Think newly built homes are problem-free? Think again

Wooden toolbox filled with tools

Buying new construction seems like a great way to avoid the hassles and expenses that come with buying a home that's been around the block.

Any older house will have things that need repair or replacement. Brand-new homes are perfect and move-in ready.

Right?

This is a faulty belief that can leave you battling issues with your home for years to come.

While some new homes might turn out to be perfect, many have serious problems that occur because of oversights or shortcuts made during the construction or manufacturing process.

Often, these problems won’t reveal themselves until after you’ve moved in.

A new slab that isn’t allowed to dry means moisture can wick up through the surface and cause flooring headaches such as adhesive failures for linoleum, says Ron Smith, a wood products expert for Wagner Meters, whose products measure moisture levels in wood and concrete.

Excessive moisture can cause a wood floor to gap, crack, crown or buckle; it can also cause nailheads to pop out of walls and damage their cosmetic appearance, taping and texturing.

Moisture-related problems aren’t always merely cosmetic. Mold can be a big issue with new construction.

"Lumber sits outside for weeks, even months, getting wet from rain and humidity," says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group in Stamford, Conn. "Mold loves to grow on wood, and then that wood is used to build the new home. Before you know it, the mold colony grows and then is spread through the air in the HVAC system."

Mold can cause a number of health issues, including chronic allergies, fatigue and respiratory problems, and should be dealt with through professional mold remediation.

Builder warranties are supposed to cover defects, but mold often isn’t covered, which can lead to costly litigation.

In Myrtle Springs, Texas, Kristine Tanzillo learned the hard way that new homes can have serious, hidden problems after she and her husband designed and built their dream house four years ago.

About a year after they moved in, they noticed cracks forming throughout the house. After insisting their builder hire a structural engineer to evaluate the problem, they learned the house had major foundation issues.

"At first, we thought it would be OK because we had a home warranty, which would cover the repairs," Tanzillo says. "When our builder learned about the foundation issue, he told us there never was a home warranty, even though it was stipulated in our contract."

They sued the builder, but Tanzillo says the legal process makes it difficult to force builders to pay, and even a court judgment provides no guarantees.

If the Tanzillos ever buy new construction again, they would hire an independent engineer to identify any problems during construction, retain a lawyer to oversee every piece of paperwork from the beginning and consider hiring a private investigator to investigate the builder.

Home buyers shouldn’t have to take such extreme measures to get a properly built home.

Another hidden cost of new construction is that new homes are also often missing essential items like fences, landscaping and appliances. You’ll have to pay cash for these necessities; you can’t roll the costs into your mortgage.

Even if the home does come with all the essentials, a developer’s poor choices can be costly for the homeowner.

Cassy Aoyagi, LEED-accredited professional and president of FormLA Landscape in California, urges new-home buyers to examine their landscape package.

Not only does landscaping represent a significant percentage of the home’s value, it can also represent a significant ongoing expense -- or savings -- on water and energy bills. For example, she says, installing a traditional lawn with overhead irrigation, as opposed to a native grass lawn with drip irrigation, can cost homeowners thousands.