Should First-Time Homeowners Buy New Homes or Older Home

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Updated January 31, 2019

It used to be that new homes cost more than older homes, but that's not necessarily true across the board anymore. As land costs increase, the size of new home lots has shrunk.


Another reason today's construction is sometimes cheaper is that it's less expensive to use 2 x 4 pine framing or engineered wood over 2 x 6 redwood and to use drywall instead of plaster. Buyers who look at inner-city homes in desirable neighborhoods will find, on average, larger lot sizes, and the homes will cost more than entry-level new homes being developed in new subdivisions outside the city.
Here are advantages and disadvantages to consider when trying to determine whether you should buy a newer home or an older home.

Advantages to Buying an Older Home

Old-World Construction
Older homes have stood for decades, some centuries, and weathered many storms. Some were built by hand by genuine craftsmen with meticulous attention to detail. You will often hear people say: They don't make 'em like they used to. It is true.
Larger Yard
Years ago, when land was cheaper, builders built on larger lot sizes, leaving room to accommodate garages on alleys.
More Character
Craftsman bungalows originated in California in the 1890s, but now they're ubiquitous across the U.S. Other popular styles are Victorians, Greek Revivals, Tudors or Colonials. Interesting architectural features are abundant in these homes such as arches, hand-carved decorative appointments, or stained-glass windows.

Longer-Term Neighbors
Some older homes are passed down through generations. Many neighbors know each other. The neighborhood might be deemed historic.
Established Neighborhood
Zoning changes are unlikely to occur in older areas. Hooters restaurants don't fare well in residential neighborhoods.
Mature Trees and Vegetation
It's not uncommon to see 50- to 100-year trees providing canopies in yards and boulevards. Rose bushes tended to by our great-grandmothers are especially popular today.
Closer to Downtown Entertainment and Restaurants
Not only do older areas tend to be located closer to downtown areas, but often residents can walk to local coffeehouses, antique stores, and restaurants.

Drawbacks to Buying an Older Home

More Maintenance
If it were a "perfect" house, everything would fall apart at the same time. But things tend to go wrong periodically, and there's always something to fix. Chimneys and stone foundations require tuckpointing. Floors may slope.
Expensive to Replace Wiring and Plumbing
If a home was built before sewer systems, the cesspool might overflow into a sewer. Tree roots break up sewer pipes. Galvanized pipes are rust-prone. Sensitive electronics require grounded wiring, and Romex (a type of non-metallic sheathed cable) can't be mixed with knob and tube. Aluminum is often dangerous.

Smaller Closets, Storage Space, and Garages
Before today's concept of "bigger is better," people had less clothing, fewer personal items to store, and only one vehicle. I once owned a Victorian in Minneapolis that didn't even have a garage. In its place was a carriage house for the horses.
Might Require Updates
Apart from HVAC systems, trendy updates involve pricey kitchen and bath remodeling. 
Often More Expensive
Classic and vintage homes generally cost more because of the location, meaning they are closer to conveniences such as schools, mass transit, shopping, and urban amenities.
Smaller Average Square Footage
With the exception of estates, many older homes are smaller in size, even though family sizes were larger when they were built. Times change.