Q: I’m interested in a new home community (non-gated) in Leesburg Florida and would like some advice on what procedures should be taken to negotiate a good deal (including getting top perks and upgrades, or price) on a new home construction in that area with current market conditions.

I also want to avoid potential problems and protect myself legally. I’m wondering what should be included in contract, and how should I negotiate changes to a new construction contract. Should I do a background check on the builder?

Finally, should I pay to have a new home built or purchase a model home that has already been constructed within the community?

Thank you in advance taking the time to review my inquiry.

A: These are good, thoughtful questions, and I’m glad you’re asking them now, before you plunk down your money and sign a contract.

In some parts of Florida, Arizona, California, Nevada and a few other states, the new construction industry is in trouble. Developers are having a hard time selling homes and are doing everything they can to attract buyers. They’re offering discounts, free upgrades, and even flat-out dropping the price. If you’re looking for a deal, I’d see about buying a house that the developer has already built, with an eye toward getting the best deal that you can.

To protect yourself legally, hire a real estate attorney to review and negotiate your purchase agreement with the builder. You’ll also want to make sure the builder is on solid financial footing and that there haven’t been any complaints filed against him or her with the local municipality or state authorities (such as the Attorney General’s office or the department that regulates contractors and builders).

But there’s nothing like getting a little first-hand feedback to help you understand what this developer is all about. So spend a weekend or two trolling around the neighborhood. Walk up to the residents and ask them how they have liked living in the neighborhood. Ask them if the developer was responsive, if he built a good product, and if he came back quickly to fix punch-list items or other problems that crept up in the first year.

You should also look at turnover. Are a lot of people who bought recently now trying to sell their homes? If so, you should find out why (did investors buy lots they are now trying to sell?). Some movement is normal, but if a good part of the development is now selling and leaving, you should know why going in so you don’t face a bigger problem six months from now.

Before you close on the property, be sure to hire a professional home inspector to do a thorough inspection of the property. Particularly in Florida, where hurricanes often strike, you need to make sure the home has been built to the newest building codes. Many people believe wrongly that a new house can’t have problems. In fact, many new homes are built too quickly, and some items get missed or don’t get put together correctly. You’ll want an inspector to make sure the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems have been installed correctly and are working the way they should be. If the inspector comes back with some issues, you should have the builder correct those before closing, or follow up on any other problems with further inspections or tests.

And, don’t forget to buy an owner’s title policy, in addition to the title insurance policy issued to your lender. Although it seems unlikely, title problems can creep up, even with a new home in a new subdivision and your lender’s title insurance policy won’t protect you.

Doing all this doesn’t mean you won’t run into trouble with this new property or the developer. But it makes it far less likely that you’ll miss something big.