Buying a new house is an exciting adventure. Along the way, there are countless decisions to make. Tile or laminate? Three bedrooms or four? Black or burgundy roof? For nearly every room, there are upgrades to consider. Let’s talk about them.
What Are Home Upgrades?
Here’s the deal. Home builders put together packages that are appealing to potential buyers. The ‘starting at’ price gives hope to those who didn’t think a new home was within their budget. And the conversations begin.
In construction that has not yet begun, the base model price is the cheapest cost of building the house, which means you’ll be living with the cheapest materials available until you can afford upgrades yourself.
This is when the buyer finds out the basic cabinets, thin doors, and cheap flooring are all candidates for upgrades—meaning you can pay extra for a higher quality option.
In fact, most materials in the construction and the finishes of the home can be upgraded. However, the costs add up very quickly, driving the home above budget, and maybe even out of budget.
Advantages of New Home Upgrades
There are advantages to making upgrades during the building process. The first is that you can move into the house you want without immediately planning for future upgrades.
It’s also less wasteful to put in quality materials from the get-go rather than ripping things out for an upgrade later.
Financially, if you don’t expect to have the funds for upgrades anytime soon, it’s a huge benefit to be able to loop the cost of the upgrades in with your initial mortgage loan.
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade
As tempting as it is to tack on an upgrade here and there, this is the time to step back and get a little perspective. The fact is clear--builders make a huge profit on upgrades. The reason is obvious--they charge you a high convenience fee.
Think about it, you already have workers onsite, so choosing one material over another simply means paying for the upgraded materials, right? Not necessarily.
Say you’re deciding whether to get a tile backsplash in the kitchen. That upgrade will cost you in materials, but will also set you back in labor costs. Plus, it’s a job you can tackle yourself later on.
When balancing costs with desires, think about what you can easily upgrade later. If you’re DIY inclined, you can easily swap out showerheads and faucets rather than paying a higher price for them through the builder.
The same is true for bathroom mirrors and interior doors. Save the money upfront and tackle these types of projects in your own time.
When deciding which home upgrades are worth it for your new home, look to the parts of the home that are more expensive to remodel later on. Here are some home upgrades that just might be worth it.
1. Tall Kitchen Cabinets
You’ll pay a bit more for the taller style, but you won’t have that false soffit above them, and you’ll have a lot more storage space. Plus, it’s cost prohibitive to change out all your kitchen cabinets down the road.
2. Roughed-in Plumbing
This may or may not be a priority for you. Roughed-in plumbing is that plumbing work that goes from underground into your house. Often the foundation is poured over it.
If you have any dreams of adding a bathroom, outdoor laundry, extra kitchen, or other space that requires plumbing, pay extra for the roughed-in plumbing when you build the home.
3. Radiant Heat Floors
Radiant heating provides more than just warm floors to walk on--although that’s a wonderful perk.
It’s also an energy-efficient way to warm the space. In fact, it will pay for itself over time and provide a more comfortable environment every day. Plus, it’s an upgrade that adds value to the home, especially as energy costs rise.
Because radiant-heat floors are installed beneath flooring, it’s an expensive add later on. Save yourself the hassle, and lower the energy bill, by getting them installed during the build.
Even if this upgrade is cost prohibitive for the entire house, consider just adding them to the master bathroom instead.
4. ADA-Compliant Fixtures
We can’t always predict what the future holds, but if you foresee anyone in your home potentially needing to use a wheelchair in the future, now is the time to add those ADA features.
This applies to any home really, especially since it can add value to the home. But if you or a loved one has special needs, or you plan to age in place for the long term, paying extra for wider doorways, a ramp into the home, and an accessible shower will save you in the long run.
Electricity is at the heart of your home, and it appears we’ll continue to be high electricity consumers long into the future. Plan ahead with upgraded wiring.
During the building process, an electrician can easily run wiring for potential additions or specialty equipment. Rather than ripping out wall surfaces to access wires later, plan ahead and have it done during construction.
Also consider having them wire an additional circuit box. It’ll cost you a bit now but will give you a lot of flexibility down the road if you add additional appliances, a hot tub, or finish an unfinished space.
Most new homes come standard with an inexpensive carpet throughout most spaces and vinyl flooring in the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry. If these floors suit you, great, go with it.
However, if you’re thinking of making any type of upgrade, it’s worth it now. Although these are certainly doable DIY projects, if you’re already paying for installation, this is an example of really only paying for upgraded materials.
It costs the same to install cheap carpeting and pad than it does for a higher quality carpet and pad that will last longer and provide a softer experience.
The exception is if you want to upgrade to a different material. For example, wood flooring will cost you considerably more, both because the material costs more and the installation is more time consuming, resulting in higher labor costs.
However, any flooring upgrade is worth it, especially if you’re wanting the same type of flooring throughout a large space.
A home equipped with hardwood in one area will be difficult to match down the road after it begins to fade and show wear. Flooring that’s all installed at the same time, however, will wear similarly across the spaces.
Also, since hardwood can be refinished for a fresh look without replacing it, it makes a good investment in the value of the home.
In addition to the warm floors, consider saying yes to other energy-saving upgrades. This can include anything from orienting the house towards the sun to solar panels or Energy Star appliances. You’ll also reap rewards from upgraded insulation that will keep temperatures comfortable within the home.
Energy-efficient windows will also save you money by keeping heat out in the summer and drafts out in the winter. Glazed windows also offer protection against the glare of the sun.
The roof is another place you can make an upgrade that will help keep temperatures moderated within the home. Evaluate the cost of options like tiles, metal roofing, and reflective coatings.
8. Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless systems are available in electric, propane, or natural gas fueled models. They work by heating water as it travels through the coils, rather than constantly working to maintain heated water in a traditional water heater tank.
You can install one central tankless system or use a separate unit for each area.
The central units are more common and only take up a small space, not much larger than the household circuit box. However, you can also choose units to install beneath each sink to provide hot water to each bathroom and kitchen.
Tankless water heaters will save you money. A conservative estimate is $100 or more per year for the typical family. In addition, because they do not store water, the risk of serious water damage to your home from a leaking water tank is significantly reduced.
Some state and federal refunds or credits may also be available if you install a tankless water system in your home.
Homeowners are constantly seeking more storage. From the pantry to the garage, storage is always a good investment.
On the most expensive end, you can pay to upgrade the size of the garage or the basement, giving you room for storage or an additional living space.
On the lower end of the cost scale, you can sub-in a deep cabinet above the refrigerator for additional storage and easier access. Similarly, you can add a closet here and there or upgrade the master closet for extra space and visual interest.
10. Structural Upgrades
These are the most expensive, but it makes sense to get the layout right during the initial build. If you have any type of ‘must have’ structural upgrade planned, now is the time to do it.
This means laying out the kitchen the way you want. Don’t hold off on a $25,000 kitchen remodel for later if you can get the floor plan changed for $10,000 now. Make it wider, add the island, or put in additional seating.
While it will cost you, you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and it’s a new home, so build it the way you want it.
Also upgrade access to good lighting by adding additional fixtures, task lighting, or outdoor solar lights.
Upgrades to Avoid
Some upgrades may sound like a good idea, but in reality, they could end up costing you unexpectedly, or they simply aren’t worth the upfront cost. We mentioned tile backsplash, faucets, showerheads, and contractor mirrors as examples earlier. Here are a few more to consider.
Outdoor spaces are appealing for nearly every type of home. Therefore, a deck is a coveted addition. However, during the build is not the best time to add on an expensive deck, mainly because the house is likely to settle, which can shift the deck and require repairs.
Builders typically recommend waiting a year or so before adding on a deck. In addition to settling the shifting landscape, spending a year in your house will provide you with a better idea of the layout you want.
If you jump in with a large deck during the build, you may regret the design, access from the house, location of stairs, etc. Wait this one out and add it later on.
2. Smart Tech
Smart technology is definitely a convenience and a money saver. However, paying to equip your home with the newest and fastest will only result in technology that’s wired in, and out of date, before the next full moon.
Instead of paying for it upfront, add in smart thermostats, showerheads, and motion lights over time.
The exception here might be upgrading to smart appliances the builder is installing. For example, a smart furnace will connect you to your power consumption and monitor usage for you.
3. Light Fixtures
Even if you hate your options the builder presents, you can get by with the cheap light fixtures until you find some you love. When you do, you can hire an electrician or install them yourself with little effort.
After you replace them, sell or donate the old fixtures to keep them out of the landfill.
4. Crown Molding
This is the trim used at the top of walls and cabinets to make them look fancier. Even if you love the look and idea of crown molding, it’s a budget conscious decision to skip it now and DIY later.
Constructing a house is a stressful and busy time. But once it’s done, you’ll have a lifetime of memories in your new home, so take the time to consider your options.
Not all builders offer custom touches, so if something is a deal breaker for you, make sure your builder offers it. Before you auto-dismiss or accept the upgrades that are offered, contemplate the cost, the needs, and your ability to make changes later.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the process learn a bit more in our related articles Steps to Building a House Checklist and The 9 Hardest Parts of Building a House.