Most of us are familiar with problems associated with older homes. For starters, they're often not too energy efficient, with draftiness from old windows and sometimes sub-optimal heating systems. They also tend to need a lot of upgrades over time, such as to the electrical and plumbing systems. But new homes present some challenges, too.

First of all, don't be surprised that new homes sport problems. After all, even the best new cars usually have a few defects, even if they're minor. But the car-production process sports a major advantage over the typical home-production process: many quality-control checkpoints.

Here are just some of the problems you should be aware of if you're shopping for a new new home:

  • There are good and bad times, weather-wise, to tackle construction. With the building boom of the past few years, many builders have been rushing. Therefore, for example, some have been painting or roofing or pouring concrete when it's too cold or damp -- which sets up the home for future problems.

  • The building boom has also led to many more people working in the industry, many of whom are relatively new to it and therefore not as skilled.

  • There are exciting new materials being used in construction, but we don't necessarily know how well they'll stand up to the test of time. Also, many builders aren't sufficiently familiar with them yet. One example is Trex, an alternative decking material made from wood and plastic. It's made by Trex (NYSE:TWP), a firm highlighted several months ago by Tom Gardner in our Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter. (The stock has advanced some 9% since then.)

  • Some builders may cut corners, using too few nails or less-sturdy pieces of lumber or drywall, for example. They'd rather keep more of your dollars in their pockets than in the pockets of Home Depot (NYSE:HD) or Lowe's (NYSE:LOW).

In a Chicago Tribune article, Alan Mooney of Criterium Engineers, a Maine-based real-estate engineering firm, estimated that, "As many as 15% of new residences have serious defects." The most frequent ones are related to roofs, and water leaking through windows and doors.

Albert Clark of the United Homeowners Association notes that, "No home is 100% defect-free. If you've put $300,000 worth of anything together, you are going to have problems."

So what's a homebuyer to do? First, deal with a reputable builder. Check out names at the Better Business Bureau and with your local Attorney General's office. Better still, find some of their previous work that's a few years old and ask the residents how the structures have been holding up.

Ensure that your home has many inspections throughout its construction process. Many builders permit homebuyers to inspect at various points -- take advantage of those and hire someone knowledgeable to give it a close look, if you're not too construction-savvy. Don't just trust government building inspectors. Their responsibility is making sure the building is up to code, and they're not necessarily interested in anything more.

Learn more about the ins and outs of buying or selling a home in our Home Center, which also features special mortgage rates. Also, visit our Buying or Selling a Home and Building/Maintaining a Home discussion boards, to get some great insights and tips from fellow Fools.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.