As a new construction home buyer, you want to know that your investment will be safe and comfortable providing years of enjoyment. While I’m sure you’ve thought about the most important features of your new construction home (like a big kitchen or spacious bedrooms), there are many things to look out for when buying so make sure you ask questions!
Know the limits of your builder warranty
Most reputable builders in Middle Tennessee offer two different warranties on new construction homes. This article will not talk about express or implied warranties (you can find out more about those through this link) but construction warranties but will highlight typical new construction warranty practices.
Most builders offer a 1 to 2-year inclusive warranty (bumper to bumper sort of thing) on everything from cosmetic issues, carpeting, mechanical problems/failures, etc. Builders are also required, by Tennessee state law, to offer a 10-year structural warranty which covers the structural performance of your new home. As reported by 2-10 Warranty Company, the average cost of a home builder’s warranty structural claim ranges between $42,000 to $113,000.
Examples of unhappy new construction buyers can be found if you are looking but as with most things in life, the unhappiest of folks tend to be the loudest. The bias of review websites is heavily tilted toward angry consumers but there might be some truth in all that noise. Have you thought about checking out your builder’s reputation online at places like this?
Check the grading around your home
You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal with grading? It’s just dirt.” But don’t let this fool you. Grading is an important aspect of your home and can have an impact on the foundation, mold, structural movement/settlement, and other things that can cost a lot of money.
Checking the grading around your new construction home will ensure that there are no drainage issues, standing water issues, and more importantly that there are no drainage problems on or near your property line.
The consensus seems to be that a good slope to aim for when grading land extending out from a house foundation is about 6 inches of drop in the first 10 feet (that translates to a “slope” of 5 percent). Many professionals grade land successfully using a lesser slope than that, but those who wish to be on the safe side err in the direction of the greater slope.
Look out for soil settlement or what professionals refer to as “incompaction of fill.” During construction, a large hole is dug to construct the foundation footers. Inevitably the dirt that is filled back in around the foundation walls will settle in the first year or two and new dirt needs to be added to maintain proper grading and to help make sure water drains away properly.
Look out for common electrical slip-ups
Check for excessive gaps around electrical panels and receptacles (outlets). Typical safety standards require no more than a 1/8-inch gap.
Make sure any electrical panels are improperly installed and well secured to the wall. The electrical panel needs to be installed in a safe location, away from water sources (such as bathtubs) and other heat sources (like fireplaces or ovens), and are not typically allowed to be installed in closets or other areas containing combustible material.
Check for the presence of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the bathrooms and kitchens and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) in sleeping areas, which help to prevent electrocution by cutting power if there’s a dangerous short circuit or current leak somewhere else in the house (think: pinched electrical cord in a door jamb). This prevents deadly shocks while also preventing fires caused by this type of problem!
Kitchen islands are notorious for not having enough (or ANY) receptacles and are a pet peeve of mine. Who wants to have a dinner party and be stuck stringing extension cords to your kitchen island for things like blenders and crock pots?
Scope the main sewer line
If you are purchasing a new home and want to be sure that everything is in good working order, then you should have the main sewer line scoped (inspected) before you move in. Inspecting the main sewer line involves putting a long (sometimes up to 200 feet) fiber optic camera down the main sewer pipe to check for proper pitch, grading, flow, and to check for obstructions (typically construction debris like paints, industrial paper towels, and other obstructions). You would be surprised how often contractors flush prohibited items down the toilet! Installation problems (crushed lines, sun-damaged PVC pipe, and pipes with bellies or low spots) are also common and can be easily missed without a thorough sewer scope.
The photo above is a screen capture from a sewer inspection I performed on a new construction home in 2018 where the sewer pipe pulled loose near the city main connection under the driveway. Thankfully this issue was found BEFORE moving in because the builder had to crack up the driveway, and part of the street, excavate the damaged area, repair the pipe and then put everything back together. Not an easy task and it would have cost my client over $15,000.
Be aware locating and correcting sewer line problems can be very invasive and costly. If you wait to find these problems till after you move in, repairs could be very messy and disruptive to normal living (think cracking up your garage floor to fix a broken pipe).
Pay close attention to the walls for any problems
Inspect the walls for any problems. Smooth drywall will whisper a story if you are listening (sometimes drywall will scream if problems are big enough). Walls should be solid and free from cracks, gaps, or other issues that could lead to water damage and electrical problems.
Check for insulation gaps. If you see spaces between your studs and their corresponding insulation, there’s a good chance that an air leak is occurring. This can cause higher energy bills and a chilly living environment in the winter months when you’re trying to stay warm with your heating system.
Look for water damage inside concrete slabs that line your home’s foundation walls or crawl space area (if applicable). This will not only cost more money to repair later but may also mean there was a safety issue during construction—which would need immediate attention before moving in.
Air ducts should be checked clean and in good working order
Before you move into your new home, make sure the ducts are sealed, insulated, and free of debris/trash. You should also check that they’re not damaged or leaking. If there is mold or mildew on the ducts, this could indicate a problem with how they were installed. If your builder hasn’t ensured that all their work was done correctly, it’s probably best to have them come back and fix any issues before you move in.
Make sure all plumbing fixtures are working properly.
Make sure the water heater is working properly. This will ensure that you have hot water when you need it.
Check to make sure all the plumbing fixtures are working properly—sinks, toilets, showers, and faucets. All these things should be in good condition and be easy to use.
Look for leaks. Leaks can waste a lot of money on bills as well as cause damage to floors or walls around your home if they go unnoticed for too long so if you see any signs of leakage ask a professional plumber to come out and look at them ASAP!
Make sure that windows are functioning properly and leak-free.
When you’re looking at a new home, make sure that the windows are functioning properly and leak-free.
Make sure that the windows are properly sealed. This can be done in two ways: with caulk or by adding foam insulation around the edges of the window frame.
Make sure that there aren’t any leaks in any of your new windows, either air leaks (holes where cold air comes through) or water leaks (where rainwater sneaks into your home). Leaky windows will not only waste energy but also cause mold growth if left unchecked for too long!
Look out for improper installation: if a window isn’t installed correctly, it may open and close improperly or even fall out completely!
Make sure that all appliances have been installed properly and are functional.
When it comes to appliances, look for things like:
- A stove that has a smooth surface that’s not cracked or damaged.
- A refrigerator with no dents or scratches on the doors or interior.
- An oven that lights up and quickly reaches operating temperature.
You want your appliances to be durable and efficient, but don’t overlook the aesthetics of these items either.
There are many things to look out for when buying a new construction home so make sure you ask questions!
Asking the right questions is an important part of building your dream home. A good builder will be able to answer all your questions, but if they seem hesitant or don’t have a good response, it’s time to start asking more questions.
Did any problems arise during construction that were not caught by the inspector?
Did you notice any issues with the house after moving in?
Do you have any other recommendations for builders who provide this type of service?
After asking these (and any other) questions it’s important for both parties involved in the transaction to feel comfortable with each other and their answers. If there are still doubts about a potential builder, ask him/her for references from previous clients or other builders he/she has worked with before on similar projects.
New homes tend to eliminate one set of problems (worn out flooring, old(er) appliances, and HVAC equipment for example) but can easily bring on a whole new set of issues (unused plumbing can start to leak after moving in, sewer lines can back up due to construction debris jammed into the drain by that tile contractor, wiring and plumbing can be damaged during construction and not manifest until months or years after moving in). Please consider having a professional home inspector represent you in your new home purchase. Tom with 3 Arrows Property Inspection has personally inspected hundreds of new construction homes since 2005 and knows where problems typically crop up. Builders and their sub-contractors have a very tall order when building a new home and things will get overlooked and missed. The key to a happy new construction purchase is transparency and a thorough inspection! We hope that you have found this article helpful and that it will make your home-buying process more enjoyable and less stressful.