Once you’ve selected your property, you can start planning your dream home. At this point, you’ll want to start building your team, as well. In addition to your real estate agent, you’ll work with a builder. If you’re building a custom home, you’ll also need an architect and a contractor. The rest of your team may consist of an engineer, inspectors, tradesmen, and a designer, depending on the type of build and your needs.
If you’re building a semi-custom home, you’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time at your builder’s design center. Many home buyers spend about 20 hours in the design center during the building process, and nearly half will exceed their budget in upgrades — by about $21,000 on average. Designing your home can be a daunting experience, but it’s also exciting. Keep your budget in mind as you navigate the various features and upgrades.
Know Your Design Style
Do you prefer a traditional style with timeless features, a modern and sleek look, or a colorful and quirky one? It’s helpful to have some idea of what your style preferences are when you start to plan your interior. If you’re not sure what your style is, start browsing décor websites and online home magazines. Take screenshots of what you like, or, if you use Pinterest, pin what you like to a board. You should start to see some patterns emerging. Tour model homes and take note of what appeals to you. If you’re the tactile type, gather fabric and paint swatches that catch your eye and create a design board, attaching everything you like in groupings to see how the color palettes come together.
You only need a general sense of your style, so don’t get too caught up in specifics. Just knowing whether you prefer a cozy, soft room with earthy tones or a sleek, modern one with clean lines and polished finishes is enough. If you’re working with a design consultant or an interior decorator, this is enough to give them a starting point, and they’ll work with you to bring your style into clearer focus.
If you’re building a home with a significant other, the two of you may have very different design styles. For example, you might be all about the coziness and warmth of cottage style, while your partner leans toward the cool, minimalist look of modern style. Your designer will be able to work with you to blend your styles, but you may need to compromise. Choose a color palette you both agree on to help bridge your style differences.
Consider Your Daily Routine
It’s easy to get caught up in the style of the home, only to move in and realize the flow is all wrong. For example, the pathway from the back door to the living room is obstructed by the placement of the kitchen island, and now you’re constantly bumping into it as you pass by. Or you didn’t include a mudroom or porch and now wet, muddy boots are always sitting on your kitchen floor. Maybe you thought the main-floor laundry room was fine but dragging everything upstairs to put away has you regretting that decision.
Spend some time thinking about your day-to-day routine. How can you make sure each room and the overall layout are functional and practical for your needs? In which room do you spend the most time, and how can you make that space more useful? With your family’s lifestyle and habits in mind, you can make sure your home has the features and flow that works best.
How to Stay on Budget
With endless options for countertops, flooring, fixtures, and more, you might feel like a kid in a candy store when choosing items for your home. You may want all the bells and whistles, but all those features come with a cost. Most people go over budget when building a house — the average is about 28 percent over budget. While some unforeseen costs are unavoidable, keeping an eye on what you’re spending on upgrades could help offset some of those unexpected expenses.
Have a contingency fund set aside and review your budget often to make sure you aren’t going over. You may need to adjust the budget in one area to accommodate another. Stay organized, think through every decision, and be willing to make sacrifices.
Keep in mind that every time you decide to make a change, there could be other things that need to be altered for that change to work. While the initial change isn’t a huge deal financially, all the supporting alterations could add up to budget-busting.
The up-front quote you get from the builder is an estimate with allowances factored in. An allowance is a certain amount of money designated for things like flooring, cabinetry, and lighting. These allowances aren’t a guarantee, and some builders will estimate on the low end to keep the overall cost lower. However, it’s often difficult to stay within the allowance, especially if you choose high-end features.
Take some time to explore the allowances your builder offers. Do some research online to see what items cost and make sure the allowance for that item is within that price range. This will help you get a more accurate understanding of what your home will cost.
When selecting features, keep your budget top of mind. This will keep you grounded and focused on the priority areas you want to upgrade. The last thing you want is to move into your new home on shaky financial footing because your build went well over budget. Don’t forget, in addition to your mortgage, you’ll need money to cover closing costs, homeowner’s insurance, and other fees that come with owning a home.
What to Expect at the Design Center
Depending on your builder, you may have access to a design center. A builder design center is usually staffed with an interior decorator and offers a variety of fixtures. You can select from these options, which typically include things like cabinets, appliances, countertops, backsplashes, flooring, bathroom items like tubs and showers, trim, lighting, and more.
Having access to a design center gives you the opportunity to work with a designer who will show you the builder’s packages for the interior and exterior of the home and help you put together all the customizations you’re looking for.
Keep in mind that if you’re having a semi-custom home built, the builder will have swatches and other materials that showcase your options and potential pairings. You won’t be able to choose any item you’ve seen at a store or online as you could with a custom build — you’ll choose from the builder’s selection. Be careful not to set your mind on a certain color scheme or kitchen cabinetry because it might not be on the menu of options. If you truly want a certain appliance or fixture but your builder doesn’t offer it, you might want to go with the standard item now and upgrade your home later.
Builders are using technology to help home buyers decide on things like layout, flooring, and fixtures. Virtual reality technology allows you to see what the home will look like with the finishes and features you’ve selected. You’ll be able to “walk” through the space to see how rooms connect. Builders also use interactive floor plan tools to help clients visualize every room in the house. This can help you place lighting, windows, doors, outlets, and even furniture.
You can also do this on a smaller scale through certain websites with digital tools like online color visualizers. With these, you can upload a photo of a room, then drag and drop various colors into the space. If you find a color you like, the tool helps you find a paint that matches.
Understand What’s Standard
Model homes are stunning because they’re packed with upgrades and premium finishes. These aren’t included; you’ll pay extra to include these features in your build. As you tour model homes, ask your builder which amenities and features are standard and which are upgrades.
You can ask for a walk-through of a basic home and request a list of standard features at the design center. Compare the standard features with the upgraded versions. This will help you determine which standard features work well and which upgrades are worth the extra cost.
Standard cabinet knobs and pulls, for example, may be fine, while opting to upgrade to taller or deeper cabinets will add more storage space. You may not be able to tell the difference between laminate floors and hardwood, so it might make sense to save on the flooring and put your money toward other upgrades.
Ask about warranties on standard and upgraded finishes and appliances, the durability of materials, and which customizations are better to do now rather than later. Major structural changes, like adding a room or removing a wall, may be extremely difficult to do once the build is complete, so consider making these changes before your home is built.
How to Determine If an Upgrade Is Worth the Cost
While some upgrades can make your home more functional and could provide a healthy return on investment, other upgrades may not be worth the expense. Talk to your real estate agent about how the upgrades you’re considering might impact your future resale value. You don’t want to add so many expensive upgrades that you end up overbuilding for the neighborhood.
Choosing energy-efficient kitchen appliances, premium-grade roofing material, and double-glazed windows may enhance the appearance of your home, but they could cut down on your heating and cooling bills, saving you money in the long run. Things like a home security system or a steel door could lower your insurance costs.
Not surprisingly, the room that tends to get upgraded the most is the kitchen. Popular upgrades include cabinets, countertops, flooring, and appliances. Kitchen islands are also popular, followed by pantry space and extra lighting. However, there are some things you might want to hold off on and upgrade later. For example, if you can live with the standard laminate countertops, you can get them replaced in the future. Especially if you’re going with a semi-custom build, where your options are limited. You may want a marble countertop, but the builder’s options are only granite. By choosing the standard countertop now, you can replace it with the marble you want rather than settling for an option that wasn’t what you had in mind.
Builders often charge more than if you source the material and labor yourself. So, unless your heart is set on those granite countertops and you can’t live without them, consider saving this money or spending it elsewhere.
Other upgrades you might want to consider skipping for now include crown molding, lighting, tile backsplashes, and hardware. When weighing whether to upgrade a feature or not, consider how expensive it is now versus what you could do it for on your own later, and how much effort it would be to add down the road. If it doesn’t require extensive remodeling or opening walls, it might be better to go with the standard features for now.
This part of the home building process can be challenging, but it can also be fun. This is where you get to explore design, color, and texture to make your house as unique as you are. If you have questions, your real estate agent is your advocate. Rely on their knowledge and expertise to help you make decisions that are best for your budget and your long-term investment.