Buying Your 1st House: Old vs. New

Old Homes = Quaint Character
Old Homes = Quaint Character | Source

Some of us love the quaint character of antique leaded glass over a traditional brick hearth. Others enjoy the convenience of the latest household appliances set within the most stylish contemporary cabinets. So, when it comes to buying your first house, should you invest in the old or the new?

Unsurprisingly, there are both pluses and minuses to purchasing an old house, just as there are when buying a new house. Let us try to weigh some of these advantages and disadvantages.

On first impressions, most buyers notice the visual and design advantages an older home might offer — such elements as steep, slate roofs; all-brick exteriors; stone quoins; hearty wood-framed windows; shutters; intricate coves and plaster ceilings; large brick-and-stone hearths; solid wood doors; leaded and stained glass windows; beadboard paneling; one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures; quaint plumbing fittings; quirky room configurations; etc. Many old homes express “character”: a non-homogenized distinction and individuality that speaks of its own past and that of previous residents. Whether due to nostalgia, tradition or a reverence for the historic, we can all hold older homes in our hearts.

But there are often other, subtler advantages to an older home, as well. An older home may have been built more sturdily, using the heftier materials and simpler construction methods of earlier times, giving it great solidity and perhaps continuing durability. It may have all of its settling and accommodation to its site out of its system already. Its grounds and landscaping may have developed an attractive maturity over the years. Some of its features, fittings or furnishings may have historic or antique value in their own right.

Some of the disadvantages of an older home may also be readily apparent to the first-time homebuyer. Will an aging roof survive much longer? Should (and could) older windows be replaced with better-performing multiple-glazed thermal windows? Does the house have air-conditioning? Will its heating system continue to perform adequately and cost-effectively? Can the electrical system carry the increased demand of our power-addicted present lifestyles? Can the family accommodate itself to the quirky room configurations with relative ease of use and furnishing?

Other drawbacks of the older home may be somewhat hidden. What are the insulative qualities of its exterior shell? Are there any structural frailties in its support or framing? How well does the home or its various components resist fire? Are there any lead-based paints in the home?

But there can be drawbacks to a new home as well. It may be one of many clones in a neighborhood or a development, with few if any unique features or variances from its kin. The home may have been constructed of relatively light-duty framing and drywalling, allowing sound and noise to move freely through it. Its interiors may seem boxy, bland and indistinctive. As new, it may command a much higher purchase price than an older home of equivalent living space. And, its grounds may seem sparse and immature.

Of course, a new home can certainly provide some very attractive advantages. It is quite likely that a new home will be fairly well insulated, and be outfitted with multiple-glazed thermal windows. It may hold the latest energy-saving appliances and household conveniences. Its relative newness guarantees the homebuyer an extended service life of roofing, heating system, carpet, fixtures and appliances. If purchased from a builder or as part of a larger residential development, it may offer customization of finishes, materials and colors, or upgrades in fixtures or fittings. It is also likely to embody many of the most current and popular residential design trends and styling flourishes.

And let’s not forget that attractive new home smell!

One is therefore wise to take plenty of time to weigh all of the apparent (and not so apparent) advantages and disadvantages of both old house and new before entertaining a purchase decision.

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Comments 4 comments

poetvix profile image

poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

Totally useful information. Thanks Rick. One question though, when looking at new houses they all seem to come w/ a HOA stipulation. Are there many out there that you know of that do not? I have no desire to be told what trees I can plant or what color I can paint in the future? If not, it's an older home for me.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

poetvix: The best I can suggest is: a) find a builder who is building on individual 'infill' lots that don't come with any HomeOwners Association restrictions, b) look in some of the less-than-hottest markets, where prices tend to be lower and restrictions fewer, or c) look into an exurban, semi-rural or rural area (or even some isolated villages or townships) where restrictions aren't as great. Rick Z

poetvix profile image

poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

Thanks Rick. I think I shall look further out into the country. I like the idea of building on privately owned property and not being in a neighborhood...sweet!

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

poetvix: Having designed and built two different houses on two different individual lots in two different suburbs (one with HOA, one without) several decades apart, I can highly recommend it. You're more likely to get the home you'll love. [To make sure you do it right, just keep reading my hubs on house design! lol]

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