I received a text from a friend earlier this week stating that she was headed to her builders’ design center and she wanted to know what she should upgrade on now and what she should wait on until later. This is a very important question, one you should never set foot in a design center until you have an answer to. Their job is to sell you on as many upgrades as possible and when you walk through their model homes, which feature all the upgrades, of course you want to upgrade everything, who wouldn’t? However, builders are not known for giving you the best deal on your upgrades, so they should be approached with caution. Of course, some things would be a pain to upgrade later or may be more cost effective to upgrade with the builder, so you need to have a clear game plan in place before you set foot in the design center! You want to prioritize correctly to spend your money on the things that add the most value to your home, both for your comfort and for future resale value. One other note, most builders will wrap the price of upgrades into your mortgage allowing you to pay for them over time. Whereas paying for upgrades after the fact will come out of your pocket. Obviously paying cash is wise, but if you know you want hardwood floors immediately but you will not have enough cash to pay for them anytime soon, you may want to consider upgrading them through your builder.
What Should You Upgrade?
Your kitchen cabinetry! Go ahead and choose upgraded cabinetry now! What should you choose? Taller cabinets that fill the space or go all the way to the ceiling. This will give your kitchen a more custom look. Choose a door style that is simple, no need to splurge here, however, do splurge for full overlay doors so you won’t see the gap between the doors and won’t have a center stile. Also, soft close features are well worth the upgrade! I also like adding built-in trash cans and as much storage as possible, including cabinetry over the refrigerator! All these upgrades will help your resale value and would be a total waste of money to replace later. However, if you want your cabinetry painted, you can wait on that. Just choose their basic color and either DIY it or hire someone to paint them your desired color after the fact.
Your tile! Chipping out and replacing tile is not an easy process! So choose the tile that you want! To save money, only upgrade the master bathroom. Wherever you have them install tile, you can ask them to install in a staggered or brick joint pattern and it should not change the price but makes it look more custom.
Insulation: Spring for extra insulation! It is always more economical to add it to new construction rather than after the fact! Insulating your new construction home properly will keep your electric bills lower and provide extra comfort for your family.
Texture. Builders will want to heavily texture your walls to make it easier to slap on drywall mud. Texture hides imperfections and makes it the drywall crew and painters jobs easier. However, smooth walls are on trend now and it is a very messy, expensive job to fix it. Ask for at least a level 3 smoothness and make sure to inspect it before it is painted to ensure you are happy with the result!
What should you wait to upgrade?
Flooring. If you can afford to pay for this out of pocket, you will save so much money! Have the builder install their cheapest carpet throughout and then hire someone to rip it out and replace it with the wood floors, lvp or other floors of your dreams. Any builder price per square foot to install flooring that I have seen is way higher than what you can get a good flooring contractor to do it for or if you are brave and have some construction knowledge, diy it!
Lighting. Builder grade lighting is very standard. However, this is something you can easily upgrade over time choosing exactly what you want and finding the best prices possible. You can also sell your builder grade lighting on resale websites like FB Marketplace to help recoup some of your costs. If you have an accessible attic, an electrician can easily add electrical boxes later however, you can pay to have your builder add extra boxes during construction if you don’t have attic space.
Appliances. If your appliances are not included with your house, you may be better off finding them yourself. You can find the exact appliances you want and look for sales and bundle deals that make them more affordable. Especially if you buy them around Thanksgiving!
Countertops. This is an easy, minimally invasive upgrade after the fact. If they offer something you can live with for a minimal upgrade, such as a neutral, honed granite, go for it, but do not splurge for their quartz, quartzite or porcelain.
Plumbing Fixtures. As long as you have standard fixtures, (not wall fixtures) they can easily be changed out and upgraded after the fact.
Cabinet Knobs and Pulls. Let the builder install their cheapest hardware and then find new pulls with the same dimensions and switch them out! This is a very simple upgrade!
Paint. Builders will typically charge you to choose different colors plus builder paint is usually watered down. Additionally, they almost always choose a flat paint which does not wipe down well and it shows everything! Bring in your own painter after the house is done but before you move in and have them use Sherwin Williams Emerald paint. It has a gorgeous finish and will last you for years to come!
Mirrors. If your builder plans on gluing a plain, ugly mirror to the wall, DO NOT LET THEM! Tell them just to leave the walls blank and you will choose what you want later!
A few other thoughts on upgrading-
While the optimal time to upgrade is after the builder is done, but before you move in, this is not always practical! Remember that some upgrades can be messy and invasive of your space, so always weigh that into your decision! If you can find a good subcontractor to handle these upgrades, you will get the best price. Hiring a GC means they will probably sub it out themselves and just charge you more so they can make a cut.
I know this is a lot to think about, but going in with a clear plan in place will make it easier to choose the correct upgrades and spend your money as wisely as possible!