New Las Vegas Home
NEW HOME BUYER'S GUIDE
Las Vegas is divided into east and west by the I-15 interstate highway and north and south by Charleston Blvd. The older sections of town are located near the intersection of I-15 and I-95. New home tracts are generally around the perimeter of the city in all directions. Housing in the city is a booming business with more than 500 subdivisions currently selling homes. Prices for new homes start in the mid 200's and tend to be lowest in the north and east sides. More expensive homes are found from Summerlin south to Southern Highlands as well as Green Valley.
THE SUBDIVISION (Tract, Community)
Land in the Las Vegas Valley can fall under the jurisdiction of one of our four government bodies; the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, City of North Las Vegas and Henderson. These local bodies control such things as land-use, zoning, building codes and environmental protection. Local governments establish land development goals by formulating a comprehensive plan. Zoning ordinances are local laws that implement the comprehensive plan and regulate and control the use of land and structures. Zoning affects such things as use of the land, lot sizes, types of structures, building heights, setbacks (the minimum distance away from the streets that structures may be built) and population density. Zoning classifications are either Residential, Commercial or Industrial. The City of Las Vegas has 12 different types of Residential zoning including R-A (ranch-acres), R-MHP (manufactured home park) and R-CL (compact-lot).The zoning definition for R-1 Residential, for example, states that a home must have a lot size of no less than 6500 square feet, with a lot width of no less than 65 feet (except cul-de-sac or knuckle), a minimum front yard of 20 feet, side yard of 5 feet and rear yard of 15 feet. The home may also not cover more than 50% of the lot.
Before starting to build, a developer must first submit a plat map of the subdivision to the local authorities for approval. This map will detail the individual building lots and streets.
Typically the developer will start business in a mobile trailer at the subdivision while he constructs the roads, sewers and model homes. The development will progress in phases. As new phases open, prices usually increase.
Once the model homes are constructed, the builder will erect wrought-iron fencing along the sidewalks to prevent you from entering the models directly without first going through the sales office. Inside most sales offices you will find a glass covered display case containing a simplified map of the subdivision. You will see that some of the lots have been sold and also that future "phases" are hidden from view. The lots at the end of cul-de-sacs are usually the first to sell. A proper plat map will also indicate the zoning and existing structures bordering the subdivision. The map also shows detailed measurements of lots, sidewalks, streets etc. In larger sub-divisions, the builder will often donate some of the land to the city for use as a park or playground. Other considerations such as high-voltage power lines, natural gas pipelines and future freeway construction should be discussed (and disclosed) before any contracts are signed.
Summerlin, developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation, is one of the nation's first master-planned communities. The master-plan weaves schools, parks, trails, houses of worship, medical facilities, business centers and shopping into the fabric of the community. The Summerlin Community Association maintains the community's common areas, landscaping and trails, as well as supervising and enforcing Summerlin's Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). These detailed guidelines state in clear terms what kind of modifications a homeowner can make to structures and property. The CC&Rs help protect home values within the master-plan by balancing the individual rights and responsibilities of those within the community. Other master-planned communities have sprung up in the Las Vegas Valley. If CC&Rs are involved, you will want to read these before signing any offer to purchase a home.
Many of the communities in the valley have gated entries. This type of security may vary from a simple electronic push-button sentry system to a live guard at the gate.
In addition to your monthly mortgage payment, there may be additional costs, depending on your community.
Many subdivisions charge a monthly fee. This may be as low as $25 (to maintain the landscaping at common areas), or the fee may be hundreds of dollars to include special services such as a private security firm. Some tracts maintain the landscaping in your front yard while others will paint the exterior trim on all homes.
In 1989, the City of Las Vegas issued $73,885,000 in bonds to fund the acquisition and construction of certain public improvements specifically benefiting property located in the city's Special Improvement District #404 (Summerlin). The improvements include streets, water, sewer, streetlights, the Summerlin Parkway & interchange, drainage & flood control, traffic signals and sidewalk construction. The bonds are secured by the unpaid assessments on property within the district. In short, when you purchase a home in Summerlin, you assume the SID assessment and will be paying for it along with the association fees and taxes. Summerlin is not the only community that charges an SID. If you purchase a home in The Meadows at Elkhorn Springs, for example, you are in Special Improvement District #505 where each home has been assessed $5,659.29. This means you will pay $55.20 per month until the total assessment had been paid. A Local Improvement District (L.I.D.) is basically the same as an S.I.D.
THE HOMESITE (BUILDING LOT)
The most common lot size in Las Vegas is 60 x 100 feet (6,000 sq. ft.) but these lot sizes have been shrinking. Some lots within the same tract will be larger. Usually corner lots, lots at the end of a cul-de-sac and lots on the knuckle of a corner are larger. The builder will charge an extra lot premium for larger pieces of land or lots with a view. Homes within the community will be similar to yours but be careful about buying a homesite on the perimeter of the subdivision. The land on the other side of the fence might be zoned for commercial development; or a future multi-family high-rise. The builder must disclose the neighboring zoning but, unless that land is already developed, the zoning is always subject to change.
There are about 1300 single-family residential model homes in the Las Vegas Valley. While it might be fun to visit models, I suggest that you begin by registering with me (from the main page) and then studying the floorplans that I send you. Determine your needs.
If you are new to town, here's a bit of advice. Plan on being a host to more guests than usual. After all, you are going to be living in the entertainment capital of the world! Maybe an extra guest bedroom would be a good idea.
All models are not priced using the same criteria. One builder treats fireplaces as options while another builder may include one. Telephone jacks wired in the kitchen and master bedrooms are standard in most homes but some builders also pre-wire all the other bedrooms. In other words, Builder A's home, priced at $322,000, would cost $335,000 if it included all the fireplaces, phone jacks, garage door openers, etc. that Builder B includes in his $328,000 home. I make every possible effort to inform you of exactly what are standard features and what are optional extras in each home. I hear many complaints from people who deal directly with the tract salesperson rather than using a buyer's broker. The most common gripes are:
As a starting point, you should choose a home that includes as many features as you want in the base price. After you have signed an offer to purchase a new home, you will visit a design center to select your carpeting and flooring. You could upgrade the home beyond the point where the lender will finance the purchase. In other words, the lender's appraiser does not feel that the home is worth all the extras. In this case, you would have to pay cash for the upgrades.
$ PER SQ.FT.
Another approach to selecting a home is to calculate the cost per square foot.
Base price Square Feet = Cost per square foot
While this may be a useful tool, it does not take into account the price of the land, size of the lot or location. Some of our larger builders have five or six tracts in various parts of the valley where the price varies considerably for the exact same home.
BEDROOMS & BATHS
A bedroom by definition (and law) is a room with a door, window and flooring. Many homes offer a room, which you may choose to finish as either an office, den or extra bedroom. If you chose the bedroom option, this room will have a door and a closet.
Bathrooms are classified as follows:
Full Bath: includes toilet, bathtub, sink
3/4 Bath: includes toilet, shower and sink
1/2 Bath: includes toilet and sink
A bathroom may have two entrances, i.e. from a bedroom and a hallway. This type of bathroom is also known as a "Jack & Jill".
FEATURES FOUND IN NEW HOMES
We will now examine in detail the features you should be looking for in a new home. Remember, some of these features will be considered "standard" while others are "optional extras". Wherever possible, I've tried to give a general idea about pricing of these features. If you've ever done home handiwork, you'll know that the cost of an item is only part of the picture. Sometimes the labor costs involved will far outweigh the cost of the item.
Does the home have a cement driveway? Is the driveway smooth or rough? The next time it rains, you could take a serious fall on that little oil slick that suddenly became as slippery as Teflon. Is there a steep incline from the road to the garage, and will your vehicle comfortably clear the curb? There are many possible variations in materials such as interlocking stones, or a concrete drive with stone or brick edging.
What materials were used in the construction of the front walkway? There may be steps. Are these manageable? Do you require wheelchair access?
In Las Vegas, street numbers are often painted on the curb. However, if a car is parked there, sorry! Many new homes offer an illuminated number on the front of the garage. You will also want to see if the front entry is: 1) covered and 2) illuminated. There is nothing more frustrating than searching for your keys in the dark... in the rain.
There are basically 2 types of front yard landscaping:
The builder may also offer a tree and some shrubs. Also included is a bubble drip system for the front yard. Few homes offer any back yard landscaping but may install a water line to the back yard for future use. Some homes offer a hose bib at the front, back or both. You will also want to check to see if a gas stub for your barbecue is included. That's much more economical than buying and transporting tanks of propane from the hardware store.
A unique feature found in homes in the southwest is the block fence. On most new homes the fence is included and runs across the back and down the sides. That's all! Many builders do not include the "returns" to the house along each side and a gate may be an optional extra. Be sure to check!. Some of the more upscale neighborhoods stucco the fence completely, while others stucco only the portions that can be seen from the street. The blocks used may be either a basic gray cement or a fancier color and design.
A large rear patio slab is considered an option on most new homes. You may chose to install your own or have the builder do it for you. Patio covers are usually an option. Here's where the community CC&Rs might be a factor. For example, there is little chance that you will be allowed to install a bright purple striped awning or patio cover on the back of your home in Summerlin. The community association simply will not permit it. Before you make any structural changes to the exterior of your home you must first get approval from the community association. The builder knows the rules and can construct a patio cover for you. He may also offer fans, lights and a misting system. Access to the patio is usually through sliding glass doors from the family room or breakfast nook. Additional access from the master bedroom is a nice upgraded option.
Earlier homes in Las Vegas were constructed with asphalt shingle, cedar shake or tar and gravel roofs. Tile roofs were found only on the "better" homes. Nearly all new homes nowadays have tile roofs. These might be the rounded mission style or flat concrete slate type. If the air conditioning system is mounted on the roof, asphalt shingles are generally used around the unit to allow access for repairs.
The first consideration in selecting a garage is the number and size of vehicles to be stored. The standard 2-car garage will accommodate 2 small to mid-sized cars but Cadillacs and Lincolns might be a problem. Get the measurements from the builder. A 3-car garage usually has two doors; a double plus a single. Most garages have been pre-wired for a garage door opener but the actual opener and remote controls are generally not included. Opener kits are priced from $150 for a 1/3 hp chain-drive model, to $185 for a 1/2 hp screw drive type, including remotes. Installation requires a variety of tools, time and skill. By the way, if you have two cars and two drivers, you will want two remote controls.
Garage doors are usually of the roll-up variety, manufactured from steel. Some doors are insulated and some contain windows. In Las Vegas, windows are of dubious value. True... they do let in the sunlight but they also let in the heat. This of course depends on the direction your home faces.
The interior of your garage will probably be "finished". What does this actually mean? To some builders this means drywall and taping have been applied, while to others it means that the walls and ceiling have also been painted or textured. Is the garage insulated?
Do you want a service door leading from the garage to the side yard? A side entry door is seldom standard but can be included in your list of options. If you keep the lawnmower and garden hose in the garage, you will want a side entry door.
In Las Vegas, the hot water heater is placed in the garage. An exposed loop of copper plumbing (soft water loop) is also located in the garage. This loop is used to hook up a water softener and since Las Vegas water is very hard, you will want one.
In addition to the obvious aesthetic value of a front door, there are some very practical features that should be considered. The entry may consist of a single or double door. The latter is seldom fully utilized but can be useful when you are moving furniture (like a king-size mattress) into the home. Doors may be constructed from wood, steel or other materials. They may be solid, insulated, laminated, etc....
You will also want to consider windows in the door.
Security features include such items as a "viewer" and a dead-bolt lock set.
Has the entry door been fully weather-stripped?
As we step through the front door to the entry, look at the flooring. The entry is usually ceramic tile but may also be sheet vinyl, parquet, marble or some other material. Tiles come in a variety of sizes, the larger tile being more expensive. The "standard package" will allow you to choose the color of your tiles.
An entry coat closet is not considered essential in our climate, but is a nice feature.
From the entry you obtain your first impression of the interior. Does the home feel open and spacious or does it feel cramped? Ceilings play a large part in the perception of space. How high are the ceilings? They might be:
Many 2-story homes in Las Vegas have no second floor over the living and dining room areas. This creates the impression that the room is much larger. Don't be fooled into thinking that the room will hold more furniture.
Two modern features found in today's homes are pot shelves and rounded corners. In the builder's brochure they are usually described as "dramatic designer plant features" and "architecturally crafted radius corners". But we aren't going to be fooled by that kind of jargon... are we?
Interior doors should have raised panels. How many panels? Well... a 6-panel door is more expensive than a 4-panel. You be the judge. A polished brass door handle is nicer than chrome, and lever handles are more comfortable than the conventional "Bell" or "Plymouth" style.
Windows contribute greatly to the spaciousness of a home. Hopefully you will have a view of the mountains rather than looking at your neighbors stucco wall. If you take the time to slide a window open, you will get a feel for the quality. Examine the security latches. Will these windows be easy to clean? Some builders include blinds on the bedrooms and bathroom windows but seldom cover all the windows. You will want to budget for window coverings. Few homes have wooden widow sills but they are very nice, if included.
All builders will offer you a choice of carpet. Most "standard" carpets are modest and you may wish to upgrade to a better quality. Be careful! It is very easy to spend thousands of extra dollars on fancier carpeting and underpad.
The standard kitchen flooring is no-wax sheet vinyl but could also be upgraded. In choosing flooring consider the cleaning, durability and how easily your mixing bowl will break if dropped.
Most kitchen cabinets currently are constructed of oak offered in either whitewashed or honey oak finishes. Maple is also common. Look for extra features such as hidden hinges and designer handles. Are shelves adjustable? Some cabinets include a "Lazy Susan" revolving shelf in the corner cabinet. Small doors in front of the sink may open for utensils. Check the drawers to see if they operate smoothly. In lower cabinets some builders include sliding shelves. This is a very nice place to store the casserole dish that you only use once a year at Thanksgiving.
A food storage pantry may be three different types: 1) built into the cabinets, 2) a separate door (maybe glassed) opening to shelves or, 3) a walk-in pantry.
Counter tops are important both from a utility and health standpoint. The standard in Las Vegas is ceramic tile or Formica. Upgrades include marble, granite, Avonite and Corion. A Corion countertop provides an absolutely level, smooth and seamless work surface. If the counter is ceramic tile, check the grouting between tiles. Uneven spaces between tiles and awkward tile placement around the sink are signs of a sloppy tile installation. Ask if the builder seals the grouting or is this the responsibility of the owner. Lighting over the kitchen counters might be track or recessed. Some plans include an island in the kitchen.
Most kitchen sinks are pressed steel, coated with porcelain or enamel. Some are cast-iron coated in the same way. If you tap your knuckles on the side of the sink, you can hear the difference. A double-basin is considered standard. Moen faucets are a favorite with local builders but Moen makes a variety of faucets. The most desirable is the single-lever type. The faucet may detach from its base to become a vegetable sprayer or there may be a separate sprayer. The sink may also contain a disposal unit. Turn it on and run some water. Is it quiet? If you crouch down and open the cabinet doors under the sink, you may be able to read the horsepower rating. 1/3 hp is OK, but a 1/2 hp motor is more efficient. While you're under the sink, see if there is a reverse osmosis or filtering system for drinking water. Maybe the plumber has included lines to hook up such a system.
The basic appliance package includes a range and a dishwasher. On higher priced homes you will find a separate cooktop (typically gas) mounted on the counter, along with an electric oven (or ovens). The ovens are mounted in the cabinets and require less bending for access. Some builders include a microwave. Range hoods should be vented to the outside, lighted... and quiet.
Refrigerators are seldom included but a water line, to be hooked up to your refrigerator for an icemaker, should be visible in the refrigerator space.
Many kitchens offer a breakfast nook in or beside the kitchen. Sometimes a breakfast bar allows you to eat at the far side of the counter. Is the nook bright and cheery to start your day right? Is there enough room for the entire family to be seated?
Floor plans usually place the family room adjacent to the kitchen. A fireplace in the family room adds to the coziness. All new fireplaces in Las Vegas are fueled by gas. Burning wood is considered bad for local air quality. If the fireplace is "standard", check to see if this includes the ceramic tile-surround and tile hearth on the floor. Also see if the fireplace includes a ceramic gas log, glass doors and a wall-mounted starter switch.
Most people watch TV in the family room and many floor plans include a recessed area for a TV set. Is this large enough for your large-screen set? Is it wired for cable?
Most family rooms have been pre-wired for a ceiling fan and some builders include the fan. Fans are priced from $70 to $300 and are not difficult to install (if pre-wired).
The entry to the master bedroom may have double doors. Remember that king-size mattress that we squeezed through the front door? Where will you place the bed? Is there enough room for the bed plus two bedside tables? There should be a convenient telephone jack. If you watch television in bed, you will want a cable TV outlet installed. You may also want a fireplace in the master bedroom. Some plans include a 2-way fireplace between the bedroom and the bathroom. How cozy! Is the master pre-wired for a ceiling fan or is it included?
The master bathroom in today's homes is much larger than in older houses. Features we look for are:
VANITY Dual sinks / Ceramic tile / Cultured marble / Single lever faucets / Full mirror / Recessed medicine cabinet
TUB Oval / Jetted / Tile surrounds
Note: I received a note from a fellow recently claiming that he
had been "ripped off" by a local builder who charged $1400 for a "jacuzzi"
when, in fact, he was having the standard tub jetted by Dream Tubs for
$200-$300. Buyer beware.
SHOWER Separate / Tile surrounds / Seat / Glass enclosed
While the home may have a second master, the other bedrooms are usually smaller and offer fewer features. Things to check for are:
OFFICE / DEN / OTHER ROOMS
You will see that many of the model homes have an office or den, which is accessed inside the front door. When you look at the floor plans, you will see that this room can also be an optional extra bedroom. If you choose this option, the door will be located down the hall and the room will include a closet.
In some 2-story homes an optional bedroom can be an open loft or library. The room could be converted to a bedroom at some future date, if required.
The most common location for the laundry is in the passage way from the garage to the home. Some models feature the laundry in a more secluded area. A nice feature found in some 2-story homes is a laundry chute, or better yet, an upstairs laundry.
All laundries are wired for an electric washer and most include a gas hookup for the dryer.
In addition to the obvious hot and cold water lines, we look for a utility sink or tub. Some models contain counters, cabinets and/or shelves. The flooring is almost always vinyl.
In addition to the mortgage payment, your monthly utility bills will be a major factor. The more you can do to conserve water use, electricity and gas, the more money you will save.
Water can be relatively expensive in Las Vegas. You can conserve water in a number of ways. Nowadays new homes all have low capacity water saving toilets, so that's not a major concern. Shower heads may also be energy efficient. Another new idea is a hot water recirculating method. This system consists of a pump on the hot water line that continuously circulates hot water throughout the lines. When you turn on a tap, you have instant hot water... no waiting or wasting water.
There has been a push in recent years towards desert landscaping. If you have grass landscaping, the aim is to adjust your sprinkler system so that no extra water is wasted. Water your lawn after dark when evaporation is less of a factor.
The primary electricity uses are air conditioning and cooking. A gas clothes dryer is desirable. Most homes offer a "balanced" system of gas heating and electrical air conditioning. Insulation of the home can save in both seasons but the summertime cooling bills are more important. Insulation is measured in R-factor ratings... the higher the better. Most homes have an R-factor of 30 in the ceilings but the walls vary widely (from R-11 to R-23). If the house was constructed using 2x4 studs, there is a limit to the amount of insulation that can be fitted into the wall cavities. Some homes use 2x6 studs and you can expect a superior R-factor. Weather-stripping around all doors and windows not only improves your energy efficiency but also protects your home from dust and insects.
Since the cost of cooling the home in summer is a major portion of your energy bills, you should look at windows as your primary source of unwanted heat. All new homes use double-glazed or dual pane windows. Solar screens placed on the exterior will pay for themselves in electricity savings over a few years. They also make the living area more comfortable and reduce sun damage to furniture etc.. Your choice of shades and window coverings on the interior is equally important.
The air conditioning system may be mounted on the ground or the roof. Ground mounted is easier to service.
Choose gas appliances when possible. Gas is much less expensive at the current time.
A gas hot water heater will be 40 or 50-gallon capacity. Adjust the heater so that water from the taps is hot but not scalding.
Ceiling fans can make a large difference to your electrical bill. On hot summer days, a fan will make a room more comfortable without adjusting the air conditioning.
In recent years, alternate plumbing systems have appeared. The Manabloc system, for example, uses plastic pipe and treats plumbing in much the same way as electrical circuits with separate lines running to each room. This system can be identified by a "breaker panel" control center. When you open the door of the panel, you will see controls which can turn off the water to the kitchen, master bath etc.. Proponents of the system swear that it is superior while builders who use copper pipes scoff. You be the judge.
I hope that this brochure will help make you a more informed
consumer. Builders spend many thousands of dollars professionally decorating
model homes. It is very easy to get "caught up" in this adornment and loose
sight of the fundamental features. After all... we don't want any last minute
surprises when you take possession of your new home. If you would like to go
directly to the NEW HOMES DATABASE...CLICK