is that the annual cost of maintenance is typically from two to 10 times higher, Carpenter said, depending on the condition of the house. Buyers may have to do renovations to install energy-efficient appliances, replace HVAC systems or improve insulation.

Buyers may have to sacrifices some items on their wish lists when they purchase an existing home. “Popular elements like a first-floor master bedroom and first-floor bathrooms are less likely to be found in older homes,” Ford explained.

Whether buyers are seeking new construction or to purchase an existing home, the local housing market is booming. Ford said the North Hills and Beaver County areas are popular because they offer strong schools and accessibility to both I-279 and the Pennsylvania turnpike. This area is the fastest growing region in southwestern Pennsylvania, according to Carpenter.

Buyers looking for the open-concept floorplans and modern finishes that come with new construction or the charm and character of an older home in an established neighborhood will find that the North Hills area has something to offer everyone.