Comment of the Day: The Strange Allure of the Shiny Shiny New New Home

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE STRANGE ALLURE OF THE SHINY SHINY NEW NEW HOME Illustration of Spring Branch Home“Houston is a strange place for real estate, where a surprisingly large number of people want ‘new’ homes, not ‘new’ as in less than 10 years old, but ‘new’ as in ‘never lived in, built just for me, uncontaminated by someone else’s use.’ I don’t understand this freakish (to me) thinking, but I’ve heard people express that thought, and it shows in the pricing of ‘slightly used’ houses. To me, a used house is one where the initial and inevitable builder snafus will have been fixed by a previous owner, and there might even be some mature trees.” [GoogleMaster, commenting on A Modern Colquitt Townhome’s Gently Lowering Price Tag] Illustration: Lulu

34 Comment

  • To me, a “used” house is one that has plenty of things that DONT work. As a woman who is tired of fixing things in the last 3 “used” houses I’ve lived in (wiring, plumbing, foundation, etc.) I would dearly love my LAST house to be new and completely functional.

  • Mature trees are nice. So are: uncorroded plumbing, unleaky roofs, sound foundations, safe wiring, etc. Having dealt with many of these items, I understand the desire to avoid them, and will not judge.

  • A “new” home comes with at least 2 year general warranty and up to 10 year structural warranty, so why worry. Buying a “used” house is like buying a used car someone else’s old underwear on craigslist.

  • I think the point was that lots of new houses have problems that aren’t discovered until someone lives in them. We are the only one of our friends who didnt move to Cinco Ranch. Out of our friends in the past 3 years…..1 had to have 2 toilets replaced, new wiring within living rooom ceiling, and has multiple foundation cracks. Another lost the entire wall around chimney (about 20 feet) due to crap sealant around roof/chimney juncture and rain water flooding within wall ruining sheetrock and studs before discoloring finally showed up and they of course have stress fractures throughout their walls. Granted we have repairs in our older home too–but we expected it when we got here and know we are going to update to our exact liking anyways. A lot of older products, particularly your hardwoods, were much better quality few decades ago. Except wood paneling–still crap!

  • A house (the structure) is a depreciating asset. All other things being held constant, the newer they are, the longer is their economic life expectancy. Moreover, all homebuyers should worry about shoddy construction or a builder that may or may not be around in the future to service their warranties, but only the buyers of used homes have to worry about piecemeal amateurish repair work or about tasteless remodeling.

    New-ish is usually alright, although dealing with an individual seller often makes for a more difficult transaction than working with a builder.

    And FWiW, I’d rather have a pre-WW2 house built out of hardwoods, but only if it’s in mint condition. Those don’t exist; they are unicorns. In the post-WW2 era, new houses actually are better houses. The technology has improved.

  • I can understand wanting a new custom home using a reputable builder who only does custom. One where you are involved in the plans. But wanting a mass produced new home in a master plan community where they build quickly with not much care- no thank you.

  • I certainly understand the appeal of a brand new shiny house, but it’s hard to know which builder to trust to build you a quality new home. We’ve been looking at both new and “used” homes over the past couple of months. The workmanship in some of the brand new homes listing for upwards of 800K ~ 900K was absolutely horrible. And if the finishing work is that poorly done, I shudder to think about the plumbing, electrical, etc that you can’t see.

  • What, live in a house that I might find someone else’s toe nail clippings, or that I’m breathing in their dead skin that’s still floating around the place? No thanks, not unless there’s a way to go full gataca clean house, nothing but new for me.

  • As a previous construction manager for home builders your new “clean” shiney home wasnt like that till the final clean. I have scene the bathtubs, non working toilets, paint buckets, and attic spaces with fecal matter and urine because the workers were to lazy to go out to use the port o john in front of the house.

  • Bought 1950’s house in hood where land is the most $$$, spent 40k fixing it up myself the right way (new plumbing, ventilation, kitchen, electrical, roof replaced from hail, exterior), and now my property is very nice and is worth 160k more in two years. I’ve also designed things to be easier to maintain in the future based on my remodel. I never would have gotten that kind of return in the burbs. Oh, and I never get on a freeway, spend 15 minutes a day in my car, and live in an est. neighborhood with tons of mature trees. People need to be less afraid of old because the rewards (after initial cleanup) will be much greater.

  • I’ll take a small, close-in house that was built with enough care to last 80 years, and has historical character that you can’t replace, over a soulless, cookie-cutter tract house on the outskirts of the city.. every time

  • “New home” almost always means WAY too big these days. You don’t need 3,000 square feet to live in, even if you have four kids and a dog. But that’s almost the smallest they build ’em these days. It’s way too much to cool, way too much to maintain, way too much to clean, and a vast waste of resources, money, and especially space. These days people seem to think you need three living rooms, a dining room, a breakfast room, a separate bedroom and bathroom for each person, and a study or two on top of all that. Ridiculous, blatant, voracious consumerism in its worst form. I’ll stick to older homes, thank you, if only so that I can find a place with a reasonable amount of space.

  • It is a bit of a southern thing. We have become used to sprawling cities where land is cheap, labor is cheap and everyone gets to build a new house. And people like being able to give friends a tour and saying things like “in this room, we had the builder put in this thingy and do this and that with the porch” so they can feel special.

  • I really wanted to buy a duplex and fix it up, but couldn’t convince my wife. Instead, we purchased a 3-story from a good builder. The quality is much better than most of the townhouses we looked at (over a 9-month period). It is a good size for us, but we would love to move into a detached single family to give our kids a larger, more usable yard. Unfortunately, for us to live in neighborhoods we want, it requires shelling out $500K for a tear down + $50K-$100K for a remodel not to mention the loss of 1,000 sq. ft. of living space. We love having mature trees in our neighborhood and being walking distance to restaurants, museums, parks, etc.
    Re Christian’s comment, I don’t think 3,000 sq. ft. is all that big. If I purchased a house in the burbs, I’d probably settle on 4,000 sq. ft. on 1/2 acre as I have use for the space. The lots in the burbs are too small, imo.

  • I understand the impulse to buy a new-build–new houses filled with new things are nice–but it’s not for me. I like a very particular type of older home: a pre-WWII raised (either block and beam or pier and beam) home that hasn’t been extensively added onto. While there were crap houses built prior to WWII, their materials were almost uniformly better than what’s available for tract or custom housing today. This makes repairs and, if desired, additions, relatively easy compared to a newer house. I also like the “patina” or “character” of an older home–when someone inevitably gouges my wood floors or when cracks appear above the crown molding, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like those mars do in newer homes: I don’t get all worked up and think I need to fix that right away. Slabs are a big no-no for me: I never understood the urge to buy an older home where your plumbing–which will corrode and fail at some point in every house–is cemented into the ground. Also $$$$ to repair foundation issues. A pier- or block-and-beam house requires only a few bottle jacks and you’re good to go. I also don’t have to go buy all new furniture to go in a new house. Nothing looks crappier than new-ish furniture in a new house.
    tl;dr: old is sometimes better than new, but you have to like that sort of thing.

  • Don’t fool yourselves, every neighborhood in Houston except for the downtown area itself and a few isolated spots (like Harrisburg or Addicks) is a suburb. Once you’re even as far out as Eastwood or Woodland Heights or Montrose, you’re living in a suburb dotted with production houses. And yes, craftsmanship was as much a problem back then as it was today. Its only easy to forget because the houses that were poorly- or cheaply-built have either been demolished or extensively repaired and remodeled over the course of so much time.

    A good rule of thumb is that if you’re buying in a subdivision that caters to the lower end of the market, then in fifty or sixty years you should expect that it’ll look a lot like Sunnyside does today. In general but with some exceptions, you get what you pay for.

  • This captivation with “NEW Never Lived In!” homes is how it comes to pass that builders can sell homes on the railroad tracks, or next to a freeway.
    Of course, five years down the road it’s time to sell, with the new worn off and the freeway still spewing………..

  • This is a common sentiment in other parts of the world too. While it may be tinged with a bit of superstition, most Japanese home buyers prefer a brand new house. I remember reading the median home age is 38 years. Now how well-built the new construction is, happens to be another matter entirely.

  • As usual, there is no “one size fits all answer”. As Houston continues on a trend of rapid population growth and expansion, there are not enough “old/used/pre-owned” houses to suit everyone’s needs. New construction is a viable and preferred option for many people. Also, many buyers don’t have the wherewithal to renovate and/or update a house.

    Being a buyer who has just gone through the process of looking for 1950/60/70s houses in the hot neighborhoods and finally settling on a 25 year old house in an established neighborhood in the burbs, I can only say that you have to keep an open mind when you search. If you’re willing to put in the effort to look for the diamond in the rough, you’ll find it eventually (we did). But many folks in this day and age are used to instant gratification and it’s far easier for them to go to a new tract development and pick a house like they pick a car . . . off the lot.

  • I would love to have a pre-war bungalow or classic Houston brick Tudor. Unfortunately they didn’t fit our needs. So my partner and I bought a shiny, new 4500 sq ft home in a planned suburban community. I’m sure it sounds like the “blatantly, voracious consumerism” Christian speaks of to some. We bought this house because it had two master bedrooms on the ground floor – a must because my in-laws planned to (and have) moved in with us to be closer to good medical care. We also needed a 3 car garage (4 adult drivers in the house), and plenty of room for all the kids and grandkids that visit quite often. I love my shiny new “too big” house because it has allowed this super-close family to spend a lot of time together, all in one place. Even the formal dining room gets used for…dining! Whatever fits your needs, I say.

  • I’m sure with what I could get for my “ancient” bungalow I could by a mansion in Katy, but I’d rather live in a pretty older part of town with great trees and in close proximity to great parks and museums and leave a very small footprint. Large houses require more resources to power and I certainly don’t require 4000+ square feet. As for my family, those who don’t live here can stay in one of our great hotels when they care to visit, I don’t run a B&B.

  • Amen Bridgeland Dude. Not everyone lives with 8 cats or dogs and moans about how everything is going to crap.

  • @ Shannon. Yes your graciousness pours forth in every post.

  • It’s not just the houses that are new. The neighborhoods are also new. Everything’s clean and things haven’t deteriorated yet. The apartment complex that will be the scourge of the neighborhood in 35 years, hasn’t been built yet. The schools are new and up to date: the infamous riot that’s going to happen during lunch period is still 20 years away. There aren’t a lot of parks but there’s plenty of undeveloped, green land. No abandoned big boxes. No after hours clubs. No personal care homes. No game rooms. No pain clinics….
    If we want to get people back into the City, we have to work on these things. Of course owners of after hours clubs and all of those will whine about how they’re being victimized and can’t make a living and on and on and on. (As though going into a more upstanding line of business is somehow impossible). The schools are a huge thing but the rest is important too. And we should want to get people back into the City, because it lets them be closer to work, drive less, and it controls sprawl.

  • @CLK, glad to know you’ll house my relatives. They’re hard to please pretentious W.AS.P.’s, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. Just don’t pierce the toast.

  • I agree. “New” as in “never lived in” doesn’t rank in the top 100 of “things I care about when buying a property”. I didn’t even know to desire existed until a few years back. A friend was like “but it’s a new home. Never lived in!”
    Meh. Who gives a crap.

  • ZAW, there’s a very easy way to get people back into the city that can bypass everything you just mentioned. carbon taxing would make these people scream and once they start looking to move back into the city and downsize their lifestyle the rest of the changes you mentioned would quickly follow.

  • @joel: I don’t agree with a carbon tax, and I’ll tell you why. First and foremost, it’s a regressive tax. People who are poor will wind up paying a much higher carbon tax, as a percentage of their income, than people who are rich. But also, there’s no guarantee that it will actually work to bring people back into cities. If it’s enacted at the regional or state level, it could simply drive people and businesses out of the region or state. If it’s enacted at the Federal level, it could push the economy back into recession.
    Also remember that people already are moving into cities – but it’s not evenly distributed. Our cities used to be hollow – with wealthy suburbs surrounding impoverished city centers. Now they’re staring to look like targets. There’s a rich urban core, surrounded by a ring of poverty, which itself is surrounded by a ring of wealthy (new) suburbs. So what do we do about that middle ring of poverty? A carbon tax isn’t the answer. We need to look at quality of life issues in that middle ring. In a nutshell, it’s what I’ve been saying all along.

  • Shannon, you pierced the toast. So what? It’s not the end of your life.

  • Family in NJ/metro NY, where affordable “new’ homes have been virtually non-existent for decades, could never understand why we bought old homes in Atlanta and Houston. Character and location – – never regretted it.

  • Geez, man, do you possess any sense of humor. Forget it.

  • I know of three peoples who will not buy/live in a previously lived in abode. And oddly enough, they all of Asian lineage. They each said that is how they were brought up in their families. No wonder they each be so stressed out.

  • No sense of humor? I know when I’m hearing a quote from “The Birdcage.” “Albert, you pierced the toast. So what? it’s not the end of your life.”

    I think you need a Pirin tablet; I’ll get Agador to bring you one.

  • Raising gas taxes and using the money to fund public transportation improvements would be preferable to adding a carbon tax. Encourage people to move closer to their workplaces and commute via bus, train, or bicycle. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen in Houston due to our O&G dominated economy…