If living in a brand new house with no footprint other than yours appeals to you, you might be thinking about a new build. New construction gives you the chance to move into a house that is exactly what you want because you get to choose everything, from the builder and lot, right down to the light fixtures and bathroom hardware! It’s exciting to have all these options, but it can also be overwhelming, and it’s important to keep track of the process as you go, making sure everything is coming together in a timely manner. Letting things slip through the cracks or relying solely on your builder to take care of potential problems can be a mistake, sometimes a costly one. With the help of real estate agents who are in the know, we’ve created a new construction checklist that will help you stay on track through every step of your home build.
Take a look at our breakdown of everything you need to know about each step of the new construction process.
Find an agent
If you go to a builder, they may suggest that you use the listing agent that their company works with — but remember that the builder’s agent is looking out for their best interests, not yours. Having your own agent who is experienced in the new construction process can make a big difference, especially when you’re trying to stay on top of an ongoing build.
Research agents in your area
Do some online research on agents in your area, focusing on those who have experience in new construction.
Take a look at variables like customer reviews, star ratings, how many homes they’ve closed on, and what kind of expertise and special achievements or awards they may have earned.
Interview potential agents
Once you narrow down your choices, interview your potential agent. You can ask questions like:
- How many new construction homes have they closed for buyers?
- What is their general availability — can you call them anytime?
- What relationships do they have with top builders in your area?
- How do they keep track of a new build timeline?
- How do they plan to negotiate with builders if there are any problems (and what are those problems, typically?)?
In addition to hiring an agent who is experienced and knowledgeable, make sure they are someone you can work with for a long period of time. New homes can take months to complete, so your relationship with your agent is going to stretch beyond the standard 30-day transaction of an existing home.
Line up your financing
Once you’ve decided on an agent, it’s time to find a mortgage lender for your new home. Builders often provide financing for their homes, but that isn’t always going to give you the best deal. Go online or make some phone calls and see which lenders work with new construction loans.
Questions to ask your lender should cover:
- Current interest rates
- Types of loans they offer
- Builders they work with
- What fees they charge, including origination fees
- What their timeline is for the loan (depending on the type of loan, you may be limited to one year or less)
You can also discuss mortgage options with your agent, as they are likely to have some good insight on lenders that are easy to work with — as well as helping you determine whether or not the builder’s financing, which sometimes comes with added incentives and discounts, would be best for you.
Choose your builder
Using a reputable builder is probably one of the most important factors when buying a new construction home. Chicago agent Matt Laricy, who has more than 19 years of experience in the industry and completes 41% more sales than the average agent in his area, says that due diligence when vetting a builder is crucial.
“Some builders create shell companies, and if there are problems with the house after the fact, they disappear,” he says.
“I’d also be hesitant to buy from a builder’s very first development. They are learning as they go, and you don’t want their problems to start with you.”
Laricy suggests researching and interviewing a builder just like you would anyone else.
Things to consider:
- Make sure they have a strong portfolio of work, and review it.
- Look online at customer reviews and any reports with the Better Business Bureau.
- Ask your agent about builders and see who has the best reputation.
- Review past developments they’ve completed and see if there are any ongoing issues with the homes there.
- See how long their builds usually take, and make sure that timeline is reasonable for you.
- Find out what their packages include and what features or materials are considered upgrades.
- Check their track record on following up with issues after the build is completed.
- Talk to the builder about escalation in costs and how they manage it if materials suddenly jump in price or there are other, unexpected expenses.
- Ask about what warranties will be available and what’s covered under them.
Choose your development
Figuring out where you want your new home to be built is another important (not to mention permanent) decision. After all, if you decide you don’t like the light fixture you chose in a particular room, that’s an easy fix — but the location of your house is forever!
Find out where the new developments are being built in your area, and see what’s available. Ask yourself:
- Do you need to be near work or schools?
- Are you looking for a development with mostly single-story homes, or do you prefer two-story?
- What style of house do you want? Modern? Traditional? Which developments have these types of homes?
- What size of lot do you want? Most developments have a predetermined lot size for each home.
- What kind of amenities does each development include? Community pool? Gym?
- What about HOAs? Do they have them? What is the cost, and what do they include?
Choose your lot
While lot sizes are usually established by the builder, prices can vary somewhat based on the lot’s exact location and when you buy.
If you get into a development that’s just breaking ground, you might be able to get a good deal on a lot. On the flip side of that, if you buy one of the last lots available, you could pay more, especially if it’s a highly sought-after development and builder.
If you do have your choice of lots, think about which one best suits you and your lifestyle:
- Do you want a house that’s closer to freeway access, or more tucked into the heart of the neighborhood?
- If the development has amenities like parks or community pools, do you want to be closer to them, or further away where it might be quieter?
- If there are different lot sizes to choose from, what size do you want? Smaller with less maintenance, or a place with room for a big yard?
- Corner lot? One that already has some trees on it? North-facing? South-facing?
You can also look at things like drainage on the lot, whether or not it’s graded flat or you’ll have more of a terraced landscape in the backyard, and whether or not you’ll have neighbors directly behind you. Keep in mind that location can affect price, and more desirable lots (such as a corner lot) might be more expensive.
Decide on a floor plan
Once you’ve locked in your builder and selected your lot, the fun begins, starting with choosing your floor plan!
The builder will usually offer a few different options, and within those, you can sometimes make small changes. “You might be able to move the laundry room to a different location,” says Laricy, “or maybe change the kitchen island style.”
Questions to ask yourself about floorplans:
- How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? If it’s a two-story, do you want a ground floor master? Do you need a separate office space?
- What kind of layout do you like? Do you want an open flow, or something more compartmentalized?
- Do you want the extra light (and potential extra cost) of more windows?
- What kind of front entrance do you like?
- Do you need a pantry for the kitchen? Or a designated laundry room?
Like anything having to do with new construction, if you want changes to the floorplans the builder offers, it might cost you. Take time to really evaluate the builder’s offered floor plans as opposed to what you have in mind, and if it’s not exactly what you want, look for compromises.
One of the great things about a new build is that you get an opportunity to make the space your own right off the bat. Instead of painting, redoing flooring, or remodeling entirely like you might do in a pre-existing house, new construction means you get to pick out the finishes to your new home. This involves a visit (or two) to the builder’s showroom, where you can see the different options available to you.
Here’s where you definitely want to make sure you understand what’s included and what isn’t in your package, what is standard, and what’s considered an upgrade.
“Just because you see hardwood floors in the showroom photos doesn’t mean hardwood floors are included,” explains Laricy. If you don’t want to have to pay more, you’ll be choosing your finishes from what the builder offers within the package you’re purchasing.
Some of the finishes you might get to choose include:
- Paint colors
- Flooring type and color
- Kitchen countertops
- Kitchen cabinets
- Light fixtures
- Bathroom vanity style and color
- Tub and shower color
- Bathroom and kitchen faucets and sinks.
Selecting all these new things can be a lot of fun, but again, be aware of the confines of your particular contract with the builder.
“They will have the basic materials, then they’ll have upgraded materials,” says Laricy. “You want to find out what’s standard and what’s an upgrade.”
Should you get the upgrades?
It’s tempting to immediately want to go for an upgrade, especially if you think what you’re getting is going to be higher quality than the standard options. But that isn’t always the case, says Laricy.
“An upgrade doesn’t always mean an upgrade,” he notes. “Sometimes the quality of the regular finishes are better than an upgrade because they are getting the standard materials at a bulk rate. You could be paying more for a product that is actually of a cheaper quality, simply because they aren’t buying it in bulk.”
If what the builder offers with the base package isn’t exactly what you want, think about going with it anyway, then making minor changes yourself after you move in. This can be a lot cheaper in the long run — you won’t be paying builder prices to upgrade items!
As the build begins on your new home, you’ll probably be wondering about the timeline. How long does new construction take, and what kind of things do you need to track? When will you actually close on the house and be able to move in?
This is where you’ll need to have some patience because new builds often take longer than the initial timeline. “It’s never accurate,” says Laricy. “I tell buyers to add a minimum of three months.”
Before you balk at that kind of delay, understand that while a builder might anticipate a projected finish date, they can’t always anticipate issues such as delays in receiving materials or retaining labor for the job.
You can ask your builder or agent about the specifics, which might help you get a more accurate idea of when the house will really be done. Here are some of the questions you might consider so you can better understand the timeline:
- When will the foundation be finished?
- How long will framing the house take?
- When does the roof go on?
- At what stage do they install major systems such as plumbing, electric, heat and AC?
- When does the drywall go up? What about other finishes?
- When is the cabinetry installed in the kitchen and bathrooms?
- What about landscaping? How long will that take?
- What is the anticipated closing date?
- When will we be able to move in?
Because the timeline of your build can be a bit fluid, you’ll want to make sure that wherever you’re living during construction, you’ll be able to extend your stay if necessary.
The inspections (there will be a few!)
Unlike a pre-existing house, which usually has one home inspection prior to purchase, a new construction home will often have several.
These happen in stages as the house is being built. Depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to attend these inspections. In places like Chicago, where Laricy works, most buyers attend a pre-drywall walkthrough and then the final walkthrough. “In my market, buyers aren’t allowed back into a build until it’s complete,” he says.
Some of phases of the inspections will include:
- Pre-pour inspection, where the inspector looks at things like elevation and grading
- Framing inspection
- Inspection of systems, such as plumbing and electrical.
- Final inspection, where they will look at all the finishes, windows and doors, HVAC, sinks, tubs, showers, cabinets and countertops, and the foundation.
Your agent can help you find an inspector who has new construction experience, something you’ll definitely want as you go through the process. You can also talk to your agent about whether they’ll be attending the various inspections, and whether or not you can attend as well.
Before you sign the closing papers on your new home, you’ll do a final walkthrough with your agent. This is the time to really take a close look at the house and see if there is anything the builder missed or any items that need repair.
You might think that the final walkthrough is cursory because with a brand-new house, everything should be perfect, right? But it’s important that you inspect the house before closing, otherwise you might have some unexpected (not to mention unwelcome) issues after you move in.
We’ve got a comprehensive final inspection checklist here, but check out this quick overview of inspection items:
- Exterior of house
- Landscaping, driveway, front walk
- Fences, sheds, any add-ons
- Door and window functionality
- Walls, ceilings, floors
- Trim and baseboards
- Kitchen and baths
- Electrical (bring something to do an outlet check!)
- Attic and basement or crawl spaces
- Sinks, toilets, tubs
- Gouges in wood or imperfections in countertops
If you find anything concerning, have your agent contact the builder right away so you can work with them to get things resolved.
After the move-in
Once you’ve got the keys in hand, packed up your old place, and moved everything in, you might be surprised to find that there are still a few problems that crop up with your newly built house.
“People think they don’t have anything to worry about when they buy new construction,” says Laricy, “but I tell them that new doesn’t necessarily mean new — it’s still a product that is being built, and there can be issues with any house.”
Things to look for:
- Water issues, leaks, and so on
- Window insulation problems
- Roofing flashing not installed correctly
- Basement dampness
- Drywall insulation
- Cracks in the driveway or walkway
- Cracks in drywall
- Flooring issues like cracked tiles or uneven wood
- Doors or windows sticking
Depending on when the problems start, you do have some recourse in following up with the builder. “Most developers give a one-year warranty,” says Laricy, “but make sure you read it thoroughly, because it may not include everything.”
Building a new home can feel daunting, but being aware of everything involved and having a checklist to guide you, along with an experienced agent, can make a big difference. You’ll be able to move through the process with know-how and knowledge — and you’ll hopefully find that the build-up to that new build is worth the wait!
Header Image Source: (Nikunj Singh / Unsplash)