The Pros and Cons of New Construction Vs. Existing Construction


In some parts of the country, new home developments pop up like weeds, and the options to choose from are endles. In contrast, new contruction in the Seattle and Eastside areas tend to be either tiny pockets of new construction, or spot homes tucked away on isolated single lots. First and foremost, you should decide where you want to live–there’s truth in the saying, “location, location, location,” and after that, consider the pro’s and con’s to existing and new construction.

Existing Construction

  • Without a doubt, if you’re looking at existing homes, there will be more to choose from in any general area you are interested in. 
  • More competition also means competitive pricing.  
  • The maintenance and upkeep costs for your home could be higher over the near term, depending upon the age of your home. For example, cedar shake roofs may need replacement around the 20 year old mark, so you may have to consider replacement costs much sooner than you would in new construction. 
  • Existing homes will likely require some upgrades or remodeling to customize the appearance to your liking. Different strokes for different folks! 
  • However, previous homeowners may have already upgraded features or added amenities/infrastructure to the home, for you to enjoy. Sports courts, decks, hot tubs, or new bathroom fixtures, may already be in place for your use. 
  • Landscaping will likely be established.

New Construction

  • The choices are limited–availability of new construction not near as abundant as existing homes, and the locations may not be as close in proximity to desireable areas, due to existing housing. (The exception of course, is in downtown areas, where new construction is upward instead of outward.)  
  • Cost is typically higher than existing homes in the same area. 
  • There are lower upkeep and maintenance costs for the near term–no need to worry about a new roof, new paint, new water heaters, etc.
  • The home and appliances should be covered by warranty.
  • May require intial start-up costs for landscaping.
  • If purchased early enough, there may be time to customize certain house options or floorplans to your preference.
  • The lot sizes may be smaller than those of existing properties. I’ve seen this quite frequently as builders try to subdivide a large area into as many separate lots as possible to maximize their return.
  • Price negotiation may be more flexible with a builder, who has a broader range of negotiation. Not only can you haggle about price, but financing and upgrades can also be part of the equation.

If in the end, you decide that new construction is the way to go, Debra Sinick of the Eastside Real Estate Buzz suggests:

  1. Pick the best of the lot because you make your profit the day you buy your home.  Unlike driving a new car off the lot which immediately depreciates, your home can appreciate or depreciate based on the market conditions AND the choice you make.
  2. Purchase from a known builder with a proven track record.
  3. Negotiate on pricing and/or upgrades.  The sales price will be a business decision to the builder, so don’t hesitate to make an aggressive offer.  If the price doesn’t work, the builder will counter the offer.

For more tips and the complete list, read Debra’s Top Ten Ways to Get a Deal Buying New Construction Homes in Today’s Market.

  • Debra Sinick

    Hi Katrina,

    Great advice. Home ownership is wonderful and exciting, but comes with a cost. If you buy new, you may need to complete the landscaping or the fencing and all the window coverings. (Of course, IKEA is always a good, practical bet for contemporary, inexpensive window treatments!).

    Resale homes can require work to be done as the home ages. So if you buy resale, look for a home that has been beautifully maintained and updated. Those homes can be winners, too.

    Bottom line, as Katrina says, look for the great location first and the house second.

  • Julia

    After living a wide range of Seattle housing — early 20th centry, mid century, and brand new — there’s no way I would go with new construction. The new construction homes I’ve lived in — especially ones built within the last five years — have been a nightmare: shoddy workmanship (reversed faucets, cracks in the plaster, crooked molding, etc.), inadequate soundproofing, and design that’s more about appearance than functionality. They looked great, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Older homes may need some updating, but they’re built to last, and many feature details (detailed brickwork, hardwoods in every room, built ins) that are only found in the very top tier of new construction.

  • Ellie at Redfin

    And one last thing- with existing construction, you generally know if the structure is sound because it’s been proven. With new construction, you can have hidden construction defects that come out once people start living there. Not that older homes don’t have problems, but you can generally figure out what and where. With new construction, it’s a gamble.

  • Gene

    Were building standards in the Seattle area significantly (or at all) upgraded after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake? Does this affect the new vs. used issue?

    Having said that, in townhomes, it seems like there is no real noise insulation between units these days – just double walls. Cinder block firewalls were soooo much better.

  • Katrina Munsell

    It’s interesting because in terms of quality of new versus older construction, I can see both points of view. Some things just plain old used to be done better, no doubt. Of course, on the flip side, some things are done better now (i.e. with updated building codes). Perhaps quality just has more to do with who built the house than when it was built…

    Gene, interesting question…I’ll check with a builder friend of mine to see if I can get some feedback on that for you… :) Unless, of course, anybody else out there might have some info also??

  • Mike

    Old homes were better?
    LOL. Yeah sure, if you don’t mind either paying an additional grand a month in your heating bill and or inhaling asbestos from your hidden black fibered insulation (oh… did the government forget to list the fact that such insulation is asbestos and many intake HVAC lines suck that crap right up into your heater and blow it into your room?) or perhaps you were lucky and got some news paper or straw stuffed in your walls. Oh yeah, don’t forget those wonderful lateral sheathing methods they used back then too, lap board etc.
    Don’t forget the fact that no-one really knows if your house was built by a pro or a guy toe nailing 2X4′s together to make a 2X12 joist or rim. What about those wonderful rock mortared foundations too, just awesome (sign me up). Yeah… I’ve spent the past 27 years looking at what’s behind those walls as a remodeler and I wouldn’t buy a house built before the introduction of the newest seismic and energy codes of the 2000 era. You would be amazed at the sort of stupid stuff that was done in the “old days”. Why do you think they introduced and adopted building CODES? It was for your HEALTH and longevity in life. Ask those poor folks who died from the shotty methods of yester year, some folks are still dying today from them as they suck up that hidden asbestos death cloud. You would be amazed at how many homes have asbestos in them! If it was known publically, there would be many older homes immediately condemned and or immediately addressed by hazmat teams. A city such as Seattle would be turned upside down over night, especially those homes built in the late 30’s and throughout the mid 50’s!
    Bottom line you never know what you’re going to get in an older home. Your chances with ending up with something dangerous built today are dramatically minimized by the rigid standards imposed on buildings today as well as the inspectors who sign off on them. If you don’t like the floor plan… go see an architect and have one drafted up that meets your needs. As per cracks in the sheet rock etc of today, that’s typical around ceilings with attics above, because engineers are trying to look out for your best welfare by not fastening trusses to intermediate member walls, so that they will move freely during a quake and not snap from given seismic stresses. Such cracks are merely cosmetic and cheaply/easily repaired and usually only occur within a year after everything has been finished and has settled.

    In all reality, you sound like some-one who just needs to gripe about something and you’ve have no idea what you’re talking about.

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    The Pros and Cons of New Construction Vs. Existing Construction