What maintenance might look like for your new home

When purchasing a house in Austin, ‘choice’ often takes a bit of a back seat. With the influx of new residents, most bringing cash from previous home sales in tow, home buying can be an unflinching master class in negotiation. But once the close is complete and the keys are in the hands of the new owners, there is a feeling of elation. 

Now what?

The first 6 months for a new homeowner can be a cold bath of reality. There is a lot to do and all of it costs money. Whether it’s cosmetic improvements or repairing a newly surfaced issue, it can create painful headaches for those who aren’t prepared. Don’t fret though, PreFix has you covered. 

This guide was created to help inform new homeowners of what to expect when purchasing a house in the city. We’re going to break down the pros & cons of new vs. old, north vs. south of the river, and the soil breakdown throughout.

Laying the Foundation

First let’s dig into one of the most frustrating, yet least discussed, aspects of owning a home:  The foundation. The majority of homes built in Texas over the last 50 years or so have a foundation vs pier and beam. The foundation is essentially a thick slab of poured concrete that the house sits upon. Because concrete is strong but also brittle, builders add material inside the concrete to reinforce the slab (we’ll detail why the slabs are reinforced later). There are mainly two types of reinforcement, post-tensioned cables, and rebar. 

Foundation Types

Slab w/ Rebar

–          More expensive, but repairs and remodeling are easier, and in some cases, cheaper

–          More prone to cracking and breaking due to soil expansion

–          Less room for error during construction

Post-tensioned Cables

–          Less expensive, but repairs can be very difficult, making them expensive

–          Less prone to cracking during settling

–          Greater margin of error (I’ve seen a foundation where the cables were never tensioned post pour, and it wasn’t pretty)

Soil Type

For many houses, the foundation sits on dirt, but a better description would be that it floats. And just like the alien clown from Stephen King, it can be a little scary when everything floats. 

Think of the ground beneath your feet like a stack of different types of paper and each type of paper has different degrees of thickness, color, ink absorbency, etc. One type of soil is clay, the medium pottery and early forms of ceramics were made from. Clay is like a sponge, and when it rains, the clay soaks up moisture and swells. When the weather is dry, the clay shrinks.  

There are many different versions of clay, but we want to focus on what’s called expansive clay or a “Vertosol”. Vertosols can be HIGHLY expansive, which means that when a spring gully washer (if you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out soon enough) comes through town after a long dry winter, the foundation can rise inches out of the dirt, only to sink back down a few weeks later. Austin is rife with these expansive clays, and how much they’ll impact your home is directly related to your home’s location. 

Below is a map from the city of Austin that shows the plasticity index (how much it will swell and shrink) for the soils in the metro area. I have crudely drawn the main roads through town so that you can find your approximate location.

Take heart though! Regardless of whether you have a new build or a mid-century remodel, the main repairs that homeowners grapple with are cosmetic. There can be cases of more complex and costly issues, but they are less common.

Problems

Minor issues

–          Drywall cracking

–          Doors not latching correctly

Major Repairs

–          Cracked/broken sewer or water lines

–          Roof/Structural issues

Water Source

Austin gets its water from three treatment plants along the Colorado River. Because of the geological makeup of the state, Austinites, unfortunately, must deal with hard water. Hard water can create several issues within the home. 

Problems

Minor Issues

–          More frequent aerator cleanings and cartridge changes in plumbing fixtures

–          Clogged inlet valves for the dishwasher and washing machine

–          Hard water spots on glassware

Major Repairs

–          Decreased life expectancy of tanked water heaters

–          Decreased life expectancy of heat exchanger for tankless water heaters

–          Replacement of severely occluded copper pipes

Age of the Home

The age of the home can provide some of the best insight into what the necessary maintenance of your house will entail. In most scenarios, something new will always be better than something old. This is not true for houses. In the battle between new vs. old, there really isn’t a clear winner, as much of it depends on the owner’s perspective.

For the purpose of brevity, we’ll classify “new houses” as anything built within the last 20 years.  While that may not seem new, most of the present standards for home construction started being implemented around 20 years ago. Below are a few examples of some of the common pros and cons of both.

New

Pros

–          Less expensive to maintain

–          All materials are new

–          The use of PEX instead of copper for plumbing

–          More energy efficient

Cons

–          Smaller yards

–          Less tree coverage, HVAC will struggle to cool 2nd story and above in summer

–          Builder grade plumbing and electrical fixtures don’t last as long

–          Because of post-tension cables in the foundation, remodeling can be more expensive

Old

Pros

–          Larger yards

–          More tree coverage, HVAC won’t struggle to cool

–          Less settling cracks

–          Better wood used in framing and roof structures

Cons

–          Big tree roots can crack underground plumbing

–          Older windows and doors decrease energy efficiency

–          Older plumbing & electrical fixtures mean more expensive repairs

If you are interested in knowing about an area prior to purchasing there, we’ve put together a handy guide on what to expect in areas with sample neighborhoods. 

Austin 

North

Older homes with a few new builds. 

·         Tarrytown

·         Allendale

·         Clarksville

South

Heavy mix of new builds and older homes.

·         Travis Heights 

·         Zilker

·         Bouldin

East

Mainly older homes with new neighborhoods embedded throughout.

·         Mueller 

·         Windsor Park

·         Cherrywood

West

Outside of Westlake and Rollingwood, almost entirely new homes and new neighborhoods.

·         Steiner Ranch

·         Bee Cave

·         Spicewood

Putting it all together

This may seem like a lot of information, but unfortunately, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to know about owning a home that it can often feel like a second job. The complexity and number of tasks to maintain a home have skyrocketed in the past 10 years alone. It isn’t realistic to expect a homeowner to manage everything in the home on top of all personal and professional obligations they may have. 

This is where PreFix comes in. PreFix takes ownership of all the maintenance aspects of the home. Whether it’s fixing a loose doorknob or handling a catastrophic emergency, and everything else in between, PreFix takes care of it.