Old House vs New House (Which one you should buy)

old house versus new house

For some home buyers, a house with history is at the top of their list of "must have" features. They don't mind making an older home their very own. Other buyers would like to be the first to live in their new residence — with nothing to repair or remodel. Does it just come down to personal preference, or is purchasing a new home better than signing the papers for a house that's been lived in by others?

The good news is that the pros and cons of living in an older home vs. a newer one tend to balance each other out, making the decision one that comes down to personal preference. You may weight specific features more highly than another buyer, making one type the absolute right choice for you. Or maybe you're measuring the costs associated with older home vs. new construction and making a decision based on which is a better value. For those buyers who are still considering their options, here are factors to think about as you determine which type of house works best for your family and your wallet.

Character or Curb Appeal (Old Houses are Usually Better)

An older home may be unique and stand out from the many ranch-style houses and townhomes that line a typical street. Owning a one-of-a-kind home may appeal to you, and you think that can only be found in an older home.

Custom-built new homes can be everything you've dreamed of and look just the way you wish. While brand-new homes in a subdivision may all have similar features, they may be customized enough to stand apart from each other.

As well, older homes may have more established landscaping, such as taller trees. Researchers at Texas Tech found that good tree cover can increase your home's value up to 9 percent -- that may make the home's price higher, but it will also help when it comes time to sell. A new subdivision will have newly planted yards that lack the type of developed vegetation that allows for curb appeal, and it can take several years to grow. On the other hand, with a new home, you are less likely to have to rip out large trees and bushes or have issues with root systems causing damage. 

Consider, too, the character of the surrounding area. An older home may be located in a traditional and more established neighborhood, while a new house is likely to be built in an area with other new construction. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the community when making your decision.

These are matters of taste and style; no one can tell you what looks right to your eye. A home that you love can look beautiful as well as be more enjoyable to you as a homeowner, no matter whether that's in a turn-of-the-century Craftsman cottage or a newly constructed home. 

Size of House

A lot has changed between the post-World War II years and today. Kids made do with smaller bedrooms, and often several children shared a room. Likewise, bathrooms and kitchens were smaller. In today's world, more space is not only desirable, but it's also more affordable. So when you look at a new house, the bedrooms will be bigger, the kitchen space will be designed as a hub for the family, and the bathrooms will offer more luxuries.

To back this up, budgeting guru Dave Ramsay notes that the average house size in 1950 was under 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom. That grew to 1,500 square feet in the 1970s, and today, most homes that are built measure more than 2,500 square feet. That's quite a difference, especially if you have a family or a need for more space. While smaller homes are going to cost less, you may need to eventually invest in a significant addition to the house if your family's needs change.

Older homes may have smaller rooms, smaller doorways and even smaller places to put appliances. It's not fun to try to move in your sectional couch and be unable to get it through the front door or to get a new, modern refrigerator delivered and find that it won't fit in the allotted kitchen space. You may end up needing to do a rapid remodel that wasn't in your plans — or your budget.

This is one area where newer construction often comes out on top. If you need more square footage, an older home may not be the right choice for you versus a new house.

Housing Building Materials (Each can Have Issues)

Whether you love the long-lasting wood ceiling beams and trim work of an older home or relish living in a new place where no one has even scratched the paint, building materials are a significant factor in whether you want an older house or a new one.

Brand-New Construction Houses are Not Necessarily Problem-Free

What's been used to construct the house you're considering for purchase? In the case of a new house, that's easy to determine. The builder should be able to tell you the details of the building materials, right down to the brands of drywall and paint used during construction. But most homeowners enjoy having brand-new walls, ceilings, and flooring without giving too much thought to the materials used.

Your new house could have been built with less expensive materials made overseas. Does that matter? It did for between 50,000 and 100,000 homeowners who had toxic Chinese drywall installed in their homes between 2004 and 2008.

The products were made with little oversight and have been found to emit toxic compounds that smell bad and cause health problems. These gases are even reacting with electrical wiring and appliances, causing them to fail.

Not all products made in China are a problem, of course. But brand-new construction isn't a guarantee that everything will be perfect. You still need to do research, ask the builder the right questions, and follow up on any problems that arise.

Older Houses Can Incorporate Problem Materials

An older home, on the other hand, has had time to show evidence of issues with building materials. But there can be health hazards lurking in older construction, even when families have previously been living in a residence for many years.

Asbestos is a good example; almost every U.S. house built between the early 1940s and 1975 includes this fire-retardant material in attic insulation, floor tiles, duct sealant, and many other materials. If it's not disturbed, asbestos is not considered harmful, but if you do any renovation, you risk releasing tiny fibers into the air. These fibers move into your lungs and can cause disease, including cancer. To do even simple DIY work, you may need to have professionals come in and test — and possibly do the job at a much higher cost to ensure that your family's health isn't impacted.

Another issue with building materials in older homes is the replacement. If you do have to replace a section of flooring, for example, it may be nearly impossible to match older materials. You'll have to take the time to find a close approximation, and even then, you may need to replace a larger area than would otherwise be necessary.

Finding evidence of problem building materials in any house you are considering is part of what an inspection can cover, but not everything is easy to identify or test. Whether you love the history and durability of older materials or the promise of pristine new construction, there can be issues with any age of a home. Your experienced realtor can help identify any potential problems that may be common to homes from the era in which you're interested.

Costs of New versus Old

It's true that new homes are harder to find and can command a higher price. Fox Business found that existing homes cost an average of 16 percent lower than new construction — and that can vary depending on the area where you're looking to buy.

Plus, if you choose to customize a new home, your costs can rise even more. Custom-built homes are tailored precisely to your specifications, but you'll pay more for the attention that the contractor pays to every little detail. Also making alterations to the new homes being built in a subdivision can cause your final price to take a significant jump over the initial cost you were quoted for a particular model.

Repairs and Renovations Can Get Expensive on an Older House

When buying an older fixer-upper, it's easy to romanticize the house and forget about all the work that you'll have to put in to get it in top shape. By the time you've finished paying for materials and labor, you might have been better off with a new house.

Don't forget that some renovations are best done when the home is vacant. Can you afford to stay in your existing housing until a remodel of your new house is finished? Or can you live with the disarray if you choose to move in and do work at the same time? Some homeowners who enjoy do-it-yourself work can tackle one project at a time while living in the home and spread the costs out over time. If that sounds like you, it makes more sense to purchase that older home that needs work.

What Will Your Maintenance and Utilities Cost? (Older Homes cost more money)

Older homes need more maintenance than newer homes — that's no shock. You'll have more things to replace, and sometimes it may seem like a never-ending stream of updates to make. If you're planning on staying in the house you buy for several years, though, it may be nice to have your costs staggered. When you buy a new home, you won't have much to spend on maintenance for a few years — and then many things could hit at once. Because everything was installed at the same time, it could all come to the end of its natural lifespan simultaneously.

If you're looking at an older house, keep in mind that the top two things that most need to be replaced are the roof and the windows. According to HomeAdvisor, a service that matches professional contractors with homeowners, installing a new roof costs an average of $7,307 and can be as much as $30,000depending on the type of roof and your location. Replacing windows typically ranges from just over$2,500 to $7,500. If you're basing a decision about which home to purchase based on cost, be sure to consider that these common maintenance issues are likely to crop up in your first few years of owning an older home, while new houses will be able to get by for at least a decade — and possibly closer to two.

Utilities will cost you less in a newer home, as modern houses are built with higher energy efficiency. That also means that heating and cooling systems will be more efficient and use more current technology to operate.

Don't Forget About Insurance (Older houses generally have higher insurance)

If you're on the fence about whether an older home or a new one is right for your family, you might consider the cost of homeowner's insurance. While hundreds of variables go into the price you pay to protect your property, it's true that coverage for a new house is likely to be a bit less expensive. It's new and should last for many years, so your insurance company is less likely to have to pay out for damage caused by faulty wiring, broken plumbing or a cracked foundation.

Analyzing your initial and ongoing home costs when considering a purchase isn't easy.  Future expenses is another area where an experienced realtor is worth his or her weight in gold; the real estate professional you work with can help you determine what costs you're likely to incur immediately and down the road, for the specific home at which you're looking.

Old Homes vs. New Homes: There's No Right Answer

For many families, a new home is the best answer to their needs. For others, an older home with all of its quirks and charm is a great and more livable option. Your realtor can help you assess which house is best suited to your family's requirements, whether that's a brand-new residence that you can immediately enjoy or a significant fixer-upper that you'll be proud to update and make your own.




Jeff KnoxJeff Knox is the Broker Owner of Knox & Associates REALTORS® in DFW and the creator of most of the content on KnoxRE. Jeff's real estate articles and opinions have been featured on websites like Realtor.com, Fox News, U.S. News & World Reports, Inman, RISMedia, and more.

Jeff was initially licensed in 2004 and has held a Texas Real Estate Broker's License since 2009. Jeff and his team of REALTORS® work all across the entire DFW Metroplex helping both buyers and sellers with condos, townhomes and single-detached properties. Jeff may be reached directly at [email protected]

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