Let’s start with a disclaimer so I don’t risk “over promising and underdelivering”! So I am not an expert on buying new builds, in fact I’ve only done it once. I did however buy a new build having when I had no idea what I was doing so learned a lot of things “the hard way,” which of course makes those lessons very memorable! We bought through David Wilson, so there may be some of the following considerations that are different with various developers; the information is purely based on my experience, but hopefully this will give you a good staring point of the relationships you need to build (pardon the pun) and the questions you should consider asking. This post is purely about my experience and learns, which of course is different for all of us so rather than a “definitive guide” thinks of this as “what I would do next time.” Since all of us that have purchased a new build have had a different processes (highs, lows and learns), I encourage sharing your lessons, so let us know in the comments if you have had a different experience or have additional advice for those just starting their new build journey.
The Site Office Team
From the moment you visit the marketing suite of your potential you are starting a relationship that can make or break your buying experience. With our developer, they couldn’t sell each plot until the foundation was laid, which meant on the day they could sell the property they would call all those who expressed interest. Obviously they cant do this all at once, so make sure you’re in the position where you are the first person they call! A great relationship with the site office continues once you move in; there might be an overlap with your move in date and the team still being on site. We had about 6 months overlap and having friendly faces on side to ask little questions to was brilliant; it meant our snagging list was sorted very quickly!
Things To Know:
- Be in a position to go as soon as you can; that will bump you up the priority list exponentially
- You cannot contact the marketing team too much; I was emailing once a week and that wasn’t enough for the original plot we wanted! Be relentless, but be polite – you need these guys on side
- Continue your relationship with the marketing team beyond your move in date
The development will usually have 2-3 Show Homes on site to view and walk round, but they may have 5-8 home types they are building. When we moved into our home I was really surprised how many people had bought their homes based on the floor plan alone having not entered a show home of their chosen design. Personally I would have really struggled with that; in fact based on the floor plan, I had actually ruled out the home we bought. It was only when I saw the house that I fell in love with it. I would strongly recommend asking the developer where the nearest Show Home of the property you are interested in is. We took a 2 hour round trip to view the Show Home of our house and this was time VERY well spent; you are purchasing your home, you have to be completely comfortable with your decision.
Things to Know:
- A large developer will have different show homes around the country; you can view a Show Home on a different site so that you get a feel for the space
- The Show Home will have the highest spec finishes; try not to fall in love with the fireplace, wine fridge (I still lust after this!), chrome fittings, fitted wardrobes etc. as many of these will come as an additional cost.
- Walking around show homes is super fun! So much better than being escorted around a pre-loved home by an estate agent. You have free range to have a good snoop! Enjoy it!
Choosing a Plot
This is such a difficult element of buying a new build and there are several moving parts that will make it even more challenging. With our home we bought the last plot of the house type we wanted, so that actually made things a lot easier… kind of. The lack of choice meant that I didn’t constantly look at the other houses popping up around us thinking “should we have got that one?” However, instead I was thinking “if only we’d had the choice, maybe we’d have had that one.” Comparing our plot to others became a bit of an obsession!
Despite not having the choice, I now understand what I would personally prioritise in future. Everyone’s priorities are naturally different, so this is purely how I feel. If you can find a plot that ticks all these boxes in your priority order and is still in budget, you’re probably onto a winner!
1. Back Garden
Our plot actually had the smallest of all the gardens of our property type (which also by the way probably kept the property in our budget.) However, I love that our garden is South facing and rectangular shaped. I would definitely want South Facing again; my thoughts on it were that I could have twice the size garden but if it spent the majority in the shade it wouldn’t matter. I also found a lot of the plots had peculiar shaped gardens with parts that you couldn’t see from the house; again once the children come along, that would make some parts of the garden less used anyway.
The second element to the garden is how over looked you are and whether that’s important. This can be difficult to visualise when buying off plan. What we did was to look at the homes being build around us then study their floor plans. When looking at their floor plan we were trying to establish which windows would be “over” our garden. We are very fortunate that our garden is really only overlooked by one frosted bathroom window. This is highly unusual for new builds on our estate. Every other garden we have been in has had multiple homes overlooking their garden and with the way some are aligned you can practically make eye contact with someone across your bedrooms. So if it’s important to you too, I would really advise visualising how overlooked you’ll be because by the time you might realise, it could be too late.
I love that our driveway is next door to our house. A lot of the plots on the development I’ve looked at since have their driveway at the end of their garden or round on a separate street. Personally, I didn’t much fancy heaving the Tesco shop down the road especially with babies and toddlers in tow so this would be a priority for us. Our driveway also has room for 4 cars, which is a huge bonus and almost create a second garden; albeit rather a tarmaccy/prison yardish one!
3. Front Garden
This is where we are severely lacking. So that our back garden remained a decent size our front garden is non existent. As this is third on my list, I am settled with it; although I must admit I do still lust after the approach of some of the other homes on the development. I have to remind myself what I gained for lack of front garden (alongside reminding myself to stop having such first world problems!) This may be a higher priority for you though, which is why the choice is completely personal.
Things To Know
- If the development becomes popular the comparative cost of the same house at the beginning of the development may be substantially cheaper than towards the end of the builds.
- In our case, the developers needed to get properties up quick; so the first few houses they build were closer together and more built up than later down the build project.
- Set your priorities considering the following; garden size, garden position, driveway size and position, front garden / curb appeal.
Decision Made? Things You Should Know:
- You may need to pay a “deposit” – we had to pay £500 to secure the house, this was taken off the cost of the house when we completed.
- The developers may want you to get in touch with a mortgage advisor that they work with. This will be so that they have proof that you can afford the house, not a way to force you to use their contact (although of course you can)
- Your developer will probably give you the details of a solicitor they like working with; while it’s not compulsory, we decided to go with their advice. It made sense to us to make the process as easy as possible and have a solicitor that is knowledgeable about working with the developer and also the site.
- You should be able to book with your site office to go and view progress on your property as much or as little as you’d like. I would recommend roughly every 3-4 weeks so that you can see the changes as they happen and pick up on any decisions that might be being made without your knowledge.
- When you view your home throughout the build process it will look a lot smaller! The breeze blocks draw each room in and there may be films on the window that block out light. Trust me, it bounces back to size once it’s finished!
You’ve bought a home! Congratulations! So what happens next…??
Choices You Will Be Offered
Brace yourself! There will be endless choices! They also all come at different times, which I am sure is a strategy to maximise your spend. I would definitely advise knowing what extras you will be asked about so that you can budget accordingly.
The key choices being:
Kitchen: If you purchase your property at the right build stage, you will have a choice of your Kitchen. For our developers there was the option for “upgrades” which would widen your choice and provide higher spec appliances. For us as well the upgrade meant that you get a plinth to your units, so this was a no brainer for us. I do still find it odd that the basic package doesn’t include something as basic as a plinth! The upgrade for our house cost about £2,500.
Bathroom Tiles: In my experience, there is a quite limited choice of tile options; mostly very plain. We went for a large subway style tile in both bathrooms. Quite dull, but perfectly functional. We were able to make the bathrooms look more lively by adding wallpaper after we moved in. You will also be asked how you want your tiles laid (brick style or in line.) While we weren’t offered this, I assume you could upgrade to have more walls of wall to ceiling tiles; ours only offered wall to ceiling tiling in the shower areas
Towel Rails: In our new build white towel rails were standard and you could upgrade to chrome; this was one of the very early choices we had and we decided to upgrade as we knew we never would get round to it otherwise! The shower rails for us cost about an additional £300 (for two)
Fitted Wardrobes: For us, the wardrobes in the main bedroom were included. Any further wardrobes would carry an additional cost. The wardrobe doors were also a standard design; we could choose the handles (which I did over email with a very blurry picture; a nearly impossible task) and we had the option to spend extra to have sliding doors and add mirrors. We went all out (it was one of our first choices) and added mirrors to every door. Had the choice come later when we realised how much we were going to spend on extras we may not have gone for this! The mirrors (8 in total) cost around about £600.
Another thing to bear in mind is that your choices may need to be paid for upfront this was the case for us and we couldn’t add the cost to the mortgage, so you may need to have money set aside for the “extras” when purchasing a new build. Luckily we all always have loads of spare money kicking about when buying a house right???! The extras weren’t something we were prepared for so make sure you know about this while you’re budgeting.
Choices to Ask About
Internal Doors: It only occurred to me when we moved in and I visited our neighbours homes that we all had slightly different doors. I never found out about this, but if I had my time again I would ask what doors were going to be used and whether I can have a preference.
Additional Tiling: I allowed Mr PHD to choose the downstairs loo tiles since I had chosen pretty nearly everything else, including the property type (plus there would only be two tiles of it in the room, so how wrong could he go??) To my horror, the developer decided to use the same tiles on our kitchen windowsill, which I was not asked about or aware would happen. So make sure you ask if any windowsills will be tiled and what tiles they will use so that you have the choice!
Flooring; Pros and Cons
For us, flooring was an additional cost, and I think that is the case with most developers. Naturally there are pros and cons to this that you need to consider:
- The developer will do all of the measuring for you, so this removes the stress of getting the size wrong
- Your flooring will be all done on moving day
- The cost will include all underlay and grippers; one less thing to think about.
- For us, the flooring was covered by the same warranty as the house, which was a huge plus
- Having your flooring already done gives one less “to do” once you’ve moved in. Remember that this isn’t an “all or nothing” situation; you could opt to have just key rooms with difficult to move items of furniture floored and do less used rooms yourself.
- The cost is eye watering as there is most definitely a premium for going through the developer. I cant quite bring myself to type the total cost we spent on flooring… we have a 4 bedroom, 4 reception room home and the flooring was over £10k
- Choices tend to be quite “safe” I have since discovered so may fabulous tiles that I would have preferred for my bathroom floors. So if you like something quite unique, you might be better to search yourself
Timing is EVERYTHING on flooring if you do decide to go through the developer. With our developer, the minute you no longer are in the position to move (i.e. you lose your buyer) you are booted off the purchase of the new build. We ordered and paid for our flooring before exchange. Two weeks later our buyer threatened to pull out which would have meant we lost the money for all of the extras; no refund. This put us in a horrific position where we had to lower the cost of the sale of our flat so as to not lose the new build and all our life savings. I would never pay for something as big as the floors before exchange again and would advise you to ask these questions to your developer before you commit to expensive extras.
So those are some of the key lessons I learned while buying our home, do hope this has been helpful if you are in the process of buying a new build home. Thankfully it all worked out, as it so often does, despite the stress. I guess my key additional advice would be to enjoy it! Buying a home will always carry some stress, so you need to take joy from what you can. There really is nothing quite like seeing your home develop from a plot of land, to a foundation, to a shell to a home. It may be a short history but we know and are part of every moment of our homes tapestry and I have absolutely loved watching our community grow around us. This is one of your major pros of buying a new build so soak it all in and treasure those memories.