Are you buying a new home and feel like the builder is asking a lot for the upgrades you want to do?
Maybe you need to cut back on the upgrades, but want to make some wise choices about where to invest now and what you can hold off on, to do yourself later.
I’ve got some tips today to help you do just that.
I just had a recent Designed in a Click consultation with someone who was wanting to know where would be the best place to put in builder upgrades in her new home.
I thought my response to her would maybe help other new home buyers in her same situation.
Consider This With Each Upgrade
I’ve seen enough remodeling mess over the years to know that this type of question should be answered with a real look at what it takes to replace or redo something later on down the road.
Here’s my basic rule of thumb…..if it would require a big tear out, expense and mess to replace, spend the money there and get a product you will be happy with for a long time.
Installing a quality flooring product will not only hold up better over time, but it adds value to your property.
If you have an open plan house, don’t chop up the flooring materials. People are running quality wood floors into their kitchens these days or are going for wood-look tile if they need even more durability.
The look of wood on the floor is king and wider planks with a neutral, medium tone can be a style that lasts a long time.
My floors are a high quality oak, have a wide plank and a grayed down neutral look. They were a big investment when I remodeled but I am so happy with them even now, some 5 years after they were installed. They literally look as good today as the day I installed them.
If doing real wood and you have pets or constant high traffic, make sure you could go in and refinish it later to touch up the finish if you need to. Make sure you have a wear layer that is significant.
Be sure to check your windows will have some UV protection on them too, or wood floors will discolor and fade over time.
Here’s another product that is a big expense and a pain to change out later on down the road.
The hard surfaces in bathrooms are smart to get right the first time.
Go for that free standing tub in the master and tile all around it with a floor tile you love. That expense right there, in a bathroom remodel, can really set you back and take weeeeks to install.
Paint is something that can get watered down in a builder house and that would benefit from an upgrade.
I had my mother-in-law’s house repainted before she sold it and they found an old can of original paint from 20 years ago when the house was built.
It was still liquid! My painter opened it up and there were no solids in it, it was mostly all water!
Builders typically use flat paint on the walls, in a lower quality, and it will show fingerprints and mark up fast. If you can upgrade here and make sure they are painting with the quality you intend, then that is a good investment just in the maintenance of your home.
When I do remodels, we typically spec Sherwin Williams Emerald paint, a washable matte type paint. It's more expensive, but lasts years and has a beautiful finish.
I typically just use an oil based enamel in a satin finish for the trim and doors.
I don't like glossy paint on trim as it tends to look cheap and show every imperfection. Unless it is intentionally done as a high gloss specialty finish and the material has been carefully prepared underneath, I steer toward a more satin finish look.
You should also look at the texture of the walls and ceiling in the model.
Everyone is going with less texture these days. It is something we smooth out a lot in remodels. Builders often do a lot of heavy texturing to hide imperfections and make for an easier and faster job for the painters.
Redoing that texture is expensive and a dirty job. No one enjoys living through that in a remodel. It’s the equivalent of a popcorn ceiling, but on the walls.
Can you see the rough texture on these surfaces in the image below?
If you know what to expect with regard to upgrading your cabinets, then I would invest in higher quality cabinetry.
I say that, because I’ve seen people have “upgraded” cabinets that really didn’t have the kind of features I would have liked to have seen.
Here are the features that I like to see in cabinetry:
Upper cabinets that are tall in the space, like cabinets that run to the ceiling in a kitchen. It just gives a feeling of height and a more custom or “upgraded” look, in addition to adding more storage.
A door style that is simple and not too traditional.
Full overlay doors so that there is not a big gap between the doors where you see the face frame of the cabinet or the center stile doesn’t block the cabinet box when you open the doors. (See pics below.)
Full extension or soft close glides so that you can get into the back of the drawers.
Refrigerators that are built-in to cabinetry with vertical storage above. It makes for much more useful storage.
Built-in trash drawers, no exposed cans hanging around!
What not to upgrade with your builder
If you are building a custom home, ignore this part. You are getting what you want - full stop.
However, if you are buying a product like a production home and your builder is giving you the option to upgrade some items, then these are the ones that are less of a pain and expense to upgrade yourself, on down the road.
I would suggest to let the builder install their standards and then you come in and change them out, after you own the place and have maybe had some time to save up for these extras.
1. Decorative Lighting
Of course, I’m all about beautiful, decorative lighting. But…….
…..unless that chandelier is 25’ up in the air, you might get better value on your light fixtures if you buy them yourself and have them installed by an electrician on your own, after you own the house.
Go ahead and plan what you will buy and make sure the j-boxes are in the right place for those new fixtures. Let the builder install their standard fixtures.
Decorative lighting is one of the most tempting of all upgrades as builder offerings are usually so typical and unattractive.
This is often the first place homeowners will go to upgrade.
Changing out the lighting is a relatively easy fix! It can be done in a day with little or no mess. (With a master electrician, of course!)
2. Cabinet Knobs and Pulls
Same thing holds true for cabinet knobs and pulls.
As long the holes are in the location you want with your new hardware, then letting them install their 75 cent cabinet pull is just fine. (The hard part is drilling the holes properly!)
You can come in with your own selection of cabinet pull, after you own the house, and install that upgrade! No mess! Just a little elbow grease.
3. plumbing fixtures
While it is nice to have everything done, complete and ready for move in, most plumbing fixtures can be changed out without too much fuss, if you choose to upgrade.
I’m talking about faucets that are not wall mounted here. Upgrading a powder room faucet or a kitchen faucet is not that big of a deal with a plumber and generally affects nothing else surrounding the area when changing out.
This is one place where I would just say “Hold the door!”
Just don’t have mirrors installed. No mirrors are better than basic builder mirrors, typically.
Oftentimes, they will just adhere plain, unfinished-edge plate glass mirrors to the walls and then it ruins the sheetrock behind when they are pulled off.
Now, if they are framing in a mirror into some moulding, that’s a different scenario…..OR if a mirror fits snugly between two walls without a gap.
It’s those plain big, wide, monsters you see glued to the walls of bathrooms that I would reject and install my own later.
I’m on the fence about this next one. It could go either way….
Most builders are still using spotty granite as their go-to material to offer and most homeowners want a durable form of a marble look counter.
Most homeowners don’t want spotty granite.
I do know that countertop selections make a huge difference in a kitchen or bathroom. They can also be an expensive part of the overall cost.
The main thing I would do here is NOT go for a spotty granite.
This might be the case where you just go with a honed black granite (less expensive option and still very on trend now), and do your expensive quartzite or quartz counters some years down the road.
If you are looking to save on upgrades, if I had to pick which to upgrade, I’d spend more on my flooring, texture, paint, cabinets, etc. It is less invasive to change out countertops on down the road than it is to redo floors, texture, and cabinets.
I did that with my kitchen remodel. I used an “almost black” leather finish granite, Marron Cohiba. It was not on the high end side of countertop choices. But of course, I love it, and it was the best choice design-wise for my kitchen. :-)
If you can find a countertop you can live with just fine for awhile without upgrading too much, then this might be a wise choice for you.
Ease of REplacement
Remodeling can be a big deal! It is expensive and very invasive if you are living in during the process.
Always consider ease of replacement down the road, when considering upgrades for a production builder home.
Calling in one handyman or sub-contractor to do the job is a much smaller investment and a lot less trouble than having to have two or three involved or even a General Contractor to do the work.
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