I'm lucky to not have moved around much in my life. But, I grew up living in apartments. And when I moved out as an adult, I moved to an apartment. As a kid I never lived in a house. I knew one day that would want to build a house. But, that dream had to wait a while.
When I left my mom's apartment, we lived in a great, large one bedroom apartment on the SE side of Chicago. The location was extremely convenient for work (about a 7 minute drive), but… it was still apartment living! We were on the first floor. I could hear EVERY MOVE that the neighbor above made. The building had hardwood floors, and they were squeaky! I hated it. Some mornings were spent putting a pillow over my head, or my fingers in my ears to try to mask all of the noises. Between my 2 years there and my previous time spent growing up in apartments and hearing neighbor's noises, I knew that I was DONE with apartment living!!
Our first house was a deal! It was a bank foreclosure built in 1961. It had been vacant for over 2 years, but was in surprisingly great shape! We did not have to do much at all to start living. A few minor updates here and there and we were set. We stayed there for 8 years. However, as we outgrew that house we quickly learned that buying existing does not always give you the best bang for the buck.
There are several factors that go into deciding whether or not you want to build a house, or buy an existing home. Here are a few of the things that influenced our decision.
There were a couple of locations that I wanted to live in. The city is out. My current suburb was too far from the city, and my house was too far from the expressway. We wanted to move farther north, which would mean a shorter commute into the city. And we wanted to cut down the time that it takes to get to the expressway. I chose a couple of suburbs that fit that criteria. The Northern burbs of Chicago are out because houses in those areas are very pricey! The Western and Northwestern burbs were out because the commute to the city from there is a nightmare. This is what I'm dealing with now commuting to work from my mother-in-law's house. So, narrowing this down meant that I wanted to stay in the South Suburbs. Plus, homes in that area are much more reasonable. You get a lot more house for the money.
The Current Housing Market
Right after we built my house back in 2006 the market crashed… HARD! Since then new construction of homes in the Chicago area have been scarce. Had we decided to move any earlier our only option would have been to buy existing and possibly go through a renovation. However, 10 years later things are looking up and builders are on the rebound and building again. And it seemed that they adjusted their pricing models to reflect that they want to drum up more building business. So building is not costing much more than buying an existing home.
As mentioned above, whether you decide to build or buy existing could be based solely on what is available in your area. Depending on where you live, there may not be any homes up for sale. However, you may be able to grab a piece of land. And the reverse may be true. You may live in an area with several new communities being built, offering great deals, so choosing to build new is a no-brainer.
In our case, because of the way the market has been over the past few years, there were actually several existing homes available in our preferred area, some at great prices, but they would not work for us. Why? Check the next 2 sections. And there were actually very few (as in 2!) new communities being built. However, we got lucky.
Amount of Renovation Work
While I love the idea of a renovation, because…. HGTV obsession, I had to be realistic. Buying an existing home that needs work can come with a ton of surprises, unwanted expenses, and many, many months of waiting for the renovations to be completed. If we had gone that route, we could have blown our budget… quickly. There were a few homes that I fell in love with by the photos online, but when visiting them in person something was just off. And this should really be under location, but one house that had great potential had a backyard that backed up against a commercial store, which we did not like at all. There would be no renovation that could fix that!
Of course if you really want to do a renovation, and have the budget, then by all means, go for it! There is definitely something that seems satisfying about it.
If you have to move in a hurry, you might not be able to wait for a new home build, or a renovation. In this case you want to find a move-in ready home, or at least one that you can live with until you are able to renovate.
In our case, although it was not ideal we were able to live with my mother-in-law to wait out the build. Although them getting started with the build took way longer than it should have, but that's a story for another post.
The area that you decide to live in will also impact that amount of taxes that you pay on your house… Can we just pause for a moment and talk about how evil property taxes really are?? I believe property taxes are the only taxes that we have to keep paying over and over again even after our purchase is paid for! We do not do that at the store, we don't do that with cars… only on our property! And depending on where you live, and how much your home costs, this can add up to the equivalent of another monthly mortgage payment! It's so unfair really.
In our case, those fabulous huge houses that I mentioned above were in one of the suburbs with a pretty high property tax rate. The monthly tax payment was way more than we were willing to spend. So, finding a home, or building a home, in an area with a lower tax rate made more sense.
Budget/Price of Homes
The budget is probably the #1 thing you want to worry about when buying a home. If money is no object then you are lucky! Oh how I wish…. Anyway, when we built the last house back in 2005/2006 we were first looking at existing homes. We visited a few in our price range. They were not impressive. Then, our realtor made a wrong turn meeting us for an appointment and came across a new community under construction. She suggested that we have a look. It was then that we realized that we could get a brand new home in our budget! They were building new for the same exact price that the older, “needs work” homes were going for in the area! At the point I was determined to get new. It was a no-brainer.
Besides all of these very, very logical reasons that I presented above… I'M PICKY!! And I'm petty! For one thing, thinking about being the first to live in a home, first to use the tub, first to use the toilet, cook in the kitchen, etc. is a great thought! And building new means that we can get just about everything that we want in our home without compromising. There is no worry of having to tear out old peach bathrooms (yes, this happened in my first house). I can be as picky as I want during the build process, and because I have a great builder, they are accommodating!
These are just some of the major factors that can go into helping you decide whether to buy a house, or buy an existing house. Depending on your situation, there may be more factors to consider.
In case you missed it…