It’s been a little quiet over here at Work|Wear|Wander lately, as it’s been a season of change for Michael and I. Not only did I start a new job this summer, we also finally moved into the home we’ve been building for 8 months. (Get ready for the home posts, ya’ll!) While we were deciding on a builder and floorplan, and during our build, we learned quite a few valuable lessons about the process.
It’s important to note that this post is specifically about new semi-custom homes in master planned communities. Our home is by no means completely custom. Rather, we selected from a set of floor plans, chose between a few upgrades that would actually impact the construction (i.e. installing a 20′ sliding glass door and enlarging our master shower), and then selected all the fixtures and finishings inside.
Nonetheless, we learned a TON during the process. If you’re embarking on a similar journey, here are the nine lessons we learned along the way.
1. The Actual Price of Your New Home will be Higher than the Base Price
Each model you visit will have a nice little, “starting at” price. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that your actual price will be higher than that — potentially much higher depending on the upgrades you select.
So how much in upgrades should you plan for? Before Michael and I visited the design center, I did some research and found some stat about planning to spend 10% of the base price on upgrades. Now that the process is behind us, I can confidently say that would have been impossible for us to hit…and we by no means went overboard with the upgrades. We ended up spending about 20% of the base price on upgrades, which gave us most of what we wanted without going too crazy. That said, we have neighbors and friends who spent more than that. It really comes down to what you need, what you can do yourself later and what you can do without. (More on that in a bit .)
The key is this: be realistic but also be ready to cut back on upgrades that aren’t true must-haves. And when you’re exploring builders and models, be sure to select a floor plan that will still be in-budget once you add in all the upgrades you want.
2. When it Comes to Builders, Do Your Research Online & In-Person
In the community we live in, pretty much every builder in town is selling homes. That was great for us because we had tons of options in a community we knew we wanted to be in, but it also meant we really needed to do our research to find the right one for us. After our first visit, we came home and made a list of all the homes we were truly considering, the base price, any incentives they were offering and a general pro/con list.
We narrowed the list by doing research online to see how other homebuyers liked working with certain builders, but we took it one step further by asking our top choices to walk a few in-progress homes. One builder’s homes seemed to be a great value, but when we saw the frames we knew why: the workmanship was terrible! Needless to say, we selected a builder with a good reputation online and a quality of work we were happy with.
3. Know the Model Most Likely Has $100,000+ in Upgrades
Don’t assume anything you see in the model comes standard, because it most likely does not. The model for our same floorplan, just down the street sold for $140,000 more than our house did when it finally went on the market a month or so ago. Seriously, that shows you what kind of upgrades they have in that place! Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to find out specifically what’s included at the base so you can begin to understand what you’ll need to upgrade.
4. Visit the Design Center in Advance of Your Design Appointment
Your builder likely won’t let you visit the design center before you sign. (If they do, DO THAT!) But regardless, before your official design center appointment, be sure to do at least one browsing visit. This visit will help you narrow down a million choices into your must-have and like-to-have lists. If this is your first build, there will still be some things you don’t consider on your browsing visit, so save some budget for those. (For us, that included upgrades in electrical and things like soft-close drawers that weren’t shown in the browsing paperwork.) Nonetheless, the browsing visit helps streamline the design center appointment and kept Michael and me from being totally overwhelmed when we actually had to make our selections.
5. Know That You Can Upgrade Some Things Yourself After You Close…Likely for Less
When you’re at the design center, it’s easy to want to upgrade everything, but there are a lot of things you can actually do after you close — often for much less than the design center is charging.
For our build, we upgraded the things that would be difficult to do later: structural changes like our enlarged master shower and 20′ sliding door, flooring, doors, the kitchen layout (which luckily came with all the appliances!), a lot of the electrical, etc. We went without things we knew we could do ourselves later: cabinet hardware, the kitchen backsplash, pendant lights/chandeliers, ceiling fans, window coverings, etc. And we went builder standard for fixtures and finishings we knew we could easily change later if we wanted: light fixtures, bathroom faucets, the cultured marble counters in the bathrooms, etc.
My favorite part about this approach, aside from saving money, of course, is that we were also able to personalize our house more than we would have if we did everything at the design center.
6. During the Build, Visit as Often as You Can
If you already live in the general area you’re building in, I highly encourage you to visit your soon-to-be home as much as possible during the build. In the beginning, it will go slow, but once the frame is done, and the interior starts to go in, things will go pretty fast. At this point, we visited our home on a weekly basis. By doing this, we caught numerous issues along that way that we were able to have remedied quickly. Don’t be afraid to email your sales agent or construction manager as soon as you see something; they’re there to give you a home you LOVE.
We had tons of these things along the way — from bowed beams at frame, to the chandelier pre-wire in the dining room being installed 2′ in the wrong direction, to our counter granite being cracked, and like 100 more little things. These things are not uncommon, so it’s important to visit enough to catch them along the way.
7. When You Do Your Frame Walkthrough, Take Photos of Every Wall
Michael and I did not do this, and I regret it on a weekly basis. When you’re drilling into the wall to hang things, it will be really helpful to have a reference of what’s behind the wall just in case. You can even take this a step further and get an inspection at this stage and have the inspector take the photos for you. Which brings me to my next point…
8. Hire an Inspector Before Your Final Walkthrough
Don’t assume that because you’re buying a new build that everything will be perfect. I can promise you it won’t be. An inspector you hire can find any number of issues you and the builder may have missed. For example, our inspector found that there wasn’t enough insulation in our master bedroom. Luckily, it was fixed before we moved in thanks to the inspection report.
9. Stay On Top of Warranty Fixes After You Move in
Your new home should come with a warranty from the builder. Ours is one year for the entire home, with additional manufacturer warranties to come in on some things after. Take advantage of this warranty! If you see anything, literally anything, submit a ticket. It’s better to have them fix it than you. We’ve been here for just over a month, and we’ve already had them come four times. We even get a full grout touch-up on our floors at month 10. We’re taking advantage of it all, and you should too!
Now go forth, find a builder, and build your dream home! Best of luck, and let me know if you have any questions.