new build entryway

Why We Almost Bought a New Build—Then Took Our Offer Back

Grout with a clean slate. Squeaky white, unused toilets. Freshly painted gray walls in an eggshell finish. And stainless steel appliances with the tags still on. What's not to love? This new build was move-in ready and, on the surface, it didn't need any work.

We put in our offer pretty quickly in February 2022, sighing with relief, "Ah, no renovations. No structural planning. Just a place we can finally call our own after living in more than seven apartments for over a decade," my husband and I said.

But then, we canceled our offer the next day.

new build home with white walls, brick fireplace, and tv

Design: Mindy Gayer Design Co.

A New Build Was the Easier Option, But Were We Just Paying for Convenience?

We were initially intrigued by the idea of buying a new build because it meant we'd never need to worry about pulling up old dingy pink carpet or replacing questionable yellow-reddish stained toilet seats. We fell hard and fast for our new build (and its contemporary achromatic interior). We adored its white walls, brick fireplace, and vaulted ceilings.

And thanks to its energy-efficient features like fresh insulation, appliances, a new washer and dryer, plus quality windows (that we knew older homes may lack), it meant less work and maintenance both upfront and in the near future.

Damaged gutters? Dying HVACs? No, we'd be just fine. But it turned out that things weren't quite that straightforward.

Our Move-in Ready Construction Home Lacked that Je Ne Sais Quoi

As soon as we had signed our paperwork and sent our offer to our real estate agent, we realized our new build had one major flaw: it was too new. And new doesn't always translate to quality construction, it just means new.

We started to analyze homes in the area that had been (and currently were) selling for around the same price. And then it hit us— we weren't getting the biggest bang for our buck.

What we were missing was quality materials, a great location, a higher ROI, and more house for our money.

These prospective homes were in beautiful neighborhoods with pristine, mature landscaping (a luxury that can cost up to $20,000). They came with real hardwood floors (not laminate or vinyl). And they had an abundance of architectural beauty like crown and bullseye molding, built-ins, and windows with divided light. We're talking zero "cookie cutter" vibes here.

Our new build, on the other hand? It had tiny alcove acrylic tubs that my 5'3" petite self couldn't even stand in without bumping my elbows on the sides (yes, I tested the spacial distance of each bathroom).

It also had gray, laminate flooring throughout; standard high-pile beige carpet; small square guest rooms. It had that cliché white and gray porcelain tile in the master shower and surrounding areas of the tub (with areas that were missing Schluter trim). The hardware and faucets were jaded, run-of-the-mill black. The landscaping was bare.

Okay, okay, I'll admit it. It's hard for me to shut my designer brain off, but still, I knew we were paying the same price for a new build just because it was new. What we were missing was quality materials, a great location, a higher ROI, and more house for our money.

On the Other Hand, Would Renovations Be Worth It?

Like most new-build buyers, we were generally pleased with the home's layout and features. Maybe we'd want to build a sunroom in the future or upgrade our kitchen faucets, but ultimately, we couldn't foresee any major fixes that would need to be addressed right away.

What a relief! We could skip out on renovations—tasks that are known to take you on a whirlwind of emotions, testing your sanity and patience (but also your wallet and time). Older homes, especially, can end up opening up a can of worms. You never know what you'll find when you open up those walls (even if you've done your due diligence and initial inspection).

While new builds are less likely to have unexpected problems or invisible repairs like plumbing or roofing issues, it's always best to get new builds inspected too. And it doesn't mean that new builds won't require any work, it just depends on what you're working with and your design goals.

kitchen renovation shot

Margot Cavin/The Spruce

Where Are We Now?

When we traded our new build for an older home, we also embarked on a $25,000 renovation for our 130-square-foot kitchen. We also ran into a few other unpredicted expenses. The house had two ancient HVACs that we knew we had to replace, because our second floor (including my husband's office) currently moonlights as a sauna. This will end up costing us $16,000.

We also need to undergo a full house repaint (another $12,000). Older homes aren't without their unique character quirks, and half of our home has white trim and doors while the other half has oil-based painted trim and doors that have now aged yellow.

Our outdated primary bathroom came decked out in a forest green tile (with matching grout!) plus an old-school jacuzzi tub our pest technician says could harbor snakes.

We've also encountered a few contractors who have tried to up-charge us 50% on tasks from plumbing to painting. But this has been a valuable lesson, and now we get up to three bids anytime we need any type of work done. Other pros will only accept cash, scribble their proposals on black and white composition books, and call it an agreement (and sometimes cancel two weeks before the job).

We also have the chance to use our creativity to shape our home in our style instead of living in a bland aesthetic.

Home repairs must happen in a specific order, so tight timelines have become the norm. Our kitchen cabinet painter is available but can't start until our countertops are installed. Our countertop fabricator is ready to go, but we need our sink on-site first because a template can’t be made without it. We're also moving the direction of our kitchen outlets which requires an electrician, and installing a pot filler that needs a new connection to our existing waterline.

If I wasn't a designer, I'm not sure how I would even begin to understand what was needed or the order of it all.

But We Don't Regret a Thing

Not a day goes by that we regret saying no to that new build. Instead, we're grateful to have found our dream starter home, a 1997 French country beauty with a hipped roof that makes me say "wooozahh!" every time I enter my driveway (which was, by the way, $6,000 cheaper than our new build and located in a neighborhood that will have a much higher ROI long-term).

I'm in awe of its lived-in, classic traditional appeal, its oak hardwood floors, its arched windows with bullseye molding, tray ceilings, and layers upon layers of crown molding. Not to mention the screened-in back porch, saltwater pool, and traditional shutters.

The best part? We have privacy and a lush green yard, a peach and fig tree adjacent to a bundle of fuchsia roses. And we get to drive through a neighborhood where no two homes are alike, but instead, each have a face and personality of their own.

We also have the chance to use our creativity to shape our home in our style instead of living in a bland aesthetic.

exterior of new build home with lantern and white walls

Design: Mindy Gayer Design Co.

So, Would We Ever Buy a New Build?

The answer is complicated and will really depend on our priorities as we enter the next chapter of our life.

Will we want a custom-built home where we get to sign off on every feature, but takes a full year to build and may push our budget out of control? Or a ready-made home soaked in newness? Or, maybe we'll end up falling in love with a good ol' charmer who just needs a bit of designer magic once again. Only time will tell.