A Guide for Making Good Design Decisions
I usually go with my clients to all design center and builder meetings. Building in a long process and my clients have told me it is helpful to have an experienced person along. There is more in this article about why you need a buyers agent for new construction.
The design center meetings are where you make the home your own. Your own style will set your home apart from all the other homes out there. I hope this guide helps you prepare so you make the best decisions and have fun and not stress at these exciting meetings. You decided on structural options, your homesite, and negotiated incentives at contract. You have a realistic budget for design center options and plan to stick to it. Let’s go to the design center!
Keep in mind there will be exceptions to the answers below.This is a general guide for planning.
What does the builders base price include?
The base price is the price of the home with standard options before structural and design center options. Before you even start looking at new homes it’s important to realize that structural and design center selections can mean big money.
Builders have different included features. Local and semi-custom builders have a good level of included options, with most production builders, everything seems to be an upgrade.
Garman Homes has a collection where everything is included and picked out for you. No extra cost but no option for changes. Prices and styles are great!
With most builders you decided structural options at contract. Design center options are usually chosen within 2 weeks after contract.
What are design center options?
The design center meetings are where you make the home your own. This is the part that surprises people. So many details!
Design center options include: Exterior colors, cabinets, flooring, countertops, tile, lighting, electrical light fixtures, door style, door hardware, staircase design and pickets, appliances, mirrors, plumbing fixtures and colors, tub and shower niches and seats, cabinet height, carpet and pad upgrades, structured wiring, toilet height and flush type, tile layout patterns and more.
What are structural options?
Structural options are options that you choose at time of contract with the cost added to the builder’s base price for a contract price. Structural options affect the building permit. Some examples of structural options would be room bump outs, coffered and trey ceilings, screened porches, door and window changes, fireplaces, gourmet kitchen upgrades, extra baths, and plumbing extras. These can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Where Is the design center?
The design center is usually located at the builder’s main office and is appointment only.
Sometimes there are public preview days or you can have a browse appointment. Smaller builders or “everythings included” builders will have a room set up in the model home for selections. It can be easier when there aren’t so many choices!
What should I bring to the builder design center?
- Your wish list
- Bring photos of your present home and furniture so you can show your designer what you like and what you don’t want again.
- Tablet, phone or camera for photos. Take photos if you go to the design center preview and at the first design meeting not only of what you choose, but also of some of the selections for the next day so you can think ahead and research.
- Have a link handy to your houzz, pinterest board or idea file.
- Sometimes it’s helpful to bring fabric and paint samples with your colors as a guide.
- Wear comfortable clothes and bring a jacket or sweater.
- The design centers have snacks and drinks but you may want bring something more substantial.
- Leave kids with a babysitter. You will need to focus. This is an important intense meeting and there is a lot of work to do.
How much time should I plan for design center selections?
Usually you will have 2 or 3 design center appointments with the builders designer.
Sometimes you can schedule a preview appointment to get an idea of what’s available. You really need to come to town for design center visits unless you have seen an inventory home and had selections priced out and chosen at time of contract. I have helped with selections by face time but we aren’t really there yet.
Some builders have a detailed homework sheet that is really helpful. It’s a lot to do in a short time!
Often my clients will schedule the first visit from 1-5 and the next day from 9 to 12. A third day is sometimes necessary. It’s fun but hard and a lot of pressure even if you think you know what you want. I try to go to all of my building clients design center meetings to add another perspective.
How much will I spend at the design center?
I have never seen a buyer not spend anything at the design center. If you are building with one of the big national production builders plan on 15%-30% of the base price. More if you have expensive tastes. With “everything’s included builders” you may just spend a few thousand dollars.
Sometimes the builders will include, or we have negotiated, free options as an incentive. It sounds like $10,000 would be a big help, right? It’s usually just a drop in the bucket. One piece of advice is to know your budget and plan to stick to it. Pick a couple of important features to upgrade that represent your style and try to go with the builders included features with a similar look to high end expensive features. Think about what you can do later for less money.
When do I pay for design center options?
Builders usually want a non refundable percentage of the total design center options. Sometimes they want the full amount upfront after you exceed a percentage of the purchase price or if you choose non standard options. This is in addition to the deposit you paid at contract. You will be credited these deposits at closing.
Builders don’t want you to go over the neighborhood appraised values. Builders want to be sure you can buy the house if it doesn’t appraise. As long as the house appraises the design center deposits can go in your mortgage.
How will I know what is included in the base price and what is an upgrade?
When we visit a builders model one of the first things I ask the builder rep is how much do buyers typically spend over the base price on lot premiums, structural options and design center options and what the builder rep spends when they spec out an inventory home. I usually know the answer to this, but ask, so my client can hear and help see how upfront the sales agent is about costs.
I ask the builder rep for a print out of all the structural and design center options for a completed home my client has seen. Sometimes this may be a sold home or the model. I want to see what the costs were to get the home from base price to final price line by line. This is also helpful to plan for your possible upgrades.
What exterior options will I choose at the design center?
You will choose the exterior color selections, brick, siding, stone, and shingle colors.
Your choices may be limited by what other homes on the street have planned. Drive around and think about color combinations, including brick, stone and shingles, before the visits. Take photos of several homes you like to make your color choice easier. Have a few options.
What interior options will I choose at the design center?
Usually there are several cabinet colors in the base cabinet level. Most buyers upgrade at least one cabinet level and do 42” upper cabinets. You may want staggered cabinet heights or cabinets going up to the ceiling.
Shaker style is a common choice these days and is usually an upgrade. Think about cabinet design and color. Do you want the island a different color? Do you want extras like trash and recycle, pull out shelves, crown molding, glass doors, cabinet knob or pulls and finish color, and under counter lights with light rail?
The included granite choices often don’t include light colors so many buyers upgrade to a higher level granite or quartz.
Cultured marble or level 1 granite is included for the baths. You will also pick out sink style either oval or rectangle. Rectangular usually costs more.
You will choose the backsplash when doing tile selections, sink faucet when doing plumbing selections and light fixtures with lighting. It’s best to think about finishes ahead of time. It’s ok to mix oil rubbed bronze with chrome or satin nickel but confusing so have an idea when you have your design center visit.
Flooring tends to be the biggest upgrade item in the selection process.
Most builders don’t include hardwood flooring in all areas of the first floor and may not include hardwood stairs.
Production builders won’t do site finished solid wood flooring so expect engineered flooring. The base grade isn’t very stylish. You’ll likely upgrade.
If solid wood is important look for a local, custom or semi custom builder.
Carpet is standard in bedrooms and usually the upstairs landing and hall. Many people upgrade the pad and carpet. Standard pad is usually a 6#, An upgraded pad will make your carpet last longer. One thing to think about is how long you want the carpet to last. If you have little kids or won’t be living in the home forever you may want to stick with the standard carpet because you will replace it.
Some builders are offering laminate as a small upgrade. Laminate has come a long way and is durable and looks a lot like wood. It can be really realistic. It’s very trendy now.
Many of my clients stay close to the budget with tile. Pick a stylish neutral in most cases with the exception of the kitchen backsplash. The backsplash is a good place to add your personal style because, in the whole price of the house, it’s not that expensive and adds a lot to the look. Remember that the colors in your accent tile will likely limit your decorating color choices for years so sometimes it’s best to skip the accent tiles and go with a classic tile and add color with accessories.
Most builders offer a tiled shower with fiberglass pan in the master bath as standard with tile shower floor as an upgrade. Sometimes a tile tub surround or shower is included in secondary baths usually it is fiberglass . Some builders only offer fiberglass shower pans because a tile floor can be a call back problem.
After you chose the tile you will need to decide how you want it laid. Straight pattern is what’s included anything other is an upgrade. You will also need to choose tile size. Think about the size of the floor or shower.
It’s best to add all the recess fixtures, pendant lighting and ceiling fan prewires in the design center. I suggest taking the basic lighting package and upgrading the fixtures and adding fans after you move in. It’s a lot less expensive and you can find unique fixtures that fit your style. Some builders let you choose placement of hanging fixtures and recessed lights others don’t. If it’s really important we can ask before contract and possibility make it a condition.
Receptacles (outlets) are placed by code. The code is good with placement, generally every 12 ft. More in the kitchen. You may want to add outlets in places important to you. For example, in the master closet for ironing or high on a wall for a tv.
You can add extra ceiling fan prewires which include a heavy duty box and wall switch for a light and fan. You may want more recessed lights or ceiling fixtures.
Most builders don’t install dimmers.
You may want to add dedicated outlets for appliances like garage refrigerators.
Structural wiring includes video, audio and data. You will meet with the builders structural wiring contractor for phone, security system, internet, tv, home theatre and speakers.
The structured wiring contractor is a salesman. Think about what you want or need before the design center meeting. Think about what is and will be wireless. You can spend more time and money on structural wiring than on your kitchen. It may be totally worth it to you, but my advise is to plan and price out security, home theater and components and think about where you can easily add later.
Builders standard plumbing fixtures are chrome. All other fixture finishes are an upgrade. Finishes are usually matched in bathrooms. Sometimes the lighting and cabinet pull finishes are different, but faucet, shower enclosure, tub and shower fixtures match. Sometimes the master bath is a 8” spread on the faucets and 4” in secondary baths. 8” looks better. Most builders seem to have pretty good standard selections. My clients usually only upgrade finish and kitchen faucet..
The shower door is full frame standard. Semi frameless and frameless are upgrades. Frameless is $$$. The frame matches the plumbing fixtures finish.
Toilets are usually white elongated standard height. Some builders offer dual flush and comfort or adult height as an upgrade. Whirlpool jets on tubs are an option.
The kitchen sink can be upgraded. Sometimes a farmhouse is standard and sometimes it’s not offered at all.
Builders usually have appliance packages. Ask the site agent about these and decide before the design center visit.
Selections that aren’t usually too hard for buyers but are worth thinking about include:
- Towel bars
- Door hardware finish and style
- Stair pickets
- Interior door style
- Extra trim (crown, wainscoting, taller baseboards) You may want to add if you have 10′ or taller ceilings
- Finishing sheetrock in garage if not included
Will I be able to make changes ?
Usually there is a schedule for making changes and a change order fee involved. Cabinets are one of the first things ordered for a house so expect those choices to be firm. Mistakes happen when there are changes, so go to your meetings, be ready, and have fun!