By Annie Button
If you’ve decided that the time is right for you to buy a residential property, there are really only two choices: you can focus your search on existing properties of various ages, or you can invest in a new-build home.
Whether you’re a first-time buyer, an upsizer, downsized, or a buy-to-let investor, the question of which is the better buy broadly remains the same.
Unfortunately, and as you may already be suspecting, there’s no straight yes or no answer. Both types of property have their advantages and disadvantages and the best choice really depends on your individual preferences and personal situation.
So, bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons in the context of common scenarios that may well resonate with your circumstances.
How quickly do you want to move in?
The timing of your property purchase may be a delicate balance of buying and selling as part of a property chain. What’s more, if you are applying for a mortgage, the mortgage offer typically has a 6-month expiry date. In theory, this should give you enough time to line everything up, but things can and do go wrong.
With resale properties sold via an estate agent, the dates for exchange and completion will be agreed upon by the parties’ solicitors during the conveyancing process. Until contracts are exchanged, the transaction is not legally binding, meaning delays can occur and sales can be aborted without consequence. Once contracts have been exchanged, the date for completion is fixed, with penalties for breach of contract.
New developments are a different scenario since you’re buying directly from the developer, and often while the property is still being built. Completion deadlines for the build can shift (sometimes by months) which is entirely out of your control and can jeopardise the best-laid plans.
Are you prepared to redecorate the property?
One of the main attractions of a brand-new house or flat is that the property is ready to move in without requiring any work. As the first owner of a new-build home, everything will have just been decorated in a broadly neutral colour and style. Whether you are looking for a rental property that can be let ‘as is’ without delay, or you simply don’t have the time or inclination to put effort into decorating your new home, a ‘blank canvas’ new build could be a great solution.
Compare this with a resale property and its history of previous owners who will all have put their personal stamp on it. Perhaps it’s just a case of refreshing the general appearance with a new lick of paint. Then again, older properties may need more extensive renovations to bring them up to date, such as a new kitchen or bathroom. If you love home improvement projects, perhaps hoping to add capital value by doing up an old property, a resale house or flat may be the best choice for you.
How much of a dealbreaker are property defects and building work?
New-build developments are sold with guarantees or warranties from the National House Building Council (NHBC), Local Authority Building Control (LABC), or Premier Guarantee and often with insurance too. This is to offer peace of mind to protect the owner against faults resulting from poor workmanship or materials. It is also standard practice for housebuilders to deal with any snagging issues found after completion of the purchase.
This is all very well but, sadly, experiences with developers can vary greatly. Property buyers are strongly advised to commission an independent home survey to find out if there are any issues to worry about, even in the case of a new-build purchase. From roof defects to cracks in walls, it can potentially save you thousands in unexpected repairs further down the line.
With existing and older properties, getting a RICS home survey is even more of a no-brainer since the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) still largely applies. A professional survey allows you to take a good look ‘under the hood’ at the condition of the property. Should anything serious be flagged up – subsidence, timber decay, or damp – you can even use the findings to renegotiate the price with the seller.
Which property offers the better deal?
When searching for brand new or off-plan properties for sale, look for incentives and special offers that are a common sales tactic to sweeten the deal. From cash back to stamp duty paid, free white goods or fixture upgrades, service charge holidays, or actual paid-for holidays, there’s no shortage of imagination when it comes to tempting prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line. Be a savvy buyer and negotiate hard.
At the premium end of the market, you’ll also find new-build properties with further luxury features or amenities included in the deal that are designed to appeal to aspirational buyers who value convenience and luxury. Features might include secure underground car parking, state-or-the-art home security systems or 24 concierge services, an in-house gym, a swimming pool, or a yoga studio.
With resale properties, no such sweeteners are generally available – what you see is what you get. The asking price is based on the property itself, its location, size, and condition. Bargain prices can be found if you look hard and if you don’t mind taking on a property in need of renovation.
Is having an energy-efficient building a priority for you?
With energy bills skyrocketing, every property buyer will surely be paying more attention to the building’s EPC rating. When it comes to rental accommodation, Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards apply to virtually all types of property, and BTL investors should be aware that at least an E rating (C rating from 2025) is required to be able to legally let the property. All new-build homes must have an EPC rating of C or above.
Whether you are buying for yourself or as an investment, one would expect all modern properties to be reasonably energy efficient, and brand-new homes especially. However, this is not necessarily the case. Yes, there are many new-build homes with EPC A ratings, but it is also not unusual to find resale homes that are more energy efficient than brand-new buildings! When it comes to energy efficiency, there is no clear-cut distinction between new and older buildings. Your best policy is to assume nothing and treat each individual property on its merits when you make your purchase decision.