What You Need to Know About What Your Home is Made Of

Brick, stone, stucco, wood, vinyl siding and Hardiplank are common building materials for homes, but not every buyer understands the nuances of their choice
of exterior material.

Yet these materials influence more than the appearance of your home: they also influence its quality, energy efficiency, sustainability and durability.

“Most first-time buyers don’t know much about the array of available building materials,” says Jeff Martel, a real estate broker and owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate 43° North in Meridian, Idaho. “People who have built a number of homes have more experience, but ultimately most buyers choose to work with an experienced builder and an experienced Realtor to navigate the homebuilding process.”

A recent New Home Source Insights Panel survey revealed that, while many buyers of newly built homes know very little about the materials used to construct their homes, some do research online to educate themselves. Most rely on their builders and their real estate agents to educate them on materials and their choices.

“Most people don’t have a preconceived notion about building materials and instead they start by thinking about how they want to live and where the house will be built,” says Robert Edmonds, an architect with Edmonds + Lee Architects in San Francisco, Calif. “If you’re building on an infill lot in an urban environment, you may need specialized wood siding or something to blend into the neighborhood.”

Three factors to consider about exterior building materials

If you have an array of exterior options, Edmonds says you should consider these three factors when making a choice:

Cost: Make sure your choices fit into your budget.

Maintenance and durability: Understand what you will need to do to maintain your home and how long you can expect various components and materials to last.

Architectural quality: “Some people prefer natural wood siding for the look, but they need to understand it will require more maintenance over time,” says Edmonds. “That may be worth it to them, but they also need to take into consideration the environmental and situational factors. For example, if the house is in direct southern sun, the wood could deteriorate more quickly.”

Buyers with an unlimited or large budget tend to make their decision on an emotional level and choose materials that they find beautiful rather than focusing on cost and maintenance issues, says Vivian Lee, a principal Edmonds + Lee Architects. She says the prevalence of sites such as Houzz and Pinterest make it easier for buyers today to see the different aesthetics possible from various materials.

Buyers should also consider their climate when evaluating building materials, says Martel.

“While our area is technically part of the Pacific Northwest, we’re actually in a high desert where we have four real seasons and where temperatures can fluctuate as much as 30 or 40 degrees in a single day,” says Martel. “The most popular material for homes here is a hybrid concrete material such as Hardiplank that offers more durability and is more stable than natural wood. It can be more expensive than wood, but most people think it’s worth it.”

Martel says stucco is becoming more popular along with natural and cultured stone. Buyers of more expensive homes are choosing stone or slate roofs.

Buyers can research the durability of different types of wood and things like resistance to termites online, but they should also keep in mind the environment and weather conditions where their home will be built, such as the prevalence for hurricanes or high winds.

Energy efficiency and sustainability concerns

For many buyers, an interest in energy efficiency, sustainability or just lower utility bills drives their interest in construction techniques and materials.

“Buyers in our area are interested in green building and energy efficiency, but they have to consider their budget, too,” says Mike Ferrante, a Realtor with Century 21 Homestar in Highland Heights, Ohio. “There’s always a balance between budget and quality issues.”

Martel says the bulk of buyer interest in building materials is driven by concern about energy efficiency.

“Buyers want to know about the windows, the roof, the insulation and the exterior materials and how they contribute to energy efficiency,” says Martel.

Cost-benefit analysis

Ferrante says that Hardiplank is the No. 1 choice of buyers in his area because it looks traditional, yet doesn’t require the maintenance level of wood. Brick and stone are more expensive, so they tend to be used mostly as accents or details on a smaller area, he says.

“Low-maintenance materials such as Trex are more popular for decks than wood now, even if they are a little more expensive,” says Ferrante.

Martel says buyers can easily get overwhelmed by the array of choices, so he emphasizes the importance of making the right choice of builder.

“You need to trust your builder and your real estate agent so you can be comfortable going by their recommendations,” says Martel. “Good builders know which materials last, not just what looks good. You should rely on a builder who has used different materials and knows how it performs and on a real estate agent who knows what’s smart for resale value and is universally accepted.”

Writer:  Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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