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7 essential tips for buying a new home

What you don’t know can hurt you.

by J.V. GatewoodPublished: December 01, 2010

Excitement is building as the housing market begins its slow march to recovery. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that new housing starts were up 4.1 percent from where they were at this time last year. New homes offer a number of advantages to potential buyers, including the ability to customize it to an owner’s specifications. But for many, it simply comes down to cost.
   
“They are often cheaper than previously built houses,” says Ilona Bray, a legal editor at Nolo, the nation’s largest publisher of legal self-help books and the co-author of “Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.”
   
She cautions that while new homes are built to code, they may not be as solid as ones built 50 years ago. Oftentimes, they’re built quickly and with unskilled labor.
   
“So even though, technically speaking, they are supposed to be meeting the codes, sometimes the windows are put in inside out or something crazy, just because they don’t actually follow the basic manufacturer’s directions,” Bray says.
   
She and her colleagues at Nolo have developed some excellent tips for those in the market for a newly built home. Here are some of the most important nuggets of advice.

1. Don’t buy a house. Buy the builder’s reputation.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Holmes on Homes,” the popular television program that features master contractor Mike Holmes and his team fixing the shoddy work of unethical developers, then you know this one truth: A house may have all the curb appeal in the world but could potentially be rotting from within.
   
The best developers stand by their work, welcome inquiries and provide references to potential customers. Do your research: Talk to owners who live in homes built by the developer. A dissatisfied customer is only too happy to tell you about his or her experiences. Speak with local real estate agents about their dealings with homebuilders. Bray cautions potential homeowners to explore a developer’s financials. Given the current state of the economy, she says, it is not unheard of for a contractor to start a project only to stop midway because the company went bankrupt.
   
THE HOMEBUILDING EXPERTS: