Making the decision to buy a house is one that shouldn’t be made lightly. It is a huge financial commitment and there are multiple factors to consider when shopping for your new home. My husband and I recently took the leap from renting to home ownership, and learned some important lessons along the way. We explored all of our options before making our decision, but we elected to purchase a new construction home. Matt and I bought our home from a Southern Maryland builder. If you are from Southern Maryland, you know there are quite a few builders and neighborhoods offering different floorplans, options, and locations throughout the area. I figured I would post about our home-buying experience to share important insight into the process and what we learned.
Bottom line: We had a pretty good experience with our builder despite the normal home-buying challenges of negotiating price and agreeing on what is included. I will start from the beginning….
The particular development we live in is one of the newer developments and its located in the heart of Leonardtown. The location is ideal because it is a desirable area with a highly rated school district and ,as anticipated, is priced as such. The builder we selected offers tons of floor plans for single family homes and a few townhouse plans as well.
When Matt and I first starting thinking about buying a house, we decided that we really didnt want a large amount of our income going towards a mortgage payment. Lenders recommend that your monthly housing payment (including mortgage, taxes, and insurance) not go over 28% of your income before taxes. I think ours is around 11%. If theres one thing I recommend when buying a home its buy much less than what lenders say you can afford. My husband and I would much rather have the extra money for a pair of plane tickets instead of a huge house for just the two of us! With that in mind, we chose to investigate what the townhouses had to offer instead of the single family homes. At 2400 sq. ft. with 3 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, finished basement, and 2 car garage it has more than enough room for two people plus the payment is extremely affordable for us.
We went and looked at the model townhouse and immediately fell in love. Of course, it showcased every possible upgrade and was decorated gorgeously. Just know that most of those options will not come standard with any of their homes. At the time, they had a townhouse building under construction and they walked us through some of the available units. Everything was pretty much just studs at that point, but we could easily get a feel of the floor plan.
We had been searching for houses for about a month or so and we knew this would be a good fit for us. Now comes the hard part – negotiation. This is one of the only negatives I have to say about our experience. The salespeople can have a bit of an attitude. They play hardball, and do not give much room for negotiating the price. This is understandable because they need to make money off the sales, but they could be a little bit nicer! At one point we actually walked away from the sale. Shortly after that, a friend gave me some advice about a fair sale. It stuck with me. A fair sale is one where both sides wish they had gotten a little bit more but still walked away satisfied with the outcome. While they agreed to some of our requests, I still wish we got more out of the deal. On the flip side, Im sure they wish they could have sold for a higher price. Negotiating is part of the process, so be prepared to haggle for what you want. You may not get everything on your list, but you may come out with more than the original offer!
Here comes the fun part! The builder set up an appointment for us to go to their “design center” where we pick outed all the finishes for the house. The unit we purchased was considered a “spec home”. It was already under construction, and certain finishes and upgrades were included with the price. Everything in the design center has “levels” – carpeting, cabinets, lighting, hard wood, counters, appliances, etc. The hard part is sticking to the levels included in your negotiated price. Its difficult when you see all the gorgeous options – but remember this is where the builder makes a lot of their money. The upgrades are astronomically priced! Don’t fall for it! Many of the spec homes (including ours) already include gorgeous hardwood floors, granite counters, and stainless steel appliances. There’s no need to upgrade because its really not all that different. That being said, Matt and I really wanted to upgrade all the hardware in our master bath but we ended up just doing it ourselves after we moved in for about 1/10th of the price quoted by the builder. They dont mention this to you, but you can bypass a lot of things and do it yourself. You can even forgo the entire appliance package, and install your own (probably nicer ones for a cheaper price too!)
After all that is done, you basically just have to wait for construction to be complete. We would drive over every week to check on the progress of our house. Excitement is an understatement! It’s fun to watch your new home coming along and to imagine where you will put everything. However, it’s crucial to keep an eye on how everything is progressing. Matt and I noticed the tile in our master bath looked a little weird, and did not match what we picked out at the design center. We had to go back and forth with the builder a little bit, but eventually they ripped it all out and replaced it with something new. That was basically the only hiccup we had during construction and I appreciated the builder and the tile company making it right.
When building a new home you have to expect that things might go wrong, and there will be bumps along the road. However, every time we raised a concern about something, our builder made sure it was addressed. Sometimes you might have to remind them, which can be frustrating. At times I felt like I was being annoying – but at the end of the day, you are making a huge investment so don’t feel bad about making sure you get what you paid for! Also, they were a few weeks late delivering the house. However, I tried not to hold it against them because I know there are variables in construction. Before closing, the builder had us go through the whole house and mark anything we found wrong – every scratch on the floor or walls, etc. and they fixed it all. Every builder is different, but with ours, for the first year you own your home, they will still come fix issues you find after moving in.
Our builder offered a generous warranty on all their homes which helps us sleep a little better at night. The house is also very energy efficient. Our bills aren’t more expensive than when we lived in an apartment! We feel our house is soundly built, and we really love our neighborhood. The floor plans are unique, especially the townhouses. We are the only townhouses in St Marys County with a 2-car garage. Plus, it’s not like the “tall and skinny” ones as I like to call them. Our front door opens to the main level and we love how spacious it feels.
We are excited for the pool, tennis court, basketball court, running trails, and playground to be finished this summer too. All those amenities are included in the home owner’s association fees. That is also an important factor to consider when selecting your neighborhood.
1) Go into negotiation with your guard up – the salespeople can have an attitude
2) Realize that not too much is included and upgrades will cost you!
3) Monitor construction but understand that things will go wrong
4) Don’t be afraid to address any concerns because your builder should fix problems
5) We love our home and if you would like more specific details on our builder, please send me an email!
Also thanks to our wonderful realtor, Karen Taylor.
More posts to follow about the financial side of buying your first home.