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The Washington Scene

Five Pointers for New-Home Shoppers

March 29, 1987|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

Prospective new-home buyers are known to ask far more questions than do most shoppers.

Considering that the purchase of a home is the biggest of the big-ticket items on almost anyone's shopping list, the questions are warranted--and sometimes inadequate. Maybe that's why home building executive Milton Schneiderman suggested recently in New Homes Guide magazine that all buyers should be certain to include five key questions in their asking arsenal. These are:

1--Where will I (we) be living and will I (we) really be happy here?

That's the Schneiderman version of "location, location, location" as the three most important factors of any real property. But it's also much more. Learn about the road on which you will use to get to and from your work. Better yet, do a test commute.

Check on community services--trash pick-up, utility services, tennis courts, swimming pools, health care and parking. Will you and your guests be able to park near your home? Talk to some of the neighbors and appraise their answers.

And don't hesitate to use the local library to research an area that's new to you. In effect, Schneiderman is advising prospective buyers to look in depth before they leap. A tennis player without a court nearby is like a commuter without an alternate route.

2--How does a prospective buyer know what is standard and what is optional?

Model houses are crafted to titillate customers. Furniture and the furnishings are there to make the house attractive. And usually there are a lot of options--those things (like a mirror, fireplace or deck) that often cost extra. That's why the house shopper must ascertain if garage, game room, trash compactor, porches, whirlpools and saunas are standard. These vary from subdivision to subdivision.

You will have to make hard choices about options you can afford and really want. If the builder doesn't like to do custom features, then you might do better to add a deck or a patio later.

3--What kind of customer-service program does the builder provide?

Expect to get a warranty that guarantees construction and labor for definite periods. Inspect the house at various stages of construction. The pre-settlement inspection is most important, and the buyer gives the builder a list of shortcomings or minor defects that must and should be fixed within 60 days of occupancy.

Be sure to get a copy of this list. A good builder (like the respected Milton Co., headed by Schneiderman), has a customer service department or representative to handle post-move-in problems. Often the buyer must be persistent to get all the little details fixed.

Remember: no new house is perfect. And, in fairness to builders, buyers should understand that the 1980 standards of home building perfection are less than 100%. But don't settle for less than 99%. Windows should move up and down freely and doors should close snugly and roof leaks are a no-no.

4--What kind of financing should be selected?

Some times the builder has lined up attractive financing that is part of the selling package. And you might get a better rate than is available on the open market because the builder has made a deal for a lower-than-market rate by paying a fee up front. But talk to your banker and friends who are savvy about financing. The adjustable rate mortgage can be good for young buyers but they should learn about the chances of a rate increase.

5--When will the new house be ready for occupancy?

Home buyers fairly often are delayed in getting occupancy of a house on which delivery has been promised (seldom in writing) for a certain date. That's why home buyers should get a reasonable idea of a move-in date for at least two weeks later. But don't tell that to the builder or his representative.

Keep the pressure on for the promised date and then your house may be ready within two weeks after that date. That's not Schneiderman's advice. That's mine. Therefore, if you now own a house, you might try to get the buyer of your house to include a provision to let you rent the house for a few extra weeks if completion is delayed.

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