Buying a house can be terrifying. Buying a house in Ottawa is even more terrifying, for many reasons. There are so many questions to answer: should you save up every single penny you have to get a 20% down payment? If you don’t want to wait until you’re 55 to buy a house, what are the options for buying a house without a 20% down payment? When you have finally figured that part out, there are even more questions: Where do you buy – Kanata, Barrhaven, Orleans? What do you buy – a townhouse, a bungalow, a single family home, a duplex? Why is a house in Kanata $600,000 for the same kind of house you would buy in Convent Glen, Orleans, for $320,000? And one of the biggest questions facing many new buyers these days: Should You Buy a New Home or an Existing Property?
When my husband and I first decided to buy a home, we had a few “necessities” (besides the actual real ones – like needing toilets and bathtubs and so forth), so we had a very precise wish list in mind. The thing that was frustrating for us was that 1/2 our wish list we could get in a new build, and half our wish list we could only get in a “used” house.
As we do for just about any large purchase in our lives, we did a lot of research, which consisted of Googling “buying a new house vs. existing house”. We found a lot of information, of course. But, it was funny, we couldn’t’ find a lot of drawbacks for buying a new house, besides the fact that we would have to wait longer than if we bought an existing property.
Better To Be Safe Than Sorry
We are both “better to be safe than sorry” people and so the idea of moving into a house where we wouldn’t have to worry about the roof, the furnace, the water heater, foundation issues…(you get the gist), we decided that buying a new built home would be the smartest bet for us. Considering our area of choice was Orleans and the fact that we wanted to live in a neighbourhood, we were OK with the fact that we would be living in a “cookie-cutter” house, so that wasn’t even a factor in our decision making (statistically, this is the biggest reason people don’t like buying new build home). And the idea of being able to pick out some of the designs and finishes was really exciting for us, considering we had been waiting almost 10 years to be able to buy a home.
Now, we are 6 months into living in our home and we love it. I wouldn’t have done it any other way; we were able to completely customize our home and were able to meet 8 out of 10 from our list without having to look at 200 houses or do any renovations. That being said, there were things I wasn’t expecting, things we had never encountered throughout our research, and that’s why I’m writing this article: for those who are considering either/or like we were, I want you to be 100% prepared for what buying a new build home consists of.
7 Unexpected Things We Didn’t Know Would Happen When Buying A New Build Home
1. The mud
One of the first things we experienced when we moved into out home near the middle of August was the mud. Because we didn’t have any grass (and wouldn’t until the following spring because a lot of the houses around us were still being built), every time it rained, there was a ridiculous amount of mud. I don’t know if it’s because of where they chose to build our home, but the mud wasn’t mud, it was clay.
I have two dogs – one is a white shih tzu, the other one is a 50 pound hound. Clay is thick, sticky, and chunky – cleaning off clay isn’t as easy as just wiping off mud. We had to keep a bowl of water and a towel at our front door so that every time (whether it’s 1 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning), we had to wash their feet and wipe them dry or they would track “mud” through the house – including the brand new beige carpet leading to the upstairs. Not to mention, our own feet. I didn’t buy a rug for the front hall until almost December because it wasn’t worth it, we were constantly bringing mud in; I was washing my floors every. single. day.
But the worst part? Clay is clumpy – my 50 pound dog has webbed feet, so the clay would accumulate right down deep into her pads and it wasn’t until she started walking around sounding like her nails were too long that I realized that the clay, along with the rocks that filled the driveway, were lodged up into her paws. The poor girl! Once that happened, the paw cleaning before coming in had to be even more thorough.
2. The construction
I know, I know, I should have thought of it, but I was so excited to have finally bought my own home, that I hadn’t considered the fact that I would be moving into a construction zone. Every company does it differently, some companies build up one entire block and then let everyone move in at the same time (ish) and others build a few rows at a time and let the owners move in as soon as the house is done. We were the latter and were the second row to be completed. Since we have lived here, 12 houses have been finished in our row, and 6 more rows with 10-12 houses each have gone in. There’s still 2 more rows left to go in. Luckily, once the houses directly across from us were done, the construction moved away from the house, so it wasn’t so bad.
But it’s not just the noise, it’s the dust, the soot, the nails, and the STREET SWEEPER. So, remember when I was talking about the mud, you were probably thinking – how often did it rain there!? Well!! Due to the nails and all the construction going on, a street sweeper came every single night to brush the nails and whatever else off the roads so our cars wouldn’t suffer – so that meant the street was always wet. Plus, because of the dust in addition to our air conditioner, our noses were so raw on the inside, we were having nose bleeds and even had to get prescription nose cream to stop the irritation.
3. No playing outside
One of the things I was most excited for was having the ability to just let my dogs out into the backyard, let them roam around and come back in. I was also looking forward to having a dead end street where my son could ride his bike without a worry. Yeah, well, not quite. First of all, obviously (again, didn’t think about this) you don’t immediately have a fence when you first move in – we didn’t even have steps going into the backyard, so there wasn’t much playing in the backyard going on. And because there was always construction trucks around, there was no way I was letting my kid ride his bike anywhere unless I was immediately beside him. In fact, my outdoor-loving 6 year old could barely play outside at all. There was one day when he realized he could bring his Tonka trucks in the backyard and play construction – that is until the wheels got full of clay and he couldn’t move the truck anymore.
4. House Settling
When you first move into your new home, it’s pretty perfect; the painting has just been done, everything is gleaming white, everything is clean and lovely. But then, within the first few months, as the house starts to settle into its foundation, the house shifts. You don’t notice it much at all, but what you do notice are nasty little cracks pretty much everywhere – along the drywall seams, along the baseboards, along the counter tops in the bathrooms that attach to the walls. Even door shifts so suddenly doors that closed perfectly are now a little stiff, or your shower door now creaks a bit when you open it cause the bottom half is now rubbing against the tile when you open it. There isn’t all that much you can do about that. But when we spoke to one of our reps, he said his team would fix the really bad ones now, but that for the rest, we should wait at least 4 seasons to ensure it’s settled, and then fix everything in one shot.
5. The Condensation
Apparently, lumber has water. Apparently, in the first 12-18 months, this lumber starts to secrete water. Couple that with regular condensation from the cold outside and the warm inside, we literally had puddles on our window sills. The problem was, we didn’t notice it immediately. We have a lot of windows, but the ones in the living room have the couch in front, and the blinds are always closed in the bedrooms.
I went around the house one day to wipe them up with a paper towel and I used almost a whole roll. We have made it a habit to go through the house wiping down the window sills every day and we ensure to always have the blinds up at least 2-3 inches above the sill so that the condensation doesn’t become trapped and create mold. I feel as though the condensation in our home was a little severe; for example, on some of the coldest days, the lock and doorknob on the inside of the front door would get frost on them and the screws actually developed rust. But if that’s the least of my worries, I am OK with that.
6. No Curbs
Now, this is not at all something I had even considered, thought of, who prepared for. When you first move into these homes (depending on how developed the neighbourhood is when you move in), there are no curbs, and obviously no sidewalks. But at some point, they do have to make curbs. And when they do, they need to build a trench. I don’t know what most construction companies do, but this one chose to build the trenches all around the neighbourhood before putting in the curbs which meant that we had to wait a few days between digging trenches and putting in the curbs. I walked out one morning for work and realized there was no way I was leaving my driveway. It wasn’t exactly small enough for me to jump over and it was about 4 feet deep so if I missed, I would be pretty hurt. Luckily, one of the crew men saw me standing there looking lost and ran over with a board and made me a little bridge. It was inconvenient, but luckily it didn’t last long.
7. You’re not moving into a perfect home
I was under the impression that on move-in day, we would be coming in to a perfectly finished house. Everything would be done and all that would be left was to move our stuff in and settle down. Well, that’s not the case – and it rarely is for anyone who moves into a new build. When we moved in, there were a few things still not completed: the caulking around the steps at the front door, a screen was missing from the dining room window, there were some inconsistencies in the wall edges, one of our tubs was scratched, and a few other mostly superficial issues. Luckily, the majority of the issues were fixed within the first few weeks and for some other things that we are still working on getting fixed, it can get frustrating, but I know that we’re protected. We’re protected because we didn’t just hire some random contractor to do the work, this is a reputable company who is constantly doing work in our area so we know that they will get things done, even if it does take time. We may have to bug them, and at the end of the day, we may have to deal with Tarion, but it will get done. So don’t expect to move into something pristine – unless you get lucky, it may feel like you’re moving into a rental again, especially when you have to go around and do the move-in inspection and name things that need to be fixed – but once those things are fixed (and you NEED to make sure they are because it is NOT a rental), at the end of the day, it is your house, and that feels amazing!
Another thing as well is when you’re picking everything out to include in your home. Unless you have an unlimited spending cap, you won’t be able to afford to get all the upgrades you want since they are rather expensive and anything that is considered a non-necessity, isn’t included. And although I have come to consider a kitchen back splash as a necessity, that’s not the case, so we had to do our own. However, we were lucky in that we got the keys to our home 3 weeks before we needed to be out of our old house so we took the time to put it in before we physically moved in there.
Still Wouldn’t Do It Any Other Way
Besides these five things, honestly, I still think we made the right decision. No, our house didn’t come with a deck or a fence, that is something we will have to put in ourselves, but we got to choose a specific colour scheme for our home, we got to choose which hardwood floors we wanted, we got to choose whether we wanted a regular sized kitchen or an extended kitchen, our tiles in the bathrooms, the shower heads, the taps, and doorknobs and so forth. And, the biggest selling feature for me that all the “old” houses we looked at didn’t have – a laundry room on the 3rd floor!
If you’re thinking about buying a new build, here are my suggestions to you:
- Thoroughly research the company you’re purchasing from. Ask all the questions you can think of and don’t be afraid of bothering them – you’re buying this house, you need to know. Having trusted real estate agents is a big help whether you’re buying a condo unit or a huge home in a well-known neighbourhood. Agents often know which companies have good reputation among their past clients. You could even go as far as knocking on some doors and asking people who have recently bought with the company you’re thinking of.
- Don’t be afraid to “fight” for your needs. We had an issue with the shower we bought – we were told one thing and got another. A lot of people would chalk it up to a misunderstanding, but I couldn’t do it. I fought for what we thought we were buying when we bought it, and maybe the people who dealt with me didn’t like me afterwards, but this is my house, and I’m paying for it. If you come in and one of your sinks is scratched, even if it’s 3 mm, tell them to replace it. You’re not moving into a rental that comes “As-is”, you’re moving into a brand new home that you paid for and it should be pristine.
- Bring in your own inspector. All housing companies have an “inspection” at the end of the building period. They say that the inspection is from a 3rd party, but there was some pretty large things the inspector we got missed – like enormous cold spots in one of our bedrooms that then created mold. The siding on the front of the house had to be completely removed to blow more insulation, and then replaced. It was inconvenient, but not terrible since we caught it early. Also, they just happened to miss that the phlange on the roof water pipes were not caulked which resulted in a little bit of a leak (luckily, all of these ended up being superficial because we had caught them early enough). But had the inspector done his job properly, he would have caught that. So bring in your own inspector (your building company won’t like that but they can just suck it up, buttercup), tell them to use their little machine to look for cold spots and/or moisture behind walls, check the roof for any possible leaks, and anything else that could be a potential problem in the winter (especially if you’re buying in the summer and won’t know of these problems for a few months)
Small Price To Pay
Although we did have some issues, again, I wouldn’t trade it. Here’s why: We have a brand new furnace, we have a brand new roof, we have a brand new water heater, we have all brand new appliances, and so on. So even though we did have these problems we may or may not have had if we’d moved into a “used” home, everything we struggled with was covered by our warranty company, including the appliances. And if the warranty company didn’t want to help, then we always have Tarion to back us up, whereas if we had found any of these issues in an older home, it would be coming out of our pocket
Every house purchase comes with a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of anxiety, but just try to take it all in stride and try to stay positive. Everything always works out in the end.
When It’s Time To Buy A House, Would you Buy New Or an Existing Property? Comment Below!
Samantha ~ The Pensive Mama
With new sometimes its in a good area, with a used house it can be in a good or bad area as well. I think if I had unlimited funds I’m want to make sure that my new house is close to things like a school for kids, shopping , bus routes that run often enough etc. I live in a small town outside of the city so when we bought it, our PIT was $435/month which was cheaper then any rent we could get in the city.
This is a great article. One of my friends is looking to buy a home and I will have her read this article for sure!
20 years ago when I bought my house it wasn’t about old or new, it was about where and which area.But I can tell you that there’s still some things that need to be renovated but I wouldn’t have given up my area for a new house and it sounds like you had problems and small renovations in your new house.
Thanks for your comments, ladies 🙂 You’re right in that what is more important than anything, especially if you have kids, is location. There are two reasons I didn’t mention location: 1. There was no choice for me, there was only one part of the city that I was willing to raise my son in, so we didn’t look anywhere else and 2. Because where the houses were built, it’s all completely new – there are thousands of houses being built in the area – which means new schools, parks, transportation….albeit the bus system isn’t great at the moment, but it’s getting better, and we don’t bus much so it’s not a huge deal.
And yes, Debbie White Beatie, you’re right – there were some renovations we had to do but they were things that weren’t properly completed and should have been, so none of it came out of pocket. Even our basement was put into our mortgage so although we did have to get eaves troughs and we will have to get a fence, that was our trade off for having all new large appliances (furnace, water heater, roof….) Like I said, there are pros and cons to both – at the point we were at in our lives, we felt like this option was less “risky” than purchasing an older home we would have to sink money out of our own pocket into.
And Debbie P. Thanks! Share away!
Thanks ladies! Your comments make me smile 🙂
Lots of important aspects to consider before you buy a house, definitely take the time to get an inspector and note down all the problems it has. Contemplate on how much it would cost to fix it all and evaluate if it’s worth it.