One of the first things that we wanted to do once we moved into our new home was work on the some of the extras that we decided to wait “to do” until we moved in. Some of these can really start to add up when building a new home and trying to determine what features you want the builder to include. After all, moving into a new home is expensive from start to finish, and you have to draw the line somewhere! And, typically even for the best budgeter there are going to be unforeseen costs involved from the moment you make the decision to build, or even buy an existing home. So, if at any time during the whole process you can find a way to take on the work yourself and possibly save a few dollars, then by all means, I highly encourage you to do it. Plus, it can be very enlightening to learn a new trade or task, and very fulfilling to complete some of your home projects yourself. Believe me, you will feel very proud to be able to tell your friends and family all about it and show off your handiwork when they come over!
But first, here’s some things to think about if you’re getting ready to build your dream home, or sit down in a subdivision display home and go through all of the features and amenities the builder offers when building a new home:
When we sat down in the display home in the subdivision to price out the amenities we were interested in, it was very overwhelming! Those builders love to be able to offer as many options as possible to entice new homeowners to choose one of their homes over another builder. In fact, there’s a reason why those display homes are always so gorgeous – they are filled top to bottom with practically every feature and option they can get into them!
There are a few reasons for this:
- They want you to fall in love with the home, and with all of the extra bells and whistles, and stylish on-point decorating, it makes selling their home design a lot easier.
- It gives you, the future homeowner a way to see what the home would look like with certain amenities in it.
- It also may make it hard for you NOT to picture a certain amenity inside a home; therefore you feel it must be a part of the home when you make the decision to build. Just try to keep in mind that the “base” price home in the advertisements and on the signs that lured you to the subdivision in the first place is a much different version of that display home you’re falling in love with. And maybe a version you wouldn’t barely recognize!
So, keep all of that in mind when you go look at a subdivision with already built displays. They can be a little deceiving. Always ask how much all of the upgrades cost in the display home in order to get an idea of what it would take to build that “actual” home. I guarantee it’s a price much higher than what appears advertised on the sign at the front of the neighborhood. And, if at all possible, have the salesperson walk around the display with you and have them point out every upgrade and have them explain how the home would look in that particular spot without it because that is the home you’re buying if you can’t afford that upgrade.
With all of that in mind and getting back to the idea of completing some projects yourself, there are some ways to get display home style if you have a more basic and realistic budget. It requires thinking about what features initially need to be included when building the home, and what features and amenities can be dealt with later. There were a couple of items that were musts for us.
We definitely wanted taller ceilings, and/or vaulted ceilings to make our home feel more spacious. Since we were building one of those narrow lot ranch home plans, we needed a way to expand the interior especially width-wise and not make it feel small, or too closed in. A higher ceiling was the way to do that. Another must-have for us was rough in plumbing in the unfinished basement because we were certain at some point we’d finish the lower level, and we’d definitely want a full bath down there when we do.
When building, if there are any features that structurally affect the design of your home, then include them from the start. It can often be nearly impossible and extremely expensive down the road to add them into your home. For example, adding a bathroom in the basement when we decide to finish it without the rough-in isn’t impossible, but it will compromise our foundation by unnecessarily breaking into it to add plumbing lines, it will take more man hours resulting in higher labor costs, and most likely will require additional materials. Another example, I really wanted a vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom, but to cut some costs when doing our initial contract, we cut it out in order to save several thousand dollars. For us to go back now and vault our master bedroom could be quite costly and possibly not even feasible structurally.
If you find that in order to get the flooring, fixtures, cabinets and countertop choices you want it’s pushing you out of your budget comfort zone, then choose the standard, or most basic option grade your builder is offering in as close of a color as you can get to what you want and then, once you’ve moved in, or once it’s ready to be replaced in a few years, replace with that flooring you’ve always dreamed about, or replace the Formica countertop originally installed with the granite countertop you found in the ad you ripped out of that home decorating magazine you’ve been saving for ages. I know in our area, the building departments require light fixtures and flooring to be installed in certain parts of the home prior to closing for code reasons, and builders aren’t going to typically have their contractors lay flooring you purchased and brought in separately from their own, so go ahead and select theirs and replace it as needed. However, I’ve seen homeowners rip out brand-new carpet builders just installed days before in order to put down the wood floor they wanted, but couldn’t afford to buy from the builder. I personally, would have a hard time not feeling wasteful doing that. So, in our bedroom we had carpet until the dogs got it to a point of no return, and after several carpet cleaning attempts we took it out and replaced it with wood floor that matched the rest of the first floor. The carpet served its purpose and at least lasted us 2½ years before it succumbed to the wrath of our two Yorkies!
You’ve got this.
Now, moving on to the smaller stuff that you can complete and isn’t required to get you moved in! Certain light fixtures, usually by entries and the top and bottom of the stairs are required by code to close in our area. But for other spaces, you may be able to get by going without and putting the lighting in yourself. Not only can it be cheaper, but it will also allow you to be able to find unique or possibly one-of-a-kind statement lighting most builders just aren’t going to offer.
Specialty painting rooms with specific colors is something that should be the job of the homeowners or a decorator, and not the builder. The builder will charge way too much money if they have to clean out their spraying equipment because you want Johnny’s room light blue and the rest of the home is designated to be painted gray. Now would be the time to pick up that paint brush and get to work!
We found going with the builder’s basic closet installation was fine to get us started, then we went to a home improvement retailer and bought any additional shelving to make the closet more functional for our needs. To cut down on costs with cabinets, we opted not to have any installed in our laundry room and purchased them ourselves for that space, but when it came to the kitchen we wanted the 42” cabinets installed by the builder. Our thought was, no one is going to be in our laundry room but us, and the kitchen is highly visible from most spaces of our home. So, we wanted the best quality we could in the kitchen. Also, we had to purchase a new washer and dryer and having those placed in the laundry room before the cabinets were hung worked out great. That way, we had the washing machine top load lid open all the way as we adjusted the cabinet height. If the builder would’ve hung them the standard height, that lid couldn’t have been opened all the way and it would’ve made laundry an even bigger chore to tackle. Last, when it came to cabinet hardware, we decided to add all of it throughout our entire home ourselves. It saved us a lot of extra money and allowed us to find exactly the look we wanted. Although, I’m not going to lie, drilling into brand new cabinets is a little frightening at first, so maybe start with a less visible cabinet or drawer in the master bath or another place before working on the most visible cabinets in the kitchen.
If you’re thinking about building soon, then make yourself a list of the features you want to look for in new home designs. Then, truly think about the must-have features that only a builder can do for you, and then be honest and ask yourself which tasks you feel you’re able to tackle yourself. You’ll be surprised at how you’ll be able to save money and feel proud of your home in a way you never thought possible by all of the things you were able to do to make it your own.