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Old 02-18-2013, 05:19 PM
15 posts, read 52,392 times
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Hey folks...

So, we're at the looking-stage of moving, and we're trying to decide whether to go with an existing home in either Prairie Trails in Dyer or Foxwood in Schererville, or with an Olthof/Lifehouse new construction (the ones in Lake Central schools). I've heard that Olthof and Lifehouse aren't the best builders. We're not looking for a Ferrari, just a reasonably reliable house that won't fall to pieces in ten years. Which do you think is a better bet for long-term reliability: new construction from Olthof/Lifehouse, or older construction in Prairie Trails/Foxwood?
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Old 02-20-2013, 12:51 AM
Location: Northwest Indiana
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Both Olthof and Lifehouse are production track home builders. They build the same thing over and over, and they get good at it. They both try to be competitive (price wise) with existing houses. They are successful at that. How do they do that? They use lower end materials. Nothing wrong with that. If you are ok with vinyl everything (windows siding etc) they are ok houses put together pretty well. I can see why people like them, a new house at an inexpensive price. Most of the Olthofs are pretty turn key, back decks, landscaping and kitchen appliances are included in most of their houses.

Want more choices (outside of picking colors etc.)? They won't your builder. They have their models and that's it.

I imagine in twenty years, there will be a brisk business in replacement siding and windows (and other things) in those builders subdivisions. Those materials won't last for more then 20 years or so, people are surprised they don't last longer but they don't.

Personally, I would go with an existing house built out of better stuff by a semi-custom or custom home builder. You can get a pretty nice under 10 year old house in the same price range as a new house by the production builders.
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Old 02-22-2013, 09:19 AM
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This is super helpful! Thanks much. I've heard Phillipe is a good builder, but I noticed some comments on Prairie Trails: problems with the windows? Anything else to know about that development besides additional fees that other developments in incorporated Dyer don't have? Do those fees amount to more than the lower-tax offset? We live in the older part of Munster, and we don't have the homeowners association dues and such to deal with: that's all new to us.
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Old 02-22-2013, 03:42 PM
Location: Northwest Indiana
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Well, there are going to be HOA fees in just about any subdivision developed in the last 25 years or so, in both incorporated and unincorporated areas. The reason being, first, rainwater handling and second, subdivision amenities.

Up until the 1970's municipalities were responsible for any rain runoff created by their residents buildings. The land developer would build the system and hand it off to the town to operate. Your rain gutters were connected to the sewer as well as your toilets, sinks and bathtubs etc. You just paid your sewer bill and they took care of it. If you were in a unincorporated area, you had your own septic field because you had a large lot (an acre or more), because the cost of land was more affordable then or there was a private operator of a sewer system (if there was one, rare).

However heavy rainstorms would overwhelm the sewer system and raw sewage would end up in Lake Michigan. The cost of land increased, and developers started developing subdivisions with smaller lots in unicorp areas. With the coming of stricter enviro laws in the 1970's, the federal government basically banned the connections of rain gutters to sewers (and rainwater from streets). In existing subdivisions, the separating of sanitary and rainwater sewers have been huge projects for towns for the last 30 years and will continue for the next twenty or so.

So retention areas and ponds became features of subdivisions starting in the 1970's. Most ponds aren't there to look pretty (though some do look nice) but to retain rainwater on the property. However towns and the county do not want the responsibility of the maintenance of them (due to having to go back to older areas to fix flooding problems created by removing gutter connections).

So if there is a basic HOA fee its likely to pay for that maintenance of the retention areas. Even if you have sewers, because they are sanitary only. In the case of Prairie Trails, even though its in an unincorporated area, its does have a sewer, but its operated by a private company. So you will pay your sewer bill to a company instead of a town or the county. And then you will pay a HOA fee for the rainwater retention and amenities.

On the second point, since the 1970's, subdivision amenities have become more popular. Some of the early ones like Briar Ridge Country Club and Lake of the Four Seasons have plenty of amenities (private tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses, private streets and security) and fairly big HOA fees. Most subdivisions don't have the huge selection of things like those two, but Olthof builds most of its own subdivisions, and most have club houses and an outdoor pool. They are exclusive to residents so they have to pay for them themselves. And don't forget you have to pay to cut the grass around the entry sign and along the busy street the subdivision backs up to. The parks will end up being donated to the park district, but you may have to pay for them in the early years of the subdivision (sometimes the park district cannot afford the park, even when donated). They won't take the pool and clubhouse because it wouldn't be open to any taxpayer in town.

So if you don't like huge HOA fees, look at subdivisions with fewer amenities. But they will be hard to avoid completely in newer homes.

I would still look at houses built by Philippe. Overall they are a good builder, no house is perfect and no builder is perfect. The window problem was more in The Gates of St. John, though I do have a friend in Prairie Trails that had the problem with their windows. Do have a house inspected (it will be at your expense, most run about $300 for an average sized house), even a new or newer house. Most builders will allow an third party inspector if you are building (some inspectors will offer a multi time inspection, checking the house several times as it is built. Don't expect the town or county building inspectors to do that job for you. They really are looking at different things then you would.

Oh, one more thing. If you really like the idea of a new house, there are other builders you can check out besides the other two, that could build in the same price range.

Last edited by richb; 02-22-2013 at 04:18 PM..
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