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How I Almost Bought A New Construction Condo

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New Construction Housing
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This site is all about saving up money for your first house down payment. I'm really excited today because I have achieved this goal and will shortly close escrow on my first condo with my fiancee. It's the end to a journey that has been going on for several years. I'm also excited because this article marks the first in a series documenting our personal experience buying our first home. The entire home buying experience has been quite a challenge and has created a lot of stress. It's all totally worth it and we're so happy to be moving into our place shortly. However, I sincerely hope that by documenting our journey we can help you avoid some of the stress we experienced. Whether you have your down payment saved already or are still in the saving phase, please read and benefit from our personal home buying experience. This is the first article in a series of many...

How Our First Home Buying Experience Got Started

My fiancee and I have been saving money for the down payment on our first home for many years. We have been living and breathing the money saving tips and strategies on this site day in and day out. In the last six months, we had saved up enough money, especially because prices have come down a bit in the ultra pricy San Francisco Bay Area. Almost everyday for the last year, we have both checked the MLS Listings to see the condos on the market for sale. A new construction we had been keeping an eye on for a while suddenly piqued our interest because prices had come down substantially, almost 20 percent. We had already visited this complex before because it's right next to my old office building and I watched them build the condos. We had always really liked the place and decided the time was perfect to make our move.

Our First Mistake - No Real Estate Agent

Almost as soon as we committed to finding ourselves a unit within this complex, problem after problem started arising. At a meta level, I must stress that you need a qualified real estate agent. The builder of these condos actually did not entertain offers from buyers with real estate agents. Rather, he wanted to represent us himself. He told us this would be good for us too because we could take the money he saved from not having to pay a real estate agent and credit it toward a lower purchase price. At this very moment, we should have walked. I cannot stress enough that a high quality real estate agent is absolutely necessary, especially if you are a first time home buyer. The entire process is just too complex. You need a real estate agent to help you out and represent your best interests. Until I tried to buy my first place, I had never met so many shady people in my life. There are a lot of bad people in real estate. Get a qualified buyer's agent on your side, period. In the long run, this could mean the difference between living the American dream and destroying your financial life and everything you have worked so hard for. If that new construction condo or house will not deal with real estate agents, it's time to walk away and find something else.

New Condos May Have Big Problems

The second mistake we made is assuming that something new is without problems. These new condos actually had many more problems than anything else we have seen on the market, even very old condos. Following are just a few of the problems that came back from our inspection report. (As a side note, if you're buying a condo, you need an in depth inspection report. Don't let anyone talk you out of it. It could be the best $400 you ever spend.)

  • Bad Shower - The shower that the builder installed has no slope to the floor. It was a beautiful shower with stone flooring, but if it doesn't drain properly that could mean serious long term damage to our unit. Fixing this would be expensive and we were not confident the builder would actually fix it because of financial burden in a bad market where not that many units are selling.
  • Bad Dryer - Here's another crazy one: There was no venting built in for the dryer to vent to the outside. This basically means the builder would have to rip out the wall to install the proper duct for the dryer to vent to the outside or else we would not be able to wash our own clothes in our unit. Again, we did not feel confident that the builder would actually fix this.
  • Uncapped Gas Valves - There were uncapped gas valves in the unit that posed a serious fire risk according to our inspection report. The builder brushed this off as a non-issue and actually got angry with us when we questioned him. Even if he did fix our gas caps, what if the same issue existed in other units, especially those that got no inspection? We did not want to live in a building with such risk.

An Older Place May Be Better

Synthesizing all these problems, we concluded that an older place may in fact be better. Something that has been through the test of time is more likely to have all of its issues fixed. This is exactly what we ended up doing. We are now in contract to purchase a 10 year old condo and are so much more confident that the problems will be minimal to non-existent, as already implied by our very clean inspection report.

High HOA Fees and No Homeowners

Another big red flag in this whole deal is that the building is only 50 percent occupied right now (with very few units selling in the last six months). If only half the building is occupied, who will pay the HOA, we started thinking. Moreover, the units are not selling well at all (it's no mystery given the shoddy workmanship). Our main concern here is that the HOA dues would go up for everyone in the building, forcing them to carry the weight of the unsold units, especially if the builder goes bankrupt which seemed like a possibility to us.

Only Deal With Good People

We were never really fond of the builder. We were even less fond of him after the inspection report came back with problem after problem. Rather than addressing the problems, he got upset at us for questioning his workmanship. Life is too short to be dealing with people you don't like and trust, especially when your life savings is at risk. You have spent years saving up your down payment, pick who you want to work with and who you don't want to work with. It's your call, especially in this buyer's market.

Don't Be Afraid To Walk From The Deal

Buying a home is difficult. You start mentally moving in as soon as you're in contract. You get attached and want it to happen. A big lesson for us from this experience was to just walk away. Don't tie yourself to a bad deal. This is a buyer's market right now. You have worked hard to save up your 20 percent down payment, and you are the one that calls the shots, period. If you're dealing with someone shady and don't like what's going on, just walk. Life is too short and you need to feel good about the home you are buying. One huge word of caution: When you go into contract to buy a home, you will be required to put a deposit down (usually 3 percent). This deposit will be non-refundable once your contingencies are closed. Make sure you fully understand what your contingencies are and when they need to be closed by. If you are going to walk, you need to do so before closing your contingencies. Again, this is why a real estate agent is so important. They can help you set up financing, due diligence, and inspection contingencies to protect your investment.

I sincerely these tips help you out. They are definitely not meant to scare you from buying your own home. This all sounds really difficult and it is. In fact, it does not get easier for my fiancee and I after this deal. It actually stays hard for a while. However, it does all end out very well and is totally worth it. Stick in there and surround yourself with a real estate agent that you trust. You will be very happy you did so! The next step in my home buying journey? Check out my personal experience trying to buy a short sale.

Want to learn more about new construction condos and new construction homes in general? I highly recommend checking out New Construction Homes dot org.

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