Would You Buy a New House or an Older Home?

by Jacques Sprenger on 2008-09-2941

When making the foray into real estate, have you thought about whether you’d buy a new house or an older home? Does it matter? Here are some pros and cons.

Thanks to the present housing slump, potential home buyers are finding some great bargains, if they have the patience and the savvy to haggle the final price. Many houses in the market have been erected during the last 5 years and should be pretty much trouble free.

But, as they say in the construction business, they don’t make them the way they used to. Experts also say that a house increases in value over the first 20 years, and then the only valuable property is the land. Land almost never decreases in value, unless there is a toxic landfill underneath. So the important question for potential buyers is: is it better to buy an old house or one recently made?

Why You Should Buy An Older Home

Size is not important, but it sure helps. One of the big pluses in buying an old house is the property size. They used to build houses on larger lots. If you have a large family, the opportunity to live on a larger piece of property seems like a wonderful option. In general, the square footage for the average single family home has increased over time, while land size appears to have shrunk. A home built in the 50’s and 60’s has a typical living space of around 900 to 1,600 square feet but it wasn’t uncommon for land parcels then to be larger than what it is today, especially in the suburbs.

buy a new house or an older home

These days, larger plots of land would be considered prime real estate and will cost you a fortune. Not to mention the type of wood and materials used in the past, redwood instead of pine, and the size, 2 x 6 instead of 2 x 4. It’s true that some old homes still cost a fortune in some areas, so you’ll have to be patient and search for the great opportunity.

They can’t see us and other goodies. Aside from the size, old homes give you some privacy from the neighbors. The new subdivisions tend to build a new house right next to a nosy neighbor who could crawl through your bedroom window from his own. Think about the area where older homes were built; their zoning preserves the neighborhood and may afford you more agreeable neighbors, with protection from noisy businesses setting up shop in your vicinity. Trees may also be an advantage; they’ve had time to grow and form a beautiful canopy on the streets where you might jog every day. Finally, there is the distance. Older homes may be closer to the city and give you less commute time. Wow, that’s worth a lot. Think of the gas and the frustration you save.

However… here are some (perhaps obvious) reasons why a newer home could be better for you.

Why You Should Buy A New House

Of course, there are disadvantages to buying an older home. I can think of five areas that should be thoroughly vetted before you make an offer on a house that’s more than 20 years old:

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical System
  • Termites
  • Roof
  • Structural Integrity

As you check out an older home, note that if the house had good owners, then they would have probably replaced the heating and cooling systems recently, including the boiler. Check for signs of good maintenance. But watch out for asbestos; have an expert check the pipes to see whether they were covered with asbestos as insulation.

An older home may also have lots of areas that may need repairs and a lot of stuff may require replacement. Also, many things may not be “up to code”. These days, newer homes have many more amenities — fire sprinklers built in, yard sprinklers installed, built in HVAC systems, and a lot of modern features just not available in older residences.

Additionally, newer houses are built with a lot more forethought, and understandably, address the many requirements of today’s homeowners. They are built with more storage, additional rooms, and a “flow” that represents the modern family’s lifestyle. Many new homes are erected today with a “green” designation.

How Do You Decide: Old vs New House?

What it boils down to is location, location, location… and cost. Is it possible to fix the old home at an affordable price and still get a bargain? Do you like the old house so much that you must have it? Do the pros outweigh the cons?

That feeling of yesteryear. Old houses have a certain feeling that’s non-existent in newer homes. The walls talk to you from generations past (as long as they don’t include some grisly murders or have a sordid reputation). Are you willing to sacrifice some of the modern conveniences, larger bathrooms and modern kitchens, for the pleasure of large trees and gardens, pleasant neighbors and proximity to the work place?

The tradeoff may ultimately boil down to that mature garden vs cool bathroom fixtures and low-flow plumbing!

Contributing Writer: Jacques Sprenger, a former college professor in psychology and English, a counselor, and now a teacher for challenged students.

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary@SimplyForties September 29, 2008 at 10:35 am

Some of us are just “old house people”. My house, which I bought 3 1/2 years ago, was built around 1925. I looked for 5 years before I bought and did not look at any new houses. They just didn’t suit me. I love my old house and all the little replacing and fixing is well worth the reward of living here.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 29, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I personally enjoy the “atmosphere” provided by old houses. I like the creaky floorboards, the interesting wall treatments and fabrics used in some of them. Interior design is my other hobby, and I find that it’s harder to find high quality materials and quaint fabric patterns for the home these days (as compared with what used to be available). They also don’t make furniture like they used to IMO — think about melamine furniture vs hardwood.

There’s also something to be said about the history and character of older homes that I quite admire. New houses are nice for the up-to-date features they have, but they don’t have the “ambiance” of an older home.

Moneymonk September 29, 2008 at 12:42 pm

I hate brand new subdivisions and neighborhoods.

The trees are not mature and you don’t know the neighborhood because “Everyone” is brand new. You do not know if the neighborhood will be filled with kids or not.

I moved into a mature neighborhood that was 10 years old. I was able to make visits during the day and night. I knew if they had kids playing or not. I knew the crime rate by talking to the neighborhood.

Brand new houses are not all that’s it cracked up to be. I have two people I know that moved in to a brand new house and constantly had structure and plumbing issues.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 29, 2008 at 12:55 pm

So how about a compromise: buy a new house in an old neighborhood?

The price for this of course, is a pretty penny! If you buy an older home for the purposes of demolishing it and replacing it with a new one, or if you plan to do a major renovation on an older home, it can all add up to money, effort and stress. Another idea is to look for an older, more established neighborhood where newer homes are popping up. Again, it will very likely cost you much more than buying in a brand new subdivision.

Mydailydollars September 29, 2008 at 1:06 pm

I definitely prefer older homes. I agree with Mary. Our house was built in 1920, and the craftsmanship is wonderful. Sure, there are few old pipes and other minor problems. However, we love the feel and the space. Even though our lot is small, we are nicely screened from the neighbors.

Meoip September 29, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Go new house other neighborhood. New home builders including tract / cookie cutter builders will build wherever you want. Find a nice empty lot somewhere and build. If you have money tear down and build.
It’s important to understand they generally don’t own floor plans so find one you want and shop around.
If you do build new make sure to be seen at the site. Workers do better work if they are watched. Frequently email the supervisor with observations and questions so he/she knows you are watching.

CMOE September 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

I am pretty much a new home buyer, I like staying up to date on the look and feel of a home. Older homes pose more of a threat of needing repairs and constant maintenance.

doctor S September 29, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I am looking to buy a home in the next year or so and am pretty torn on the topic. On one hand, I am really looking forward to putting in some work on the house but I do not want a run down place or “fixer upper”. My main thinking behind it is I just can not afford a brand new home. Something built within the last 10 years would be sufficient with me. I do agree though that older homes will have more land and that is something I definitely value b/c I love grass! Tough decision though… We shall see.

Jennifer B. September 29, 2008 at 6:42 pm

My vote is with the older home. Mine was built in 1932, and I wouldn’t trade it for a newer house for anything.
To me, the main selling points:

– Neighborhood: It’s not just that I know my neighbors, and that they’ve mostly been around a while, but our houses are spaced far enough apart for us to be able to breathe, and are more unique than many of the cookie-cutter neighborhoods today.

– Character: I’ve got hardwood floors, delicate tile work, plaster walls, and arched doorways… hard to find that in new homes.

– Floorplan: I think a lot of new homes waste space to be able to have a big masterbedroom… my rooms have just enough space to do what they’re intended for, and not much leftover, which keeps me from accumulating clutter.

– House value: After a certain point, an old brick home in good condition with lots of its original features becomes more of a rarity… my home’s value has gone up almost 20% in the last 5 years. So much for the failing real estate market!

As far as the cons go, in my mind there are only 2 real cons:
– Maintenance: there is almost constant tweaking maintenance. I rather enjoy that sort of thing (as long as it’s not, say, the furnace or the AC), and just built it into my budget. Of course the other side of that is that once you’ve replaced/renovated/fixed something, as long as you take care of it it tends to stay that way.

– Modernization: When I bought the house, it has knob-and-tube wiring, no phone lines, and exactly three electrical outlets… updating the wiring was part of the sale, and I’ve added outlets where I needed them, which wasn’t as huge of an issue as I was afraid it might be. I still have one room that has a single outlet and no overhead lighting… but it has giant windows which I tend to enjoy.

And of course, in the current gas crisis, one of my favorite benefits of an old home: It’s almost in the center of town, which means that almost everything I need is within a 2-mile radius, including work!

I wouldn’t trade my old house for any number of new ones 🙂

Escape Somewhere September 29, 2008 at 9:54 pm

When I look for homes I usually end up with older homes. Here is my theory and I could be wrong. I tend to want a property where the land is worth more than the actual structure. (So the land is 60-90% of the total value of the property). Basically in Austin land tends to go up in value and the structures tends to go down in value over time. So my purchases tend to be near the center of the city and therefore the homes tend to be older.

My wife (yeah shes the handy one in our relationship) likes to fix things so maintence is a less of an issue.

I have heard the dynamics of the California real estate market are different so I can’t really speak to that. Also if there are kids its hard to get an older house because people often want a larger and therefore newer house.

Michael September 30, 2008 at 6:49 am

I prefer older homes. My house was built in 1963, which by some standards is not that old. I have had to replace a bunch of stuff, roof, furnace, AC, gas line to street, but now it is pretty sound mechanically and I love the space and layout. I do wish I had a bathroom off the master bedroom and a little bigger kitchen.

The real selling point is something others have brought up and that is the larger yard. Plus my yard is very private since the trees have had over 40 years to mature. I see people in the newer sub-divisions and most of the houses look the same and the backyards are like fish bowls with a fence around them. No thanks!

Chris Hutcherson September 30, 2008 at 8:15 am

I would probably buy a used house because they are a better value and come in established neighborhoods. Also nice to get all the little things (sheds, fences, landscaping) that have been done to improve the land.

jim of Blueprint for Financial Prosperity September 30, 2008 at 8:27 am

A lot of my friends who bought new homes in Baltimore are quickly discovering that builders cut corners, don’t always use quality products, and are rushing to get jobs done and not putting the time they should be on the little things. That’s another consideration…

DadTopics September 30, 2008 at 8:44 am

Old houses all the way. They are built better, have mature landscaping, have more character, and are less expensive. Just make sure you have a thorough inspection before buying.

klcthebookworm September 30, 2008 at 8:59 am

I think I might qualify for the oldest house here. The tax records say it was built in 1919, the insurance agent put down 1920 I think to avoid a surcharge for a historical building, but everyone in the family feels it is older than that since it was built as my great-great-grandparents’ retirement cottage when they handed their farmhouse over to one of their kids. The farmhouse has long since disappeared, but the four-room Acadian double shotgun cottage with a detached kitchen has survived and been remodeled countless times. It now has an indoor bathroom (which I’m going to remodel eventually), an attached kitchen, two bedrooms, plus the two rooms that I use as a living room and office.

Granted, I see it as a fixer-upper. The back bedroom and kitchen are built onto with pine and definitely not up to code. The rest is solid cypress, but needs some wiring redone and I’d love to be able to get central air and heating installed. But my reason for buying it was pure sentimentality. My great-grandparents built it, it’s where my childhood memories with great-grandmother were formed, and it’s right next door to my parents so I prevented another cretin in my family from moving just anybody in for a rent payment. (Nothing against renting or renters, but the family members I’m talking about don’t understand why you do a credit check on people.)

But I came out ahead in the deal. My mortgage is fixed and at the lower end of what land was selling for three years ago in my area. Plus I got 2.75 acres with the house, and hopefully I can buy the rest of the parcel when my grandmother dies.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 30, 2008 at 9:40 am

Great thread going here! I am surprised by how many fans there are of older homes! I actually live in what you’d call a “new house” as it was built in 2000. I also used to live in a 40 year old house prior to my current residence — and I have to say that I much prefer my new house.

Then again, I wouldn’t qualify the older home I lived in as built up to the high standards you’re all describing as it was one of many suburban tract homes that was built as part of a large development.

If given a chance, I’d love to live in a more antique, custom-built home, if only those were more available and affordable where I live….

Jon September 30, 2008 at 10:10 am

I, too, am surprised by how many of the commenters prefer old homes. Our home was built in 1932, and we preferred it to anything we were seeing in newer neighborhoods when we bought back in 1995. The disadvantages – large yard needs lots of maintenance, and older homes cost a lot to modernize.
As recent empty-nesters, my wife and I have recently discussed the option of downsizing and buying a newer, perhaps custom-built, home. We decided to stick with our older home, but work on making some long-delayed improvements and on re-designing some landscape features to make maintenance not such a time sink.

Luigi Mario September 30, 2008 at 4:03 pm

I would like to buy a new house but I would probably have to buy an old one because I am very poor!

Bucket Beats October 3, 2008 at 4:03 am

I would buy an old house. They were built stronger.

Kevin October 3, 2008 at 7:04 am

My wife and I are going through this exact process in anticipation of moving next spring. We’ve looked at probably thousands of houses online and driven by or went to open houses of ones we really like. We live in a 1950s “bungalow” right now and love some of it’s features – hardwood floors throughout, hardwood trim/moldings, good size yard, etc. However, we don’t like the small kitchen, the poor layout or lack of garage.

Right now we are leaning toward an older house that has the layout we want and at least a 1/2 acre yard. We want a big yard for our son (and future kids) to play in, plus room for our 2 large dogs to run. Not to mention I want to start a vegetable garden and possibly own hens at some point. We aren’t going to get that type of land in a new subdivision unless we go way out of town, which would extend our commutes. We’d like to shrink the commute if possible.

Praveen October 9, 2008 at 2:27 pm

We bought a 7 year old house and are happy with it. My wife doesn’t like older homes, but we also didn’t want new construction.

We have friends and family that have bought new construction, and they have had issues – plus they had to pay for extras like window treatments, landscaping, etc.

Our house, on the other hand, had a lot of landscaping, custom cabinets and entertainment system, finished basement, etc. courtesy of the previous owners.

The big minus isn’t so much that we are in a new house – but that we are in a newer, growing community. So, our property taxes have gone up from $7,234 to $10,783 (49%) in 5 years. That’s 8.3% per year.

Pinyo October 9, 2008 at 7:00 pm

My current house is older than my parents. For my next house, I would prefer new if I could choose.

Jacques Sprenger October 26, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I can see that opinions diverge a lot, which is to be expected. If we could afford to build a new house with the positive aspects of the older ones, everybody would be happy. But since we can’t, we have to shop around until we find what we want and can afford. Compromise is the usual requirement.

dean graziosi December 10, 2008 at 10:51 am

For my first home, I think it would make sense to buy a new home. However, it all about what one can afford at that given time. Make a smart decision with appropriate knowledge regarding the industry news. It is always good to know the current (avg.) market value for a specific neighborhood before even looking at houses in a particular area.

Erika January 15, 2009 at 5:06 pm

We own an old home built in 1930. We have been in our neighborhood for almost 5 years. We chose our old home for many reasons. The schools are ranked very high. Many tear downs are priced starting at 1.5 million. There is an abundance of old homes as well. Our neighborhood is 26 minutes from Chicago by train. There are old oak trees towering over homes and streets. The roads are winded and full of hills. The village has a vibrant downtown with many boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops. We chose our old home because of the character and variety of architecture it not only has, but the other homes have! As someone who sees art in everything, I could not get myself to buy a new home in a subdivision where there were no trees. Also, the newer subdivisions have homes that are bigger because they are farther from the city, but they all look the same and have no style. Also, many of the newer homes in far-out suburbs are less valuble and have not appreciated to the extent the established Chicago suburbs have. Their schools are much more crowded and their teaches are paid half as much (salary wise) compared to more established neighborhoods in the Chicago suburbs. Our classrooms have a student cap of 22 children per classroom. Many of these newer suburbs have over 32 students per classroom and no teacher’s assistants in in the classroom. Sometimes, these fringe/suburban sprawl neighborhoods appear to have people living in a bubble of endless strip malls and subdivisions that look identical. Naperville, Illinois is one of these “fringe/suburban sprawl” neighborhoods. It is extremely overcrowded and many people spend ridiculous amounts of time commuting back and forth to Chicago for work. Running errands where it takes hours versus minutes is another reason we prefer our quaint village versus suburban sprawl. Our home has appreciated in value over 50% since the time we bought it. We doubt many of the newer, farther out suburbs can say the same. Our taxes are also much lower.

Louie February 11, 2009 at 4:31 am

You are so right saying…
“… watch out for asbestos; have an expert check the pipes to see whether they were covered with asbestos as insulation.”
Asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. It is deadly disease.

Alysha August 16, 2009 at 12:04 am

I wish and pray that I can buy my own home soon! Please Help Obama! ;>

The Gusie August 18, 2009 at 4:36 pm

The problem with new homes in new subdivisions is that all the houses look alike. Design #1,2,3, repeat all the way down the block. And the homes are so close together you can hear and see everything your neighbor is doing.

I prefer something about 20-40 years old. It’s had time to settle and crack (so you know exactly what you’re getting) and the trees have had ample time to grow.

Catherine August 19, 2009 at 8:56 am

I would love to own an old property. At present I’m the proud (mortgaged to the hilt) owner of a 30’s semi. The reason it cost the arm and the leg is of its proximity to London. My dream house would be a georgian town house with accompanying courtyard type garden. Preferably within easy access to a useful tube station. Oh well I can dream. In the mean time, the English climate being what it is, I have added replacement windows and external doors using a local company that was recommended to me. I’d employ them to improve my dream house any day. CJ

Centers and Squares August 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm

For me it’s always an old house. I live in a circa 1800 house and though the most recent house I’ve owned was built about 1920 my definition of “old” has expanded over the years to include vintage ranches and maybe even split levels from the 50s and early ’60s. Those were the last years when quality materials were the norm even in starter homes – real plaster walls, hardwood floors, fully tiled baths, wood shelves in the closets, etc.

New may be up to date but the quality can’t compete with older houses – the materials are so much more expensive or simply not available nowadays. So many components of the house have become disposable items or look shabby within a few years. Houses were things of beauty years ago and now all too often are character-free big boxes.

There’s a “cup for every saucer” as the seller of my first home said. I’ll happily be first in line to buy the “old and untouched” house of my dreams and others can buy the new house on the block.


Ventura August 26, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Personally, I would prefer a new house or a house that’s only a couple of years old. I would just find it a bit unsettling to be living in a house where others have lived for years-decades-etc.!

Cadillac January 8, 2010 at 4:23 am

I guess I am the odd ball because I prefer a newer home, not brand new though. Sometimes the upgrades in a home averaging 6-10 years are thrown in for free because homebuyers know that they are competing with newly built homes in the area. As far as a cookie cutter-type neighborhood, one can make their home unique by what they do to it. Old houses tend to require more maintenance that homebuyers may not have accounted for (the unknown). Even with a house inspection, some things are unknown until after moving in. Plus, I am a germaphobe and the older a house is the more I have to imagine all the gross germs lerkingaround from the previous owners. Old houses tend to have small closets and inadequate storage areas. Putting a lot of money in an old home may not be the best idea if you plan to “outdo” the neighborhood because you may not redeem all of your money out of it. Furthermore, renevation projects can be lengthy in time which leads to the question, “when are you going to be able to enjoy your place?” To conclude, I feel as though a move in ready modern home is the way to go.

kortneyluv March 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I would prefer a newer home, but if the house is built in 1920 and it’s redone? Why not?!

ron June 28, 2010 at 7:18 am

Well … My first 2 homes were brand new and in “cookie cutter” subdivisions. Never .. ever again .. new subdivisions are awful and I don’t understand why they continue to make them the way they do. I just bought a 40 year old house (1969) in a nice mature area with 1/2 acre lots ! .. and for the same price as me previous 5 year old house that was thrown together by a cheap builder (like most these days) .. This older home is great ! All I had to do was upgrade some of the electrical outlets in the kitchen and replace some old carpet .. I look at the joists and beam construction and they built so much more solid back then. The builders must have taken much more time and pride back then … You can tell just by looking at the structure. Never buy a new home … they are just not worth it. Most older homes (around 30-45 yrs) actually don’t need that much updating. It’s well worth it. I feel like I’m “at home” now , not crammed on a bare street full of driveways, cars, and hearing your neighbor’s sneezing ! My stress levels have dropped and I feel much better about life in general now. Older homes all the way !

Anthony Douglas December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I have a house built in 1905 in Berkeley California. I think that is the oldest one anyone has mentioned on here. Since when is a house build in the 60’s “old”?

To me for a house to be considered anywhere near old it has to be pre WWII at least.

But yeah, original redwood siding and such are things not to overlook.

Ron January 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm

My first 2 homes were new. I hated them. I am now in a house that was built in 1969. Nice big trees and large lot. Nice distance between homes. I’ve had less maintenance and problems with this house than the 2 new ones ! Reason being like others have mentioned here is that builders now use cheaper materials and don’t take time and pride in their work. This results in poor quality. They also built more in less time and space now. I think a new house now is built in than 3 or 4 months. I asked my neighbor (original owner since ’69) and he told me back then it took about 6-8 months to built those home back then. That tells you they were better built, and they are. Also, in 1969 the plumbing and electrical are the same codes as now. I think any home built after 1964 is a good bet. “modern era” yet mature area and larger lots …

Jerry February 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Old homes FTW! This has been said like a thousand times before on this thread but houses really were built better way back when. We moved into a new house around 3 years ago and we’ve had problems with everything from water temperature, shingles blowing off the roof when it’s really windy. Our current problem is the wiring for the light fixture in the living room. It won’t turn off without turning the breaker off, which means that light could potentially set our house on fire.

The character of 1800’s-era houses especially can’t be beat. The wavy glass, redwood siding and shelves, arches, real attics… the list goes on. Sure beats living in a brand-new development that’s less pleasant to look at than a carton of eggs.

The big yards with actual trees and room for gardens, too. Another thing that probably doesn’t matter to anyone except me is that old houses are 100 times better for ghost stories. Think of it..

Elliot Ramsey March 22, 2011 at 8:51 am

Great advice on the benefits to both new and old homes.

When it comes to purchasing an older home, the electrical system is a serious aspect to consider. In order to upgrade it to a safe standard, the extra cost has to be factored into the purchase price. It might require disturbing some of the original features of the house in order to get at the wiring, too.

Charlie April 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I am debating about buying a 1905 home. It’s beautiful: my wife and I love it. Should I get a home inspection? The realtor told me that the house was bought 5 yrs. ago by a couple who can no longer make the payments and now they have to sell it and that 5 yrs. ago they had an inspection and it was ok. This is a gorgeous property that has a guest house and it is perfect for us. Also, the realtor mention that yes, most likely there are minor things that the house needs, but that she considers it to be in good condition because of the care the previous owners have given to the house. It does look to be in pretty good condition. Should I still go ahead and have a home inspection?

Brian May 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm

My wife and I live in a home that was built in 1900 that has 2.5 stories, 4100 sq. ft. a huge bay window in the oval shaped dining room, hardwood floors etc. we wouldn’t trade it for the world! Plus our heating bill is cheaper than my sister’s 7 yr. old 1800sq. ft. 1 story home!

Pat July 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I really love old houses, but I have to add this:

My husband and I bought a house from the 50’s which was our first home and all we could afford. We didn’t get a home inspection because we didn’t think we could spend the money.

Big Mistake!

Now we are struggling with a home that has severe foundation problems and literally nobody seems to want to help us with this. Not covered on insurance, can’t sell the place, etc.

Buyer beware! ALWAYS get an inspection before buying an old home, regardless of what the realtor might tell you (realize the realtor is making a commission on your purchase). Hindsight is definitely 20/20 for me.

Leave a Comment