Would I get more house for the money in an existing home or a newly constructed home?
In the long run, a new home buying decision is the best in terms of getting and maintaining value. Your new home not only has the latest in features, but the warranties and energy saving aspects of a new home will save on many unwanted bills that you might encounter when buying a previously owned home.
The value can be measured not only on a price per square foot basis, but on the features and liveability that you will get with a new home.
You can easily get that kitchen backsplash that you might not see in a new home or the newest in hardwood choices that you don't see in a previously owned home - and it can all be put into your mortgage for dollars per month.
What are some new home communities that are affordable -- $500k or less -- and close to Metro lines?
It does depend in which area of the DC market that you are searching but there are a few condominiums and even some town homes that would fit into the category under $500,000. You might try the condos at MetroWest in close in Fairfax - selling in the $400s. Old Town Commons in Alexandria, steps from Metro are selling from the $300s.
There are also some condominiums and town homes in the DC market that would fit your affordability requirements in the NE and SE sectors of the City. I hope that this gives you some direction. Good Luck.
Do I need a realtor to buy a new home?
You do not need a Realtor to buy a new home, but it does help. Good Realtors are knowledgeable about the areas and the homes in which you are looking to buy. They have compared the new homes and the resales and will know how to direct your purchase value and product wise.
Realtors will also take away some of the mystic of buying a new home - especially if you are a first time buyer. Buying a home requires knowing not only what price and value will be best for the buyer, but knows the issues associated with obtaining a loan, going to closing, and keeping your interests in mind when dealing with the builder.
Why does every newly constructed home have an open floor plan? I like separate rooms. I want to be able to close doors and not have everything out in the open. Is buying an older home my only option?
You are right in your statement that new homes now generally offer an open floor plan - especially from the kitchen to the more casual family room area. However, a builder usually has a plan with less openess in its line up of models offered. It has taken a decade or longer but builders generally listen to the trends that they hear from buyers in the market. The Great Room concept has been a trend that builders have seen coming for the past decade and now the builder is responding to that trend.
Don't dispair however, there are plenty of homes in the market that offer more compartmentalized living - jsut ask the builder and more than likely the builder will find a home for you!
What are the disadvantages of buying a newly built home over an older one? Advantages? Is it the sort of thing where you should really go one way or the other if you can or is it dependent on circumstances?
Advantages of a new home are numerous and most builders will let you know up front what they are - builder warranties, newer appliances and operating systems, special incentives that the builder may be offering, closing cost assistance and better energy ratings which hold bills down over time are just a few of the advantages.
You do, however, have to look at your own situation - sometimes in the current market new homes may not be available in the location in which you are looking. Then you do have to make the decision to choose a new location or go with a previously owned home.
In a "used" house (for want of a better term) I would look for things that are broken or need repairs or are outdated when evaluating the property. What should I be looking for in a new place as warning signs?
In a new home be sure that your builder provides you with a framing walk-thru so that you can see what is behind the walls and spot areas that you might see a problem.
When doing your final walk-thru look for issues with plumbing - run the water in every faucet, run the dishwasher. Test every electrical outlet. Look for imperfections in the drywall. Look for a well done paint job. In short, examine every feature: Is the granite installed as you were promised? Is the flooring provided as you ordered? Are there cracks in the foundation greater than 1/8-inch? These are just a few of the items that you can look for when doing your walk-thrus.
Can I bargain with a builder on the price or is the price nonnegotiable?
It depends on the builder typically. There is generally some price negotiation but it varies on how that negotiation actually is offered. There are usually incentives stated up front and that is what the buyer would get. In some instances there is the opportunity to ask for more but there is no guarantee that you will get that discount.
It really depends on what the bottom line of the builder is and what value it has placed on the sale. It is like everything else - ask and see what you might be able to get, but look at the published discount or incentive to understand that this might be what you get. Remember the builder is paying for the materials that go into your house. There are more than 100,000 moving parts to that build.
What's the latest trend when it comes to home building?
Trends - my favorite topic. Open floor plans have been trending for quite a while and now most builders offer an open floor plan in the model offerings.
New hardwood materials as well as new countertop materials are seen now. Look at the lighting fixtures - there is more diversity now. Stainless appliances are becoming standard in more new homes. As you go up the price scale, 10-foot ceilings on the first floor are becoming popular.
Kitchens show cabinets that are staggered, glass in cabinets is popular. Kitchen backsplashes are trending also. In the baths, depending on the buyer market, a large master bath instead of the tub is often seen.
So many to name - I could go on for hours. Stop by a new home site and see what the builders have to offer - at every price level there are new materials and gadgets.
Debbie, I'm wondering what you're company is working on in Sussex County. I happen to be from there! thanks
Are there any areas you see as particularly affordable (and safe, of course) for young couples who work in DC and don't want a huge commute?
From a new home perspective affordability is in the current condominium market. Some in Fairfax and Old Town might offer affordability if $400s is affordable for your pocketbook. As the Metro lines extend into Loudoun and deeper into Fairfax County you will begin to see some better affordabilty if you are willing to take public transporation.
In this case you might want to explore resales also.