By Jennifer Srock
Building a new home is exciting. There are many things to consider within the planning stage so there are less regret and costs to retrofit after the home has been completed. I created this list of upgrades and inspections according to building with the “Big Box” builders. Custom home construction is much more elaborate and not referenced in this post.
I always recommend using a realtor when working with a new home builder. Yes, there are sales people in the builder’s office to help you but, they are not allowed to represent you. They only represent the builder. They do not charge extra and you do not lose incentives if you have a realtor. Nothing changes for you other than you have a licensed representative on your side at the cost that is already built in to the price. You pay for it either way so, why not?
Upgrades and inspections are what I’ll be addressing in this article. First of all, you’ll want to know which upgrades may be best left to the builder and which you may be able to save on by leaving it for a future date.
Lot Premium – Spending a bit more for the right lot wether it be size or even location is probably a good investment since you are stuck with that decision that cannot be changed.
Structural Upgrades – Adding structural upgrades after a home is built is usually more strenuous and costly. If you know you want the extended garage, bay windows, or the covered back patio, choosing those builder options will be more cost effective than waiting to do them later.
Front Door – The slightest features of your front door will make it stand out and give that welcoming first impression. In AZ, you may also want to consider installing a security door so you can keep the main door open for circulation with our beautiful weather and still have the privacy and security of the screen security door. Most “big box” builders will require you to stick with their options since their contractor’s plans include the standard size. They may have upgrades and security door options you can price around to see if it makes sense to go standard and then shop around to swap out later. If there’s an HOA in the subdivision, you may have to run these ideas by them first.
Electric and Plumbing – Both of which are good to have the builder do. Be sure you have enough outlets and switches. Do you want a wall mount for your television or pre-wiring for surround sound? You may find less expensive or more appropriate surround sound systems for your taste outside of the builder choices. Pre-wiring a single level home after it’s been built is easier than pre-wiring a 2-story home. Often electric and plumbing additions or changes cause costly wall, cabinet, or countertop repairs so, it’s usually best to have the builder do these.
Lighting – Fixtures may be an item to hold off on and purchase at a later date. I recommend doing some research on the prices of the light fixtures you may want before you decide to go with the builder’s options. You will most likely get something unlike the rest of the community and for less money, especially if you install it yourself. Handymen are inexpensive as well. Be sure to have the builder pre-wire for light fixtures where you want them versus ceiling fans though. Ceiling fans are much heavier than typical light fixtures so, the appropriate junction box needs to be installed.
Kitchen Appliances – Black Friday has been a great day for deals on kitchen appliances. If you’re able to grab them then, I’m sure you’ll score. If not, it’s pretty easy to compare to what the builder is offering since they aren’t installed until the very end. They also may not have the oven/range, microwave, refrigerator, or dishwasher you want.
Kitchen Countertops – If you’re not trying to compromise on upgrades, the kitchen countertops may be an option you choose to get with the builder. If you need to opt to do an upgrade at a later date, you can usually get the countertops done for about the same price the builder will do it for so, you may opt to postpone this upgrade. Keep in mind, an upgraded countertop often involves an upgraded sink as well. If you have a backsplash, that too may be affected in your decision. Quartz, also know as engineered stone, is becoming a popular choice. Quartz won’t stain and is non-porous so, you won’t get the inherent weakness of granite but you still enjoy a similar look and feel.
Kitchen Cabinets – More storage is always desired, even if it may not be needed. For resale desirability, I recommend going with the taller cabinets. It’s best to go with the desired cabinets with the builder because it is cost prohibitive to have to remove old cabinets which often includes removal of appliances, backsplash, countertops, and I’m sure you get where I’m going with that list. Staggering them or adding molding doesn’t add value to resale. Looks great so, I’d leave those two options up to personal preference. Molding can be added after but, you do run the risk of not matching the color just right.
Flooring – This is one item people often regret. There are many great looking inexpensive carpet choices builders provide. If you choose carpet and need to save money on it, I recommend getting a less expensive carpet and upgrading the padding for a better feel. Flooring options with builders are not always abundant. If you want something the builder does not offer, chances are they will not let you bring it to them from elsewhere. Always ask though. In some cases there may be a bigger supplier they will let you use if you make a big fuss about it. If you choose to do wood floors later, they can be installed quick & easy as a floating floor in which the planks go down over virtually anything such as concrete, vinyl, and even ceramic tile.
Trim Work – Most any handyman, carpenter, or painter can install crown molding or other trim work easily and inexpensively. Often this work is done for much less than the builder will charge.
Irrigation/Sprinkler System – Most builders will include front yard landscaping with an irrigation system. The back yard is usually the one you need to decide on. This is an option many people choose to do after the home has been built. If that is the case, make sure the builder includes the appropriate plumbing and electrical requirements to build from.
Keep in mind that some changes you make to the home will void builder warranties. If you have future renovation plans to do after the home is built, ask your builder in the planning stage if it will void a warranty.
Secondly, you may not want to skip out on inspections. Just because a new home has to meet current codes and ordinances doesn’t mean there isn’t room for mistake. Some older homes you’ve seen having issues could have been prevented with proper inspections. Now they are just a result of neglect at the time it was built.
The most crucial inspections you can do, or hire a professional to do, are prior to drywall installation. After drywall is up, most electric, plumbing, and insulation will be covered up and much harder to inspect afterward.
Insulation – The builder expects their insulation contractor to properly install the insulation. Some spots are easily missed and often over-looked in the insulation inspection. You may want to have an insulation inspection done prior to drywall going up. It could cost you extra to heat and cool your home if there is airflow coming through. The cost could be in the thousands if it is determined you need to rip apart walls to correct the problem.
Interior/Exterior Outlets, Faucets, And Covert Conduits – Your pre-drywall inspection may also include inspection of the faucets, outlets and conduits. Outlets and conduits are a big reason to reinforce getting an inspection prior to that drywall installation. I’m really not sure if I can stress this point enough.
As your realtor, I help you facilitate inspections during the building and schedule follow up reminders for your end of year builder’s warranty and end of 5 year termite warranty. It pays to have a good realtor.