Price of new construction driving up “Used” home prices

Used to be that new construction in your area held back the value of your house. The “Used” houses needed to sell for much less than a new one would. Even in a mildly appreciating market, your newer home didn’t really go up in value until that last brand new house sold. It was like the thought was “Why wouldn’t I just get a brand new one instead of buying a ‘Used’ home?” I know this is hard to believe for those of you new to the real estate market, but you used to be able to be the only offer on a completed new home and if you had time, you could pick your lot and pick your floor plan and have your house built. Today, builders like to finish the house and put it on the market to see how much they can get for it. Construction times have gone from 6-8 months to 10-12 months. Builders don’t want to be locked into a sale price where they won’t get paid for 10-12 months in inflationary times and with supply chain issues.

While an existing home will still sell for less than a brand new one in the same neighborhood, I am seeing something that hasn’t happened before. Since new construction is sooooo expensive these days, I am seeing the value of existing homes being boosted by the sticker shock of new construction homes. Yeah, the market is good and inflation is driving the prices of everything up, but prices are rising even faster than I expected in some neighborhoods with a lot of brand new homes going up, such as Masterson Station and The Home Place.

A brand new 2000 square foot home in Masterson is about $325k and the same size in The Home Place is about $440k. Now, instead of saying “Why wouldn’t I just get a brand new home instead of a used one?” buyers are saying “This existing home is a bargain compared to what the brand new homes are!

The riskiest house to buy

What is the type of house that is the riskiest to buy?

 

(I’ll pause to give you a minute to think.)

 

I bet you didn’t come up with a brand new house as an answer, did you?

Now, new homes are built every day all around the country.    Most of the time everything goes well.  Probably like 98% of the time, but there are some risks involved that I always like to check out before a client decides to build a house.  So, why is new construction risky?

  1.  You don’t know what the neighborhood is going to look like until it is done.  Ever drive down Wilson-Downing and see that one street with about 12 houses that are much bigger than the rest of Belleau Woods?  Those were the first houses in what was going to be a neighborhood similar to Hartland.  Until interest rates shot through the roof in the early 80s and the only thing that was selling were small homes.   The people who bought their new houses on that street didn’t get what they expected.
  2. You don’t know what the value is going to be after you build.   A brand new sale is a unique sale.  It is never going to be brand new again.  It will be a “Used” house for each subsequent sale.  That is why when I have a client who builds, I like to look at the sales of other “Used” homes in the neighborhood so I can tell them what to expect.
  3. You don’t know what the builder is like.  Building is like most industries where 99% of them are good honest hard working people.  The rest are the ones that bring their whole industry down.  Many many years ago, there was a custom builder who was flying first class to see every UK basketball game, using his customer’s money to live large instead of you know, building their house.  He got arrested because he was telling banks that houses were nearly done so he could get more drawls from the construction loan.  There were a few houses that were still vacant lots.  This is why I like to check out my client’s builder to see if I think he is going to take their money and run.  Usually a long track record of building homes and a good reputation goes a long way with me.  I get nervous when the builder has only been around for a short time.

These are just a few things that pop in my mind when a client says they want to build.  Like I said, most of the time you never have these issues, but I think it is always a good idea for you to have your own realtor involved.

Something more important than location?

Yeah yeah yeah.  We’ve all been told by real estate professionals for years that the single most important thing when picking a house is it’s location.  I’m telling you right now that there is something even more critical than that.

Let me tell you a few things about location first.  It’s subjective.  People pick where they want to live for lots of reasons:  Proximity to main roads, their job, schools, parks, low crime, etc.  It’s always a compromise too.  One buyer may be willing to be far from parks if their kid can be in a better rated school.  Another buyer may be willing to put up with a higher crime rate if it is super close to their job…..so, one person’s great location may not be as great to other buyers.  Also, locations are sort of price dependent.  What is considered a good location for somebody with a $100k budget will definitely be a bad location for a $400k buyer.

What do ALL buyers have in common though when picking a house?  They all want as good of a lot as they can get.  In all 15 years of my career, I have never had somebody say they wanted a house that backed to a busy road, had a steep driveway, lacked privacy or had a backyard that was unusable due to a slope.

Why is the lot so important?  For starters, it is often a buyers first impression.  If a buyer tries to pull in the driveway and their car scrapes the pavement, bad sign.  If they are out of breath before they get to the front door, bad sign.  If they step out of their car and can hear New Circle Road or the Interstate that is behind the house, bad sign.  Additionally, the lot affects just about anything you do with the property.

What should you look for in a lot?

  1.  As flat as possible is the biggest thing around here.  Lexington is pretty flat.  The severely sloping lot is unusual here.  Go to Richmond or parts of Scott County and it is more common.  For what’s it is worth, nobody has ever told me they didn’t like a house I showed them because the lot was too flat.
  2. A nice view is always a plus.  If you can’t get a good view, then no view at all is safe.  We don’t have a lot of greenspace views and even fewer water views in Lexington.  It is totally okay to just have a flat backyard that backs to other houses.  I would avoid backing to anything than other houses, such as businesses, apartments or a road…..and ideally it backs to houses that are equal or higher in value than the one you’re viewing.
  3.  Get a lot size and shape that is normal for the neighborhood.  If you are looking at a house that has a tiny or oddly shaped lot unlike any other in the neighborhood, don’t buy it.  The same doesn’t always apply for lots that are bigger.  Most of the time the biggest lot in the neighborhood is the most desirable unless it is in a neighborhood where the most likely buyer will be a retiree or somebody downsizing to get away from a lot of maintenance.
  4.  I would avoid a corner lot if possible.  There are a few buyers who prefer a corner lot but most people view them as twice as much sidewalk to deal with.  Plus, most neighborhoods only allow you to fence a corner lot from the rear edge of the house, meaning that you have much less space if you want to fence it in.  (I’ve got a good friend who looooves his corner lot and will likely find out I said this…..sorry Peter!)

Want to know my absolute favorite thing about getting a good lot?  It never needs updating and never goes out of style.

 

Something I wish sellers understood

It happens a lot with sellers.

They have a house that isn’t getting much attention from buyers.  It could be due to price, an odd feature of the house, the time of year, competition from new construction, or anything really.  They get a lot of showings and all of the feedback is the same, resulting in no offers.

Then all of the sudden they start getting more and more showings.  Buyers seem more interested in the house than they have been, but still no offers.

The seller finds this time exciting.  They are thinking “Wow, with all these new showings and better feedback, surely my house is about to sell!!!!!

Sellers assume this will last forever but it is a temporary thing.  It lasts until other sellers with better houses put their homes on the market.

And here is the lesson to be learned:  The market changes every time a house sells and every time there is a new listing.  Once the best house in it’s price range sells, it makes every other house look just a little bit better.  That is why your house that hasn’t been that interesting to buyers is all the sudden on their radar.  Once a new listing hits the market, it has to fit into the hierarchy of all the houses available.   If you have one of the better houses for sale, then a house better than your house hits the market, it makes buyers less interested in your house.

When you find the market has it’s eye on your house and you still haven’t gotten any offers, the best thing to do is reduce the price while you have the attention.  If you wait, most likely what is going to happen is the market will move on to other houses and you will be right back where you were.

Which builder would I pick?

Before I spill on which builder, let’s establish the criteria:  Priced between $200k and $400k and brand new.

Ok, you ready for it?

To keep me out of a lawsuit, lets just say it is the big one in town.  Four letters.  You know the one.

I can already feel the tension in the air.  It is because I get it all the time when people ask me who to use and I suggest this builder.

Sure, everybody in town knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who has had a bad experience with this builder……but nobody ever knows “That” person first hand.  I own 3 of their houses myself and have sold 60 of them of all ages.

It has been my personal and professional experience that they build as good of a home as anybody.  Am I saying they are perfect?  No.  I am just saying that after selling new homes built by other builders and selling hundreds of “Used” homes built by other builders,  their homes seem to have fewer issues caused by the construction of the home.

Any house is something with thousands of pieces assembled by lots of different trades that has to withstand both time and mother nature.   Things go wrong with them.

I think one reason this builder has so many detractors is just because of their scale.  If you have build maybe 25,000 homes in the Bluegrass and 5% of those people had a bad experience, that is a lot of people.  If you are a smaller builder who has maybe built 100 homes in the Bluegrass, that same 5% complaint rate is only 5 people.

All I know is that if I were wanting a new home in the $200-400k range, I would rather go with a builder whose 50 year old houses are still standing verses somebody without much of a history.