Descriptions of “vintage,” “refurbished” and “pre-owned” can persuade a decision toward some purchases—cars, computers, that perfect James Dean-era leather jacket—but for Chicagoland homebuyers, the allure of shiny and new is often too hard to ignore. Moving into a brand-new building or even a gut rehab certainly has its benefits, but there are also plenty of downsides to buying new units. Smart buyers brush up on these potential pitfalls before finding themselves in a money pit. And if it’s too late for that, then there are certain courses of action that can help recoup some losses.
At the height of the real estate boom in the mid-2000s, developers built quickly to keep pace with demand. That was good for eager buyers—and not so good for eager buyers. “A lot of developers weren’t necessarily qualified for building and were just throwing buildings up,” says Brawley Reishman, president of Transproperties Management, a condo association management firm in Chicago. Reishman says that the speedy delivery led to some sketchy oversight. “So now you have buildings that have problems, whereas if oversight was more controlled and growth was a bit slower, you wouldn’t have the problems.”
The most common problems involve “building envelope performance,” explains Kami Farahmandpour, principal of Building Technology Consultants. Primarily, this means water leakage—something that’s not necessarily detectable at showings. It might be due to flashing that’s left unfinished at roofs, parapet walls, and windows; downspouts incorrectly tied into sewer lines; or problems with flooding in lower units and basements.
A thorough pre-sale inspection should catch some of these things, but doesn’t always. For instance, sometimes a condo building’s roof isn’t easily accessible or the developer of the new building purposefully prevents access to avoid discovery of problems, Reishman notes.
While water penetration typically poses the most expensive issues to correct, there are other big ones including deficient heating and cooling systems, faulty wiring, improper insulation, and even code violations. Despite violating building codes, some developers have been able to secure occupancy permits and pass inspections, Farahmandpour says.