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Should You Purchase a Model Home?

Written by Courtney Ronan on Wednesday, 10 May 2000 7:00 pm
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Ever noticed how even the most palatial home can look, well, vanilla when there's nothing inside of it? Turning an empty home into a model home can turn a "maybe" into a "yes" in no time at all. The problem is, it's easy to become intoxicated by a model home. A professional interior decorator has worked his or her magic. The drapes are perfect. The French impressionist artwork on the walls perfectly matches the color scheme in that overstuffed chair upon which no shedding dog has ever set foot. The immaculate white carpeting has no Kool-Aid stains. Toys don't litter the stairwell, and a week's worth of newspaper isn't strewn haphazardly on the kitchen table. Wow ... from which strange alien planet do model home families hail? It's as if the Neat-Home Fairy waved her magic wand and erased reality. So you find yourself asking that question: "How much for the furnished model?"

Is buying a model home such a great idea? Yes, sometimes ... and sometimes no. Model homes are, of course, professional decorated with all of the trappings that lure prospective buyers just like yourself. They also contain extras like professional landscaping, wood floors, shelves, perhaps a converted garage for a game room. These are the extras that make you want to buy a home just like it. The problem is that the value of the model exceeds the non-models, which don't contain any of these extras. The garage is a garage, the front yard is bare, the shelves aren't there and the wood floors are vinyl. The big question is: Are you going to have to pay big bucks for the extras in this model home? That depends on market conditions.

If, for example, the market has slowed down considerably, and the development in which the model home is located is nearly sold out, the builder may be willing to strike a deal with you. If that's the case, you may be in for a great deal -- scoring extras like upgraded plush carpeting, wood floors, shelving, even an extra room -- for almost nothing. In fact, many of the extra amenities that make model homes so desirable can be written off by the builder as "expenses." Depending upon market conditions, the builder may or not may not choose to pass those expenses along to the buyer.

But, as with any other home purchase, take off your rose-colored glasses when you're considering a model home. You'll need to find out some background information on the builder. Is the company reputable? Do you have any friends or family members who own homes constructed by this builder, and if so, would they advise you to buy or to run fast? Even if the builder has a good reputation in your area, the model home you're considering may be a "test model," so to speak. In other words, the home may be the first plan of its kind for the builder. The company may have tried new construction techniques or features in this model home that they've never experimented with before, and if so, you've got to consider that those "experiments" may or may not have been wise decisions.

While you're touring the model home, you, as a prospective buyer, should hold it to the highest standards of quality. Scrutinize details, such as cabinet construction. For example, are cabinets crooked? Open and close the doors to make sure that they do, indeed, open and shut. Do you notice any shelves that slope down the wall slightly? These are signs of sloppy and hasty construction, and they should be red flags that this is not a wise purchase, no matter how low that builder is willing to go.

You'd also to be wise to consider that the home you're considering is, in many aspects, a "used" home. Many people have walked on the carpeting, tracking in dirt and mud; the wood and lineoleum floors may be scuffed or chipped; the paint covering the walls may be scuffed; and the air conditioner or heating unit may be broken after being on nearly 24 hours a day during open houses. Keep in mind that some open houses have been open not for months, but for years, meaning that the home may be exhibiting signs of damage that only a very careful inspection could reveal. As you walk throughout the model home, keep a running list of any signs of disrepair you spot. Talk to the builder about these items, and determine his or her willingness to negotiate the cost of their repair. The builder may offer to cover some of the repairs and not others -- for example, offering to have the carpet professionally cleaned, but the job of repainting the walls would be left up to you.

Before you sign anything, ask to see warranties for all appliances included in the home -- air conditioner and heater, refrigerator, washer and dryer, security system, etc. And perhaps even more important, find out when the builder's warranties expire for construction. This is critical because some builders offer workmanship warranties that begin upon the conclusion of construction, not from the date of purchase. If the model home has been open for years, and then you purchase it, you may be covered by the workmanship warranty for a mere month before it expires. Attempt to negotiate with the builder if the warranty started at the end of construction. Again, if market conditions have slowed considerably in the area and the builder wants to sell the home badly enough, you may be able to hammer out a mutually agreeable deal.

And, of course, before you sign on the dotted line, ask yourself if you're buying impulsively -- based on those fancy drapes, that white carpeting and the new-paint smell. Have you done your homework about the local school system? The neighborhood in which the home is located? What this new home would mean for your daily commute to work? All of those factors have a profound effect on your family's quality of life.

If everything meets to your satisfaction, you just may have found the home of your dreams. If not, then you've saved yourself from an impulse buy that could have tied you and your family to a money pit. Consider yourself a smart shopper, and keep house-hunting.

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