Get a home inspection!
I always recommend that my clients get a professional home inspection clause added to the contract, even for New Homes. You should be aware that the on site sales person at a new home construction site works for the builder – NOT for YOU – and represents the builder and his interests. Builder contracts favor the builder and tend to omit any reference to things like professional inspections. I know of cases where home inspectors found serious problems in both resale and new homes. When you ask for a professional inspection, builders usually permit them, but caution you that they don't have to fix or change anything that doesn't violate code. However code usually requires that homes be built properly, so most things found by inspectors are taken care of by the builder. Also you need to be very cautious if you find out that this the first time the builder has built your model or built in your legal jurisdiction. I know of one new home where the local fire marshall required a builder to remove part of an optional kitchen bumpout because it came too close to a bumpout on the house next door.
A buyer agent can help you level the playing field by pointing out the differences in the builders contracts and standard resale contracts which tend to be more even handed. Although, they are similar, builder contracts vary from builder to builder. Depending on market conditions, it is sometimes possible to get builders to make changes to their contracts.
Be ready for settlement delays.
Settlement dates can slip, so make sure that you have considered and discussed this possibility with your Realtor®. New home settlements can slip because the builder could not complete construction and/or get the necessary permits on time. Resale slippage is usually caused by a problem with final loan approval. Don't end up with a moving truck full of furniture and nowhere to send it.
It is never to early to plan for selling your home.
If the house you buy has to be treated for termites or other insects, make sure you eliminate the visible signs of the insects. For example, termite mud tunnels can remain intact for many years after the termites have been killed. If you do not remove all visible tunnels, you may end up paying for a non existent problem when you try to sell your house and the buyer's inspector finds the old tunnels and reports that the house has signs of termites. Inspectors will report signs of insects even if they do not see any live ones. When companies treat for termites, they do not usually remove the tunnels.
If you are buying a new home, make sure you order options that will make you home more saleable. For example, get phone and cable jacks installed in all bedrooms. Don't limit the future sale of your home to families without older children. Plus, if you stay there long enough, your toddlers will eventually grow up and want their own phones, computers, and TVs. Have all bedroom ceilings pre wired for lights and ceiling fans even if you do not need them for yourself. Adding a fan or light later is much cheaper if you don't have to tear holes in the ceiling to run wiring.
Things to watch out for
If your car has a low ground clearance or a trailer hitch, or if the driveway has much of a slope, drive your car into the driveway to test for adequate clearance. Steep driveways also increase the likelyhood of slipping and falling in winter time. Another concern in Virginia is unfinished basements that don't have exits to the outside. Unless your home has an installed sprinkler system or acceptable emergency exit from the basement, you probably won't be able to get a building permit for the basement unless your remodeling plans include the installation of an exit. Also, when buying a new home, make sure you have something in writing regarding any community ammenities such as a swimming pool promised by the builder. I know of one new homes community where the builder took over 2 years to start building the promised pool and clubhouse. When the owners started complaining after about a year, the builder told them that there was nothing in their contracts about it, so he didn't even have to build one.
Think twice about buying low lying lots. If you suspect water damage in a basement, ask the seller to provide a CLUE report for his property. The CLUE report is put out by insurance companies and will list past insurance claims.
Make sure you have an experienced Realtor® working for your interests.
Make sure that your Realtor has the experience and training needed to handle the many problems and issues that can come up during the home buying process. Make sure he knows both what to look for and what to watch out for. In addition to the the ABR designation for buyer agents, I also have also obtained the CSP (Certified New Homes Sales Professional) designation by taking and passing the four day course that builders send many of their sells staff to. Give me a call for a free consultation if you are looking to buy a new or a resale home in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun or other Northern Virginia areas.