- Have your own agent. Believing they might get a better deal or out of ignorance many buyers use the developers sales agent to represent them. New construction buyers should research what a dual agent can and can't do under their state real estate license laws. Most states require written acceptance of dual-agency by both parties. All homebuyers should be represented by an agent who has a fiduciary responsibility to them. Buyers shouldn't forget that most developers require that your agent must accompany you the first time you visit a sales center.
- Ask how much is this home as we see it. Models can be filled with every upgrade the developer offers as an example for buyers. Buyers should ask freely how much the model costs as they see it. Typically this cost will vary dramatically from advertised starting prices for a development.
- Pick the right developer. Working with a developer is like a short-term marriage. Ask for references from the developers sales agents. Do your own investigation of the developers previous projects, length in business and complaints filed with business bureaus.
- Consider resale characteristics. The allure of being the first to occupy a home sometimes clouds a secondary location or poor craftsmanship. Consider a resale home in a primary location before signing on the line just because it's new construction.
- Question percent of project sold. Developers love to promote the sell-through of projects. Inquire how much of the percent sold are reservations (dating the project) versus contracts (engaged to the project). Some reservations don't go to contract because of a change of heart, financial concerns or occupancy timelines.
- Have an attorney review all contracts. Developers contracts favor the developer and are different from standard local real estate board approved contracts. Retain a real estate attorney to review all contracts. There is little wiggle-room once you sign a developers contract, and they don't like home sale contingencies.
- Investigate property taxes independently. Property taxes can be a financial surprise you weren't expecting with the purchase of a home. Because tax assessors haven't valued a home or project, developers can underestimate how much the property taxes will be. Complete your own due diligence and call the local taxing authority to find out the worst-case scenario.
- Perform a home inspection. Never skip or waive the right to a inspection, the benefits far out weigh the costs and could save you numerous headaches and expenses later. New construction is not immune from defects and lackluster workmanship. Hire a professional, not Uncle Bert. Perform the inspection at least seven days prior to closing.
- Inquire about investor purchased units. In the post-real-estate-bubble-world many developer contracts restrict purchase of units by speculators to flip at completion. Look for clauses in contracts that require purchasers of units to owner-occupy the first 12 months after closing. Ask sales agents what the percentage of owner occupancy is for the project.
- Get a certificate of occupancy. Local municipalities issue a certificate of occupancy after a unit has passed all building code inspections. Most mortgage lenders require a certificate of occupancy before they will close on a loan. If you are paying cash, verify prior to closing that the developer will deliver you a certificate.
- Understand why developers request upgrades paid for in advance. Experience has taught developers that some buyers will not purchase the unit which they have specified the floor-coverings, countertops and kitchen cabinets, that have been installed by the developer. Other buyers will want to select their own finishes and a unit that has preselected finishes by a terminated buyer is a marketing problem for developers. Plan on paying upfront for all upgrades and changes you make to a unit, and if you decide to walk from the project once you have paid for upgrades, expect a fight from the developer if you want a refund on installed changes and upgrades.
- Require your deposits to go into an escrow account. Require all deposits and payments you make go into an escrow account, not the developers business account. Research state brokerage laws to discover what regulations developers must follow with buyers funds. If disputes arise it is easier to receive refunds from a neutral third-party or escrow agent than from a developer.
- Request copies of blueprints, floor plans and surveys. It's easy to forget to get clean copies of blueprints and floor plans of your new home with all the activity and decisions during the construction process. In the future when you want to make changes or sell, having the footprint of your home will save you expense and time. Make sure the developer provides you with an updated survey, showing just your parcel. Verify that your new home also has it's own parcel identification number issued by taxing authorities.
- Research warranties on structure, finishes and appliances. Developers typically offer five or ten year warranties on structural elements of a home and rely on manufacturers warranties for appliances, furnaces, windows and overhead garage doors. Beware of one-year warranties on structural elements.