Homebuyers over age 55 have so many decisions to make before they take the plunge and purchase a home. Where should they buy? How much should they spend? Single-family home or condominium? One story or two?
But there’s one more decision 55+ homebuyers need to make: whether they want new construction or an existing home.
“More than likely, this is going to be their last home,” says Jack McCabe, a housing industry analyst in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “Because of that, they want it to be the home they always dreamed about.”
One of the key advantages of purchasing new construction is the ability to select your lot, your floor plan, your colors, your cabinets, your countertops, your flooring — every aspect of the home to suit your lifestyle — as opposed to having to change someone else’s tastes to fit yours.
Yet despite all the advantages of new homes — which will be detailed below —statistics indicate that 55+ buyers prefer existing homes. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 82 percent of buyers 55 and older who were surveyed said they purchased a previously owned home.
“Existing homes tend to be less expensive,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of market economics for Irvine, Calif.-based Auction.com, an online real estate transaction marketplace. “Also, if there’s an existing home in an area you want to be in, but they’re not building new homes there, that may be your only and best option.”
Still, for many 55+ buyers, new construction is the best choice. Here are just a few reasons why.
You Can Pick, Well, Everything
“New construction allows choice,” says Chris Gaffney, a group president of Toll Brothers Inc. in Horsham, Pa. “It allows you to do everything in your home exactly as you want it.”
Buyers at new home communities can choose from the latest floor plans and the trendiest options in floors, cabinets, countertops, fixtures and more. In most new home communities, buyers have a litany of options they can select to make their home truly unique and to reflect their design vision. They can control their exterior space as well. Want to back to a golf course or lake? Just select the appropriate lot on the site plan.
“When you buy new, you can choose from the multitude of floor plans we offer so that your home best fits your lifestyle,” Gaffney says.
New Homes Require Less Maintenance
Most 55+ buyers want to spend their time doing other things — visiting children and grandchildren, socializing with friends, playing golf or pickleball. They don’t want the responsibility that comes with owning a fixer-upper.
With a new home, you won’t spend your Sunday morning fixing a leaky faucet or cleaning dirty grout. New homes are just that — new. They require less maintenance. So that means fewer household chores — and more free time for 55+ buyers.
New homes reflect not only the latest styles and trends but are also built to the most current building codes. “Building codes change often — everything from changing energy efficiency requirements to windows and air conditioning systems,” says Jill DiDonna, a senior vice president at Sunrise, Fla.-based GL Homes. “That’s beneficial because government agencies have determined that these changes are in the best interests of homeowners.”
Builders also change the features included in new homes as styles and tastes evolve. For example, in response to customer demand, GL Homes eliminated the tub in the master bath of some of its models, choosing instead to include larger showers. GL also changed the standard cabinets in some of its models from Shaker-style cabinets in a painted finish to clean, modern ones.
“We ride the tide of changing buyer preferences,” DiDonna says. “Things that used to be upgrades are now standard in newer homes.”
New homes also come with a builder warranty. Most builders provide a one-year warranty, during which they’ll take care of any issues that arise, as well as an insurance-backed 10-year structural warranty to protect homeowners against major defects.
It’s Easier to Make Friends
Purchasing new has social advantages as well. “You’re getting in on the ground floor of the lifestyle,” DiDonna says. “Everybody is there at the same time when the facilities are built, and that forges really nice relationships with your neighbors right up front.”
When Barbara Levine and her husband, Buddy, decided to move to a 55+ community, they looked at both new and existing homes. The couple ultimately decided on a new 3,570-square-foot home at Valencia Bay in Boynton Beach, Fla. The existing homes they considered were older and would have required substantial renovations to create the home the Levines dreamed of. But social realities played into their decision to buy new as well.
“We realized that people moving into a new place would all be looking to meet new friends at the same time, whereas in an existing community they could already have their friendships made and cliques,” Barbara Levine says.
New Homes May Make It Easier to Age in Place
Purchasers of new homes in 55+ communities get an additional advantage: The homes generally are decked out with the latest features that allow owners to age in place. Wide hallways and doorways make a house more accessible for a resident who uses a cane, walker or wheelchair. Windows are lower to the floor for increased visibility. Appliances have controls at the front for easier and safer use. Electrical outlets are installed at a higher height to make access easier.
Miami-based home builder Lennar Corp. is even building homes that feature integrated home automation and voice control with Amazon Alexa, which allows residents to ask Alexa to turn lights on and off, adjust thermostats or play music, making life more effortless for 55+ owners.
Other Advantages of New Construction
New construction offers additional advantages for 55+ buyers, such as getting the latest amenities in your community — pickleball, for example — or being able to choose a curated community that offers whatever lifestyle you dream of, from golf communities to tennis communities to developments that offer farm amenities. There’s also the potential for appreciation; it’s not unusual for the value of a new home to increase for early purchasers as builders add new phases and raise prices.
The bottom line is that a new home is just that: new. It’s clean, it’s fresh, it’s customized to your specifications — and it will be filled with memories that are yours alone.
Robyn A. Friedman is an award-winning freelance writer and copywriter who has been covering the real estate and housing industries for over two decades. She writes the “Jumbo Jungle” column for The Wall Street Journal, is a real-estate and personal-finance columnist for City & Shore magazine, covers celebrity real estate for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and also contributes regularly to Commercial Property Executive, Multi-Housing News and numerous other publications.