the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Remembering broken pipes and drywall

Last week when I asked you guys about your experiences buying homes and what you would look for if you were in the market to buy, I was blown away by your responses. Thank you for being so generous with your advice, and I’d recommend that thread to anyone who’s out looking for a house right now. Is that you? Are you out right now walking through someone’s living room lined with matted beige carpet? Are you stepping over curious stains? Did you just walk into yet another Tuscan-themed kitchen? Can you smell the litter box they tucked into the pantry? You can come over to my place afterward for a relaxing glass of wine. But first I’ll show you right to the bathroom so that you can throw up.

I’ll even hold back your hair.

One comment struck me as I was reading through everything because it speaks directly to how I look at spaces where I could potentially live. And it stopped me in my tracks:

Sandra T:

Every time I’ve ever looked at a place to live, I’ve made an emotional decision based on some impractical idea of potential that the place can never live up to w/out a boat-load of $$ and resources we just don’t have!

This. I am this.

There was a question asked in the community recently by member susanfishy that relates to this:

Can you see past ugly stuff when it comes to real estate?

Yes. Yes yes yes. To a fault. I have sunk so much money over the last ten years into improving the homes I’ve bought, and I never got that money back out of the house. I’m like some sort of demented real estate fairy going around dumping money into properties so that the people who live in them after me get to enjoy the expensive warranty on the brand new stainless steel refrigerator.

For the first house I bought, one built in 1926, I tore up carpet and refinished the hardwood floors underneath. I remodeled the kitchen, painted every single wall in every single room, replaced the water heater, installed air conditioning, repaired the fireplace, updated the electrical system, landscaped the entire front yard, and spent $12,000 to replace a broken sewer line. Yes. $12,000. TWELVE THOUSAND. All of my savings on an underground pipe that carries poop. You better believe that this was the first bullet point on the real estate listing: YOUR POOP WILL FLOW LIKE NO ONE’S BUSINESS.

living room

dining room


The second house was built in 1951, and I replaced carpet with brand new hardwood floors and updated the carpet in the basement, painted every single wall in every single room, replaced the air-conditioning unit, remodeled the bathroom I shared with the girls, updated the landscaping in the front yard, remodeled the garage, and had to invest in an industrial-sized snowblower because of the house’s location on a hill. Funny story: to make it more enticing to buyers in that tough market, I left a giant flat screen television in the living room. Someone broke into the property two weeks after I moved out and stole it. I really hope the meth they bought with that money gave them acne.


living room


The last house was built in 1985, and I had to replace the entire roof, service the air conditioner, repair every square foot of fence in the backyard, have a specialist come out and install an intricate system of valves on the boilers in the basement, fix two fireplaces, install smoke alarms in every room, replace four bathroom fans, and repair the entire sprinkler system. I won’t even get into the years shaved off of my life because I stumbled onto a cat the previous owner had locked in the attic.


Seriously. You’re going to want to buy a house I’ve lived in. Everything has been fixed. NOT A SINGLE HAIR IS OUT OF PLACE. One commenter hit on this in that thread:


We moved to a whole new state and within a month, we were in escrow. We wanted something smallish, with a water view and/or close to the water, lots of light, and a little land a.k.a. no close neighbors. We found an 1100 sq ft house that had been completely redone so it’s like a brand new house.

I have never considered buying a *new* house until I started to take inventory of all the money I’ve sunk into home improvements (going back through the old photos of those homes and remembering all that work makes me more than a little bit weary). There are only a select few neighborhoods that I would consider moving to in Salt Lake City, and most of the homes in these neighborhoods are very old and need extensive updating. But the advantages of a new build are almost too hard to ignore. Yes, there’s the environmental impact to take into consideration, but I wouldn’t have to worry about the roof or the water heater or the landscaping or the garage door or the sprinkler system or some animal jumping out at me from a locked closet.

For those of you who have bought brand new homes or built them, what has been your experience? I’m really curious now that I realize I have pretty much assembled a new home out of everything I have fixed or replaced. Are there improvements you’ve regretted making? Should we all just give up and set up a cardboard box?


This post was sponsored by BHI. Explore the benefits of a newly built home.

  • Ben

    2013/04/24 at 9:17 am

    I’m laughing so hard about this idea that new = good. Our new house was filled with chinese drywall that had mold on it and was killing my kids. My second new house had leaks all over and was built on a cement pad that cracked — not just ours, but the entire development and we spent 8 years in litigation. Do not buy NEW – not even for a sponsored post.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2013/04/24 at 9:20 am

    After your extensive remodeling of previous homes, I am sure you are well aware of the common pitfalls of building a home as it relates to delays, unexpected expenses, faulty materials, and user error of power tools. I’m sure you can imagine how I know about the last one.

    That being said, the only comment I can give about building a house is to avoid the trap of “if I am building it myself, it can be perfect and just how I like it.” This is unrealistic, because there will always be fixtures you love, but they are too expensive/impractical/unavailable. You have control over a lot more when building then buying, but you still don’t have control over everything.

    Good luck and keep us all posted! I am very excited to see what it coming up next for your beautiful family.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2013/04/24 at 9:22 am

    I don’t think new necessarily means the home is in fantastic condition. I am sorry to hear about your experience with a new home, but that is not a universal truth of new homes.

  • Are You Kidding Me?

    2013/04/24 at 9:23 am

    We built a new house, and it wasn’t terrible, because my husband did a lot of the work himself. We also bought a spec house, and, while it wasn’t terrible, there were some repairs that needed to be done. Some, like the tub drain leaking onto our family room ceiling, were done by the builder. Some, like the giant gaps in the framing in our walkout basement (that might generally be covered by drywall) or in the foundation (around the pipes where the water or electric lines came in) were done by us (using a whole lot of Great Stuff). I recommend new construction, because you have a good idea of what you’re getting and you get a warranty. But, the place will probably lack charm and originality.

  • YarnGeek

    2013/04/24 at 9:23 am

    So the thing I have observed about houses is that they’re pretty much all like this, without exception. Even brand new builds have these issues, it’s just harrassment on a different scale – the builder half-assed something, or cut a corner and oops! forgot to tell you. The insulation used was mis-applied and now the master bath is a perpetual icebox. They used sub-par 2x4s and you now live in a polygon for a living room. Etc. Giant systems will still sometimes fail, warranties are all active but a colossal pain in the ass to redeem, and the renovations that are somehow still required are even more restricted because of the limited terms of said warranties.

    All of which is to gently say, you’re kind of boned as a homeowner, no matter which way you go. So, um…it’s an adventure? 🙂

  • WineDog

    2013/04/24 at 9:24 am

    I bought a brand spanking new condo. It was one of the Parkwoods Condominium project that was built where the Parkwoods apartments were before they burned down in the Oakland Hills fire. To call the workmanship shoddy would be an affront to sloppy contractors worldwide. There was an inch gap between the door jamb and the door frame. One day while screaming at the foreman I asked “Who looked at this and thought they did a good job that day?” I would only go new if I was going custom with a well regarded general contractor.

  • Clara

    2013/04/24 at 9:25 am

    I appreciate that you always label your sponsored posts. Any chance you could put the sponsorship information at the top of the post not the bottom? I always feel kind of cheated when I read a post and then at the end realize that it’s sponsored. I just like to know that I’m reading an ad when I’m reading an ad.

  • Icarus

    2013/04/24 at 9:26 am

    New construction comes with risks too. You don’t know what short cuts were taken to save money or cut costs. A lot of stuff just will not show up during an inspection no matter how good your inspector is.
    We bought our “forever home” 5 months ago. I’ve always wanted an older style Victorian, so I am very pleased with the FourSquare we ended up with but I am well aware of the limitations that come with 100 year old houses. The family unit has changed in that time. It has been updated but does not have central air. This will be an issue. Otherwise, we got lucky that the previous owners did a lot of the updating and took decent care of the place. So we got the best of both worlds: vintage charm with (some) modern updates.

  • jessica_dennis

    2013/04/24 at 9:28 am

    Yeah, new=good is a huuuuuuge not necessarily. Unless you have übercash and build everything custom custom custom and have a general contractor with a heart of gold and a sterling conscience, you will get slipshod work and crappy fixtures. Even “nice” new developments just have nicer surfaces.

  • Lil Dane$

    2013/04/24 at 9:28 am

    Our house is 11 years old (relatively new), and the previous owners painted it great colors, put in granite, stainless steel appliances, etc. and kept up with all repairs. I would say new/old is relative – it depends on the quality of the home inside and out and how well someone has kept it up if it’s old and the materials someone used if it’s new.

  • Linda Merryman

    2013/04/24 at 9:28 am

    I’ve bought new and bought old. Each has their unique challenges. If you can buy new before it’s done, you have the opportunity to upgrade fixtures, carpet, pick your colors, etc, instead of taking chintzy builder-grade stuff. With new you have to buy window treatments – at least blinds or shades – that are usually there with old. You usually have to paint, unless you want white walls. On the other hand new is new – fresh stuff that’s fun to be the first to use, no missing parts from appliances, warranties on everything, etc. etc. I suppose I’ll come down on the side of buying new, but only if I had the chance to upgrade what I wanted. Good luck!!

  • Angella

    2013/04/24 at 9:28 am

    I have to agree with Ben. Do not buy new! Every thing made these days is cheap, and cheap can be dangerous. When we bought our NEW home in 2004, so much was wrong with it; nails instead of screws used in the sheetrock, those nails went through pipes. We had hidden water damage all over the house. The spickets outside were improperly connected and leaked through inside. Many items we found out later weren’t even up to code. When we pulled up the carpet to install hardwood, we found our foundation cracked and moisture seeping through – puddles! Our ‘new to us’ home was built in the 70s and it is SOLID! It is ugly as hell, but far more efficient and safe than our new build was. I would never buy new again!

  • irucik

    2013/04/24 at 9:28 am

    I’ve purchased a new home before, and I can tell you that there still plenty of money that will be spent on many things. I’ve noticed that a new home usually lacks personality (unless you’re building a completely custom new house which i know nothing about). I spent money to rip out portions of carpet in the hallway; to upgrade the kitchen with crown moldings; plant (and water!) the grass and the trees; sprinkler system was put in. Fences needed to be put up. The back yard needed a patio area built. BUT the beautiful thing was that nothing internally needed fixing, adjusting, replacing, or painting. Most of the major things (boiler, air system) came with warranties also, so that added to the piece of mind. Even the house itself had a foundation warranty. If I ever buy another house, I would prefer it to be newly constructed, because i dont handle surprises very well and older houses ALWAYS come with suprises…

  • WebSavvyMom

    2013/04/24 at 9:30 am

    –>I don’t know of any house that is *perfect* when you move into it, new or pre-lived in. We can overlook ugly backsplashes because of the inground pool or good school district. We’ve been in our house for 10 years and are still working on making it perfect for our lives. The truth is that our lives have changed in the last 10 years as have our tastes.

  • Kerri Akers

    2013/04/24 at 9:33 am

    We built a “custom” home back in 2010 after a tornado picked up our double wide & damn near split it in half. & with that single sentence I sound like the stereotypical Arkansan/Southerner. Anyway, I say “custom” because we could pick our flooring, paint, backsplash, fixtures/hardwear and cabinets. The layout was pretty much set in stone. For a control freak like me who checked on progress on the house everyday, it was hard for me to get over the fact that there wasn’t a crew of people out there everyday making progress. Also, with the loan we got, we couldn’t have ANY changes in employment, credit, etc. and my husband was set to start a job the week after we were originally set to close. When it started looking like we weren’t going to meet our deadline, I contacted the builder to voice my concern. They basically told me that if I didn’t like it, we could just call the whole thing off. Well, with a baby that’s had to share a room with us and a dog for months, that wasn’t an option for us. So we sucked it up & THANKFULLY we met our deadline. What took 4 months to build felt like 3954730 years. If we could do it all over again, I don’t think we would have jumped on the first builder recommended. Of course, we rushed it because of our situation (did I mention we had to live with my dad & stepmom & their 6 dogs plus us, our 6 month old, & our one dog? fun times). I would have left out the bar in the kitchen. It takes up too much space & we don’t really need the extra cabinet. I also would’ve changed the layout of out bathroom. I have a ginormous tub that is never used because it’s a pain in the ass to clean. It feels claustrophobic in there. There’s lots of little things I’d change to, but my point being that if you go the route of building your own home, be picky. Take your time if you can afford it. You don’t want to move in & then 6 months later hate the place.

  • Lauren L

    2013/04/24 at 9:34 am

    Myself, I have a vision and spend a lot of money fixing our house up. I know we will have to move to a better school district, so all my work and money will be for someone else.

    Last year, my grandmother’s house flooded after she had moved out of state. The home had to be stripped down to the studs and re-built. The exterior of the home is Georgian Colonial and sits on a beautiful lot, however, now it will have a brand new layout and interior. What I am learning, while managing this project, is that it is actually less expensive to do all the work at once, than to piece meal out each project. Next time I am looking for a home I will buy a “fixer-upper” at a lower cost and put the money into it before I move in. I like the look and the value of an old home but I don’t want all the maintenance that comes with it. Whoever buys my grandmother’s house is going to be one lucky, SOB!

  • Staci

    2013/04/24 at 9:35 am

    This is me to a tee! Six years in and I am still working on my vision. However, I am older, over doing most of the work myself, and am too poor to hire it out. So….the next house doesn’t have to be new, but it needs to be DONE! Also, I don’t think new construction is always all its cracked up to be. It depends on the builder and the quality of the work. I’d rather a house built in the 50s or 60s that’s solid and updated.

  • sarah

    2013/04/24 at 9:36 am

    wow. we’re at such the same place…we’re in our 2nd house and have already painted every room, gutted and redone the kitchen, torn down walls, repaired electrical and plumbing, replaced flooring, and still have a to-do list a mile long. just like we did with our 1st home. we keep telling ourselves that for our next place we want to work with a good architect and reputable builder to start fresh by building new (however far down the road that may be). whenever we tell other people that, though, they laugh and tell us horror stories about when they built a new house. so i guess you can’t win…

  • Katherine

    2013/04/24 at 9:37 am

    In 2007, my then-boyfriend and I, drunk on HGTV porn and over-inflated confidence, purchased a fixer-upper built in 1885. We couldn’t afford a nicer home, but we figured with his skills, my design acumen, and a small starter reno loan, we could turn this house into a dream home.

    The good news: the neighborhood where the house was located exploded the year after we bought the house. A new, indie movie theater was built, cute boutiques and great restaurants opened up, and all of a sudden our friends and family who thought we were crazy to take on this project were now jealous of us. We married in 2009, adopted our first dog, and did the unthinkable: replumbed and rewired the entire house ourselves, added a half bath, moved the kitchen to a better location and gutted the one whole bathroom, transforming a moldy, melamine 60s relic into a beautiful turn-of-the-century, subway tile showpiece.

    The bad news: while we did wonders with that small reno loan (just under 10K) and budgeted meticulously, surprises like a blown furnace and losing the garage roof in a storm started a windfall of debt that we are still trying to get out from under. My husband’s father who moved in with us to help out with the big projects ended up suffering a stroke and had to stay a year and a half longer than planned so that we could care for him as he recovered; this put the work on hold for quite a while. The number of projects started that are not yet finished are too numerous to count.

    Additionally, I had no idea what kind of impact the decision to buy this house would have on my depression. No amount of medication could keep me from losing my shit during and after demo; living in a disaster zone with plaster dust coating every surface in 2500 square feet was devastating.

    Long story short: I can just now admit that I regret the decision. The stress of having 2 full time jobs on top of working on the house, not being able to afford vacations because every spare dime when into the reno and the credit card bills we racked up, and the toll it took on my mental health… it wasn’t worth it. Had I a chance to to it all over, I would have waited until we could afford a nicer home or condo that was either new or already rehabbed. We made a valiant effort with what we had, but I’d like my life back now.

  • Heather A

    2013/04/24 at 9:37 am

    Building new – and custom – is the way to go to have control over most if not all of your “can’t live withouts.” That said, custom is pricey, takes time, and involves 1000x more decisions than you have with any other option (renovate, build new through mass builder). After I built a custom home two years ago (husband is an architect), I have to say the house is pretty much perfect for our needs and wants, but the house took a year to build, was not cheap, and the sheer number of choices was overwhelming. How many outlets do you want? Where do you want them in the room? What color switchplate/outlet covers do you want? Which outlets will run off switches? Times every room in the house. And to make those choices you need to figure how you will furnish the room, how tall with the furniture be, and what color will you paint the room, etc. Every choice leads to a ladder of other choices, many of which are dependent upon each other. When you renovate, some of the choices get limited by the constraints of the space you are renovating. When you build new with a mass “cookie cutter” builder, the choices are pared down to a much more basic, finishing level (for example: choose from these five flooring options) since you’ll work from established home plans where truly the customization is only in finishes.

  • Kate

    2013/04/24 at 9:38 am

    I just bought an older home that the previous owner had mostly updated. Sure, it’s got aluminum siding, but the windows and roof are new. We were actually in the process of drawing up plans for a to-be-built home and just decided that it would be a LOT less stressful to just buy a pre-existing home. I love our house! Of course there are lots of projects that I’d like to do, but there will be projects in a new or old home. If something ever happens and I’m forced to leave my current home, I’m renting! It’s the way to go…saw an article on Yahoo! today that said renters are more happy than home owners. I see why!

  • Andrea Bott

    2013/04/24 at 9:39 am

    We had a house built for us. Was meant to be our “dream” house. What we thought were “great” contractors actually screwed up a TON. As in, poured concrete 5 feet off for our foundation. As in, ordered the wrong roof trusses, accidentally giving us 28 ft ceilings. As in, constantly installing incorrect products.

    The stress of dealing with all of those choices and mistakes and set backs and scheduling and MONEY CHOICES is enough to make you go crazy. And I don’t mean just you. I mean any normal person who cares a little bit about having a nicely done house. Even after a house is put up, there is no saying that hsit own’t go wrong. Our central air conditioner was the wrong size so we didn’t realize until after moving in and coming to a summer month that the CFM wasn’t high enough. Part of our roof was improperly done and we had a leak.

    I know new seems like an enticing way to go, and maybe it is, but know that it is VERY stressful. I like prebuilt houses because I know what I’m getting. If I were you, I would try to instead look for a home that somebody lived in before you and cared about. Somebody who documented all of the problems so you know the house’s history and have ideas of how it will behave in the future.

    Really, I think, the key is patients. The perfect house is out there but there are jsut tons and tons of imperfect houses that you have to sift through first to get it.

  • Andrea Bott

    2013/04/24 at 9:40 am

    The key could be patients, if you’re a doctor. But really I meant patience. You know.

  • Jillian

    2013/04/24 at 9:43 am

    Being a Structural Engineer, we have been out to repair new, old and newly remodeled homes fairly regularly and my favorite is still old… There is a sense of craftsmanship that is hard to come by these days and the timber quality has gone down since. Unfortunately with old also comes $$ to modernize, but building new requires $$ to get the right contractor and development. You literally have to watch the construction from the ground up. No matter how expensive the house is, it won’t survive a badly graded lot that settles underneath it, ask the guy that has put $2million into repairing his built new $2million home that is 5 years old.

    My inlaws built their dream house a few years back and it turned out beautiful, so beautiful in fact that they sold it two years later because it went too far over budget. My Sister had a house built that was beautiful on the outside, but shortly began to crack and degrade because of the construction quality. I bought a Condo that had great potential and after a third of the potential was taken care of, it is up for short sale and was a giant trash can for my money. In summary, real estate is a giant crap shoot!!!

  • Hawkette

    2013/04/24 at 9:43 am

    We built our current house, and my dad as well as neighbors across the street have built three. You will learn a lot of your first build. Then you will be ready to do it right the next time. Just saying. However, you have a lot of experience with remodels, so maybe you won’t have to go through the “starter build” stage. Once your house is finished, you have 1 year to discover and have them fix all the things that weren’t done correctly. Even if you have a good builder, this will happen. Just hope you catch everything major within the first year! The good part of that is the repairs are free. The bad part is that you will still be scheduling workmen and have people working on your house. Hopefully you won’t have to argue with your builder about what is and is not covered under that first year warranty. Bottom line: building doesn’t come with more or fewer headaches than buying existing homes, just different kinds of headaches.

  • Ben

    2013/04/24 at 9:49 am

    No, new home doesn’t mean good or bad. And older home doesn’t mean good or bad. I’m laughing that this post is presented as older home = work. As anyone who is familiar with the term “contractor grade” knows, new home means work too. And sometimes, depending on developer a LOT of work.

  • illinifamily

    2013/04/24 at 9:49 am

    A week and a half ago, we moved into a custom home that we spent the past 16 months building–happend upon a 1/2 acre tear down lot in one of our favorite neighborhoods and couldn’t resist. Worked with an architect to design the home, and there is not a single finish/ fixture in the house that was not chosen by us. As a result, the house is absolutely perfect for us, but…the amount of money, time, energy, organization and STRESS that was involved…I would never, ever, ever, ever do it again. This was with a great builder and a husband that knows construction too–without those two things, I think I’d hate the house too much to even move into it by this point. And the amount of money we still have to pour into window hardware/ treatments, and landscaping, and mirrors, and rugs, and hardscape, and finishing the basement… It’s never ending! We’ve remodeled old homes prior to this; it was so much easier. I’m also less convinced we’ll recoup our investment from this house, that from prior remodels. I love the kichen backsplash we chose, for example, but I know full well that most people would like I was certifiable for what it cost!

  • ThePeanut

    2013/04/24 at 9:49 am

    We bought our home almost 6 years ago. Brand spanking new. The house still smelled like fresh lumber when we moved in. It was a clean and NEW space for us to do whatever we wanted with. Everything worked! No worries about a wonky roof or mythical bobcat in the attic!

    As first time home buyers, it was important for us to have a new home. Having come from up North where both my husband and I lived in ancient homes with leaky basements, we didn’t want to have to worry about hidden issues from previous owners.

    We’ve made a ton of upgrades to our house because it was a fresh space for us to work from. So, new home doesn’t exactly mean cost efficient. You’ll still want to put your stamp on it.

    Currently, we have our home on the market to relocate. Our next house is going to be completely different than this one. I’m not opposed to looking at older homes (by older, built in the last 10-15 years) in our new state.

    Our tastes have changed over the years and I’ve come to appreciate what some homeowners have done to upgrade their homes. As you said, someone else is enjoying all the work you’ve done to your previous homes. And while that really SUCKS for you as the seller, it’s really great for the potential home buyer……which will be YOU! Don’t rule out older homes. Just have a really good home inspection and rule out any potential and immediate pricey future issues. A brand spanking newly built home is awesome though. But it is also costly to make it just the way you want too.

    Good luck!

  • Torchness

    2013/04/24 at 9:56 am

    I don’t even know if you have to go the “new” route. We just bought a home that was built in 1962. But, the previous owners gutted it down to the studs and it’s all new drywall, new floors, new everything. This is a great way to have a home with character without the Tuscan barfola. They ran out of money and left just the master bath to re-do, which we did before we moved in. Or tried, as a 4 week project has now run 7, and it again reminds me why I will never do a renovation again. But, I think a lot of more places gut homes and re-do than scrape and rebuild, and perhaps this is a route to consider.

    And, I got to pick to have a chandelier over my bathtub. I’m almost more excited about this than I was about my wedding.

  • Pam Enser

    2013/04/24 at 9:57 am

    Heather- after searching and searching for what we were looking for, we decided that building a new house was going to accomplish that. We knew we wanted something that had been built within the last 20 years because we are NOT fix it people, nor did we want to spend a lot of money in updating something. As we looked we also realized that it would be the same cost, or in some cases even cheaper to build new compared to existing homes. We built once about 5 years ago and moved shortly after due to a job change but are now in the process of building again. This time we chose a builder that is Energy Star certified, meaning the home would be as well, and included many things our first build did not, including landscaping, air conditioning, and an in-ground sprinkler system. We have found that building new was the best buy for us in this sense. Good luck!

  • Krysta Butler

    2013/04/24 at 9:59 am

    We actually just bought our very first house about two months ago so it is kind of fun to hear what other people look for in their own homes. We figured out where we wanted to live and then basically looked at everything available in the neighborhood.

    We looked at a few houses that were probably more desirable to most other buyers in terms of having totally updated kitchens and baths (although not in my personal taste and style) and felt more move in ready, but they just didn’t feel right. When we walked into what is now our house I just kinda knew that it was what I wanted even though there’s a lot of work to be done, and we were looking for a house that we could work on and really make our own (but that didn’t need a total overhaul).

    Our 100 year old house has a lot of our “would love”s: hardwood floors (although most are in need of refinishing), a large front porch, a backyard, more than one bathroom, a coat closet, and tons of potential. The bathrooms and kitchens are small (the house is old) but that doesn’t really bother me, mostly likely bc I moved from NYC where everything was small so just having a full size refrigerator feels luxurious. But we loved the street, think the neighborhood is amazing with a ton of long term potential and our low ball offer was accepted because the kitchen needed updating.

    Because the house is old I am sure there will always be things to maintain/update but the previous owner had really taken care of the house for the 20 years he lived there and had taken care of the big important things like rewiring new electrical, installing a new furnace and central air. And got a home warranty that we can renew each year it to cover the cost of repairs if these things break.

  • Torchness

    2013/04/24 at 9:59 am

    p.s. This makes it looks like we renovated our bathroom ourselves, oh, hell no. I hired people. Who take forever. But, better than doing it myself. Grout frightens me

  • Tina Beveridge

    2013/04/24 at 10:04 am

    When I look at old houses, I marvel at how things like the plumbing and electrical might need to be fixed or updated, but the structural integrity of the house is intact and probably will be for another hundred years. New construction looks, well, cheap. Particle board will not last the way 3-foot-wide clear pine will, even when you compare new particle board to old pine. And I am a firm believer that granite kitchen countertops will be our generation’s orange shag carpet.

    And don’t kid yourself about any “green” factor, either. New materials, the gas and energy used to demolish an old place and/or put a new one up all use a ton of resources. Doesn’t matter if you build the whole thing from recycled shopping bags, rehabbing an existing house is way less wasteful.

  • Tina Beveridge

    2013/04/24 at 10:05 am

    owning a home is work, period. Old vs. new just determines what work you’re doing.

  • Anne

    2013/04/24 at 10:06 am

    First time commenting, but your post really rang a big bell. We lived in a 1936 bungalow for 13 years, and the repairs and upkeep were pretty much never-ending. Like you I woke up one morning wanting a newly built house. Which is where we ended up, now 10 years ago. I’ve loved it – but it is also because I like the floor plan and the neighborhood, not just because the upkeep has been minimal. Still, my ultimate dream is to buy a house with architectural charm, and completely renovate it before moving in.

  • Tina Beveridge

    2013/04/24 at 10:07 am

    a friend of mine checked on her house every day it was being built, and good thing she did, too, because one day she went out and the mason was putting up their house numbers (special bricks in the facade) in reverse order.

  • Lara

    2013/04/24 at 10:08 am

    Last year, my husband and I sold our 1971-built house that we too had done a lot of work on and a lot more was still needed. New windows, heat/AC, deck, fence, and roof were just some things needing done within 5 years. Instead of fixing them, we sold (still making a small profit) and we built a smaller, “right-sized” house that is perfect for us. With the interest rates as low as they are, our payment on a brand new house is lower than our old mortgage plus what it would have cost to fix the issues at the old house. Best decision we ever made. Going smaller was the perfect decision and just makes us be a bit more creative with the space we have.

  • christinej

    2013/04/24 at 10:23 am

    I think the problem here is that you have bought a new house every 3 years and then invested so much in aesthetic upgrades so that your house looks exactly as you want it to look as quickly as possible, then sold it again quickly in a housing market that wasn’t growing and didn’t reward these kind of aesthetic renovations. I just don’t think that’s sustainable. If you’re going to spend a lot of money making a house exactly meet your aesthetic taste (which may not be future buyers’ aesthetic taste) you have to be prepared to actually stay there and enjoy your investment!

    I am a fan of older houses because if it’s 80 years old and still in good shape you know it’s built well and built to last! It has literally withstood the test of time, and will continue to do so. Plus, older houses have way better character, i think. also from a purely emotional/aesthetic/environmental aesthetic i really find new builds distasteful.

    In the 80s my parents bought a 1920s house in a Canadian city. It was basically in good shape, though nothing had been updated in 20 plus years. The first year in the house, they remodeled the kitchen. the second year, they replaced all the windows. the fourth year they dug down and refinished the basement. The sixth year in the house they reshingled the roof. the 9th year in the house they tore out the hideous ground floor carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. the 11th year in the house they stripped the paint from the beautiful woodwork on the ground floor. the 22nd year in the house they remodeled the attic to expand it and create a beautiful spare bedroom/studio space. the 27th year in the house they replaced the worn-out second storey floors… etc. Every dollar spent has been worth it because they have made a life in this beautiful home for almost 30 years, and are still enjoying (for example) the kitchen layout the designed to meet their needs 30 year ago (it’s a bit eighties for my aesthetic but they still love it!).

    It doesn’t hurt that we’re in a real estate market where their house is now worth 7 times what they bought it for — but that’s not even a major factor for them at the moment, because this is their HOME, where they will be until they can no longer live independently. A home that they could just afford as a young couple with a baby on the way, where they could raise two kids, where they now live alone as a retired couple (but host lots of parties and guests), and where they look forward to spending time with their grandkids. I hope to follow their model as much as possible when we buy our first home in the next couple years.

    i think the problem here is the disposable, short-term way you’ve been treating your houses! Obviously staying in the same house for 30 years isn’t viable for many people, but moving, repeatedly, every 3 years is a poor strategy. I hope as you look for your next home you’re seeking somewhere you could envision yourself and your girls being happy for at least ten years!

  • Lesley Stets-Aryee

    2013/04/24 at 10:26 am

    My brother purchased his first house it was brand new, within 2 years the foundation was cracking and water was coming in from the ground. Turns out the builder didn’t pour the foundation correctly, after a long court battle they had to pay half to fix it. The second house he purchased from a different builder and it had a well. Within 6 months of moving into the house, it turns out the land was contaminated from a auto repair business next to the property so the builder and town have to delivered water to them to drink for as long as the house is standing and the water is contaminated. My Sister purchased a rehab condo in Chicago, and had to gut the bathroom shower tiled walls and repair all the pipes because they were installed wrong. We just purchased a house build in the 50’s and other than Flower explosion wall paper in E.V.E.R.Y square inch, no major issues, knock on wood. Unless you are going to be the general contractor on a new build, And i am going with Yarn Geek… It is adventure either way and you will get boned.

  • Megan Gordon

    2013/04/24 at 10:29 am

    Sixteen years ago we bought a new house – we’ve lived in it ever since.
    The upside is that you can add upgrades that are important to you and leave out those that aren’t. The downside is that unless you can afford to hire a contractor and an architect, you are stuck with a fairly cookie-cutter home. Also, as mentioned before, some builders half-ass things and use substandard materials.
    It’s a trade-off, but I will tell you that we’ve decided the next time we buy a place, we’re looking at something with character that we can get on the cheap and fix up the way we want it.

  • Heather

    2013/04/24 at 10:31 am

    I think a lot can depend on your housing market. Where we were looking to buy in the Twin Cities, it was impossible to find anything with decent square footage at an affordable price. $436K for 1300 square feet? Um, no. This isn’t California. This is St. Paul. Jesus.

    The cities were a 40 minute commute each way from our old house. 2 kids in St. Paul charter schools, plus very active city-located extracurricular schedules had us making that commute about 20 times a week. We sold and moved into an apartment while we looked for a place to buy. I originally wanted something with charm, but when I saw charm also equaled one bathroom and no space, we started looking elsewhere. With two work-at-home adults and a menagerie no one better tell our apartment complex about, we needed space. We started looking in the *shudder* suburbs. “We moved because of the commute,” we told ourselves. And the suburban areas we were looking at only added another 5 minutes max of drive time.

    Only, all these houses were cookie-cutter 1980s horror shows. Bigger yes. But blergh. Gross.

    And then we saw a new home development going up. The area’s a little sparse, but it’s still super close to St. Paul, and the houses are beautiful. Both our townhome and our previous house were new construction. We felt comfortable with the process.

    That said, I did my research on the builder. I made sure they weren’t Lennar-type nightmares. We can move walls, move the laundry room, add spaces not designated in their floor plans. The reviews on their construction are top-notch. And I cannot even say how excited I am to pick out all my finishes.

    That said, like others have said, new homes are not free from money-sucking projects. The basement will need to be finished. We’ll have to build a deck and patio and install a fence (landscaping, sod and sprinkler system are included, thank God). And then the window treatments. Our builder will paint for us, so there’s that. And I have the peace of mind knowing my AC unit, water heater, and furnace will be repaired for free for a while if anything goes wrong.

    The biggest worry I have about moving to a new development? That it will be like our old one, full of shallow, in-your-business, talk-behind-your-back neighbors. But that’s what my new fence will be for, I guess.

  • Käthe

    2013/04/24 at 10:35 am

    But I think there’s an expectation when you buy a new home that everything will be up to snuff. And that’s what Ben is getting at: IT’S NOT. So, be careful no matter what the age of the home.

  • Jenny Lynn

    2013/04/24 at 10:36 am

    Even new builds have issues. Sometimes the sub contractors that are hired cut corners that may cause problems years down the road. I think buying a home is a gamble wither it is old or new.

  • Guest

    2013/04/24 at 10:46 am

    The best thing about living in a new build for me is how easy it is to fix stuff! The mister is completely inept but I’ve managed to fix issues related to electrics, plumbing and heating. This last month I have installed a new shower and added a couple of extra units to our kitchen. Meanwhilethe mister just found another mirror he can use to check his hair, not that I have a problem with that, I guess *someone* has to look pretty round here.

  • Ashley the Accidental Olympian

    2013/04/24 at 10:46 am

    My first home I bought was a brand new home in one of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods where all the houses look the same. And yes, there are benefits because we didn’t need to replace the fence, or the heater, or redo the kitchen, but that didn’t mean we didn’t still find things to fix. Because at the end of the day those homes are cookie-cutter. And we all aren’t. So we replaced the entry tile, the doors, the trim, the window sills, removed the carpet, and although we didn’t get to it we had plans to redo the kitchen and all three bathrooms. Everything was fine, but it still wasn’t right. So no matter what you buy, as a homebody, you’ll sink money into it to make it feel like home.

  • Amy Jacobs

    2013/04/24 at 10:49 am

    You sound like us! We are either staying put for the rest of our days in this house, that is nearly paid off OR building a new home on land we bought last year. We are still letting both these scenarios playout, ie we don’t have the mindset or money to build right now and we really like this house and the idea of NO house payment in our 50s! I appreciate how your perspective has changed…we learn as we “grow” Heather. I read you daily again and am liking what I’m seeing more each day!

  • Heather

    2013/04/24 at 10:56 am

    Also, here’s the thing about new construction being “cookie cutter”. Yes, it mostly is. But after perusing more houses than I can count in a historic city, what I’ve noticed is that each street was cookie cutter back in the day. This block of Tudors all look the same. That block of ramblers all look the same. Oh, look, it’s a whole quadrant of the city with the exact same story-and-a-halfs. And here’s the Victorian neighborhood, again, all the same. They have “charm” because they’re older, but to say that old houses aren’t cookie cutter is a misnomer.

  • danielle b.

    2013/04/24 at 10:58 am

    My parents built both houses they ever lived in after they married in 1979. They were lucky that my uncle is a civil engineer and was also a licensed contractor the first time the built in 1980 (not licensed in 1989 when the 2nd house was built but still had the knowledge). My uncle would go to the work site after hours and literally kick out 2x4s that had been installed incorrectly. He would also spray paint areas that needed reworking. When the second house was being built, my dad would often show up unannounced at the site, not tell anyone he was the buyer, and ask questions and listen in on conversations. He would then take the information he learned back to the site manager or general contractor (things like the painters wanting to water down the paint and charge full price).

    My grandfather raised my dad and uncle at a time when people did their own building and taught them both a lot of things. I think having someone who knows a thing or two on your side is helpful. I think if you were to buy new, you should actually build and keep a close eye on things.

  • Kevin Carter

    2013/04/24 at 11:01 am

    I think in buying/building a new home you just exchange one list of problems with another. New homes are nice to move into. Everything is new and clean. Oh, but now you have to put in sprinklers and a yard and a fence. You are going to have to have the builder back for several fixes to things they didn’t get quite right. Shouldn’t cost you extra but it’s a pain in the ass to get them to come out. If you want all the control I think you are wanting on a new home you are talking about a custom home. You would not be happy just buying the xyz model in a tract somewhere. Custom home building is a whole different story. Seen the movie ‘Money pit’? It’s kinda like that in that you will be nickling and diming yourself to death all along the way. Oh, I want to add this and oh I want to add that and oh, I didn’t think about that. Oh, let’s move that wall so that we can fit the new fridge in that I just found that I have to have. etcetera etcetera etcetera. Change orders cost money. You will spend your life sitting in your car in front of your home while it is being built. You will want to make sure everything is done right. Well, that means checking the work done every single day on your home. Custom homes take longer. You will be told a timeframe and it will most likely expand to double that. Plan on a good solid year from design begin to move in. Maybe longer depending on just how big the home is etc. Personally I always choose to build. I can’t stand trying to fit my minds eye into something somebody else has already made choices to make their own. It doesn’t feel like it is my house. So, no free lunches. No getting out of pains in the ass. Just different pains in the ass. Good luck! Can’t wait to see what you do.

  • FabFabA

    2013/04/24 at 11:02 am

    I echo what many have said already – new construction does not mean quality and it definitely doesn’t mean that you won’t have to dump money into your house. First of all, the builders ROB you with the upgrades. Many times you’re better off just having them build with the basics and then rip it all out and upgrade yourself later. Our brand, spanking new house was built quick and dirty, without regard to longevity at all! For our home the warranty lasted 1 year and I swear on day 366 things started breaking. Yes, new homes have modern electricity and plumbing, but these builders use the cheapest materials they can find and they sub-contract things like plumbing to whoever bids the lowest. They don’t care about quality, they only care about making profits. I recently bought a house built in the 1980’s that was lovingly updated by it’s previous owner. She clearly intended on living here a long time and had quality work done to the house. Unfortunately for her she had to foreclose. My lesson learned: buy a house that has been thoughtfully updated by it’s previous owner and if I ever buy new construction again it’s going to be when I win the lottery and have a custom home built for me by my own, personal contractor.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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