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Old vs. new homes: Which should I buy?

Old vs New Homes: Which Should I Buy?
Paul Hamilton/Getty Images
Old vs New Homes: Which Should I Buy?
Paul Hamilton/Getty Images

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If you’re in the market to buy a home, you’ll likely wind up looking at lots of listings and touring many different types of properties. You may see some that are brand new construction, and some that are a century old. Both have their appeal. If you’re not sure whether you want to buy a new or old home, here are some of the many factors to consider.

Old vs. new homes

Many buyers rank the age of a home as one of the least important factors when deciding which home to buy. However, experts think it should be higher on the list of considerations. While many aspects of housing have held true across the decades, there are plenty of different trends that affect homebuilding over time. Depending on the age of a home, you will notice different features, building methods and design choices.

Historic homes

Older homes are likely to have very different design sensibilities than modern ones. This is in part due to technological innovations, but also differing tastes.

For example, truly historic homes often lack ductwork or central air systems, because those technologies did not yet exist when they were built. They may also boast old-school features like cast-iron radiators, clawfoot tubs and Victorian-style woodwork. And they tend to have smaller, more individual rooms, as opposed to the spacious open floor plans of modern homes.

These homes will also have different architectural styles than a new build. For instance, midcentury homes from the 1960s often utilized unusual shapes and colors. And many neighborhoods built in that era have a cookie-cutter style, with the homes within each development looking very similar to each other.

New-construction homes

If you’re looking at newly constructed homes, you’re likely to notice some current trends in how they are designed and built. Some of the most modern home trends include metallic roofs and curvy building elements. You may also see greater use of outdoor space — something that became much more important to homeowners during the pandemic.

Other design considerations may also be apparent, such as smarthome features, central air systems and living rooms oriented around space for a TV or entertainment center, rather than a fireplace.

Pros and cons

If you’re unsure of which style of home is best for you, consider the pros and cons of each.

Old home advantages

  • Location. Older homes are typically located closer to the center of towns, and in more walkable areas near more amenities. If you want a really central location, you may need to buy an older home.
  • Speed. If you’re buying a new home, particularly one that’s currently being constructed, you might face construction delays or supply-chain issues that slow down the process. With an old home, that isn’t a concern.
  • Value. A home with strong history, or one with a desirable architectural style in a historic neighborhood, may be worth more than a newer home of similar size.
  • Charm. Unique architectural details and flourishes give an older home personality that might be lacking in a newer, less quirky build.

Old home drawbacks

  • Outdated technology and building codes. Technology has changed a lot over time, obviously. Old homes may use older heating and cooling systems or have fewer electrical outlets than you’d like. Similarly, building codes and standards have changed as well. Old homes might not be up to modern code, and bringing things up to today’s safety standards will likely be costly.
  • Expensive upkeep. Brooks Conkle, a Mobile, Alabama–based Realtor, points out that ongoing maintenance costs can be higher in an older home. “Watch out, as the repair costs for older homes can quickly escalate,” he says. “Be sure to get a home inspection and really understand the home well. A newer home is (most likely) going to be in better condition and more energy efficient.”
  • Small or non-standard measurements. Older homes are often not designed for the size of modern appliances or furniture. You might find that your garage is too small for your car, or that you need an unusually sized refrigerator to fit it in your kitchen.

New home advantages

  • Energy efficiency. Newer homes are often designed with energy efficiency and upkeep costs in mind. They are usually much cheaper to keep heated or cooled.
  • Amenities. Newer homes can also take advantage of modern technology. That means they tend to already have conveniences like central air and dishwashers, for instance, whereas older homes might have to be retrofitted for this equipment.
  • Customization. If you’re buying a new-construction home, many builders offer the opportunity to customize it to your specific desires.
  • Home warranties. Newer homes, especially brand-new constructions, often come with warranties. These protect you from major expenses that might pop up, such as unexpected structural issues or even problems with appliances.

New home drawbacks

  • Homeowners associations. Many new developments are managed by a homeowners association, or HOA. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean paying extra fees and dealing with restrictions on how you can use your home.
  • Price. With all their modern bells and whistles, newer homes are often more expensive than older ones. Especially brand-new construction, where the buyer will be the first person ever to live there.
  • Competition. In a busy real estate market, there’s a good chance that many people will be competing to buy the same home. If a new home is in a desirable location and doesn’t require any repairs, you’ll probably face stiff competition, and likely even a bidding war.

FAQs

What are typical differences between old and new homes?

In general, newer homes will be constructed with more modern technology and materials, and up-to-date building and safety codes. Older homes might need improvements to meet current standards.

Older homes are also designed differently than newer ones, which may or may not be to your taste. New homes will have layouts conforming to modern trends.

Are old homes built better?

There’s a common perception that older homes are built more solidly than newer ones, or that “they just don’t make them like they used to.” Certainly some old homes are very well-constructed and have stood the test of time. But the truth is that construction quality varies from home to home, regardless of its age. Whether you’re buying a new or old home, you should always do a home inspection to identify any potential issues.

Do new or old homes cost more?

In terms of sale price, new homes will generally cost more than old homes. However, older homes can have higher carrying costs, such as heating/cooling, maintenance and utilities.

Which type of home should I choose?

Choosing a new or old home is largely up to personal preference. Some people like lots of character and personality, while others want a sleek, modern design with all of today’s amenities. Your Realtor will be able to help you find new and old homes to tour, if you want to get a feel for each type of home in your area. Whichever you choose, make sure you do your due diligence and consider how all of the costs of owning the home will affect its affordability.

Written by
TJ Porter
Contributing writer
TJ Porter is a contributing writer for Bankrate. TJ writes about a range of subjects, from budgeting tips to bank account reviews.
Edited by
Senior real estate editor