Are you buying a new house, and trying to decide the best new home construction upgrades?
The whirlwind of design choices and new construction upgrades comes at you fast and furious, remember that you have two main options when building a new home with a production builder.
Your first upgrade options are structural upgrades like tankless water heaters, energy-efficient windows, radiant floor heating, tray ceilings, and extra bedrooms.
Your second appointment will focus on design upgrades, like floors, and countertops.
In this deep-dive post, we’ll zero in on non-structural new home upgrades during a production build.
An area often rich with potential for boosting both the appeal and value of your home.
The best new home construction upgrades aren’t necessarily about pursuing the latest trends or the most eye-catching design but more about adding value to the home for current and future homeowners.
As a seasoned insider with nearly a decade in new home sales and design, I’ve had first-hand experiences with these critical decisions.
I’ve seen the model homes that win buyers over, the missed opportunities that lead to regret, and, yes, I’ve even navigated a few mistakes in my own new build journey.
Join me as we explore the best new construction upgrades, with insights drawn from my time in the design studio and after building two new homes myself.
Whether you’re eyeing a new build or looking to increase the resale value of your home through a remodel this guide will illuminate the path to making the most strategic and beneficial choices.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure here.
What should you upgrade in a new home?
Upgrade the kitchen, owner’s bathroom, and flooring in a new home for the best return on investment, also consider energy-efficient appliances and systems for long-term savings.
How do I know what to upgrade?
Embarking on this, I felt like many homebuyers do – overwhelmed. The sea of design choices and unique offerings from each builder can make your head spin.
Plus, builders’ offerings can change from one community to the next!
To help navigate this, I’ve created a handy acronym, “DRAW PEN”, a guide that works no matter the builder or location. Let’s jump in!
“D” is for Destructive – like a toddler with a crayon. If after-market upgrades require tearing into your pristine new home, pause. It might be smarter to stick with the builder’s options.
“R” is for Resale – your future ‘cha-ching’ moment. Consider if the builder’s upgrade could boost your home’s resale value down the line. If so, it could be a smart investment.
“A” is for After-market – as in after the headache. Sometimes, the cost and chaos of after-market upgrades can leave you wishing you’d chosen the builder’s options. If it looks like a hassle, it probably is.
“W” is for Warranty – your safety net. If an after-market upgrade could void your builder’s warranty, think twice. It’s usually safer to stick with the builder’s upgrades.
“P” is for Priced – your bottom line. If the builder’s options are competitively priced (like that must-have sale item), it could be worth selecting them upfront and avoiding future costs.
“E” is for Electrical – it’s shocking how complicated this can get. Electrical upgrades often require access to places hidden behind drywall and are typically easier when handled by the builder.
“N” is for Now or Never – your one-shot deal. Some upgrades, if not taken with the builder, will likely remain on your ‘to-do’ list forever due to their complexity, cost, or time required.
So, let DRAW PEN be your guide, leading you through the labyrinth of design choices with ease and clarity, balancing your desire for dazzling upgrades with practical, financial realities.
15 Best Upgrades in New Home Construction
Ready to level up your new home construction? Here are my 15 best upgrades in new home construction, each hand-picked for their value and impact.
Through this list, we’ll demonstrate how the “DRAW PEN” approach can guide you to make the most strategic and beneficial choices in your new home construction journey.
Let’s get started!
1. Drywall Finish
Drywall Finish – This is all about personal taste, but if the builder’s standard drywall finish doesn’t tickle your fancy, it’s time to consider an upgrade.
Whether you’re a fan of knockdown, orange peel, skip trowel or smooth walls, the choice is yours. But remember, this falls into the ‘Now or Never’ category.
The thought of tearing down all the walls in a new home? It’s as daunting as it sounds and would be a destructive feat, with an after-market price tag likely sky-high.
Pro-tip–The orange peel texture is subtle enough to accommodate wallpaper and makes it the ‘one-size-fits-most’ of drywall finish.
2. Whole house wall paint color upgrade
Interior Wall and Ceiling Paint – The builder’s standard wall paint can greatly influence your other design elements.
It’s essential to research the undertones, brand, finish, and LRV (light reflective value), given your home’s natural light and sun exposure.
Inquire about the ceilings, sometimes they are the same color or a different color from the walls.
If the builder’s paint colors aren’t in line with your vision, think about upgrading.
This upgrade typically includes several color options and a finish upgrade, such as Sherwin Williams® Super Paint or Benjamin Moore® Aura.
You’ve waited months for your home to be ready. Why prolong the process by having to repaint post-closing?
3. Baseboard Trim and Door Heights
Taller Baseboard Trim and Door Heights – The love is indeed in the details.
Review your floor plan; it often includes hallway thresholds at the taller door upgrade height.
Opting for taller doors promotes continuity with these thresholds and encourages light to flow between rooms.
‘Now or Never‘- Adjusting door heights post-construction can be a major costly undertaking. Cutting drywall, moving electrical, all new doors, and door casing.
4. Kitchen Cabinets
Kitchen Cabinets – Often dubbed as the heart of the home, kitchens significantly influence a home’s resale value. Even partial kitchen remodels can garner a return on investment of 60 to 70%.
When your builder tempts you with enticing kitchen cabinet upgrades, it’s often wise to accept.
Strive for the tallest cabinets your plan permits, typically 42″, with full-overlay doors, crown molding, and dovetail drawer construction.
Soft close enhancements can be switched out after-market really easily and affordably.
The Before and After of extending kitchen cabinets to the ceiling is a powerful kitchen transformation.
DRAW PEN strategy: kitchen cabinet upgrades post-construction can be destructively tedious, affect resale value profoundly, and trigger after-market headaches.
Pro Tip: Shaker kitchen cabinets are the most desired, offering design flexibility and an added boost to resale values.
5. Kitchen Sink
The kitchen sink can go from a humble heavy lifter to an eye-catching design focal point with the right upgrade.
It’s worth considering with your builder, especially when dealing with under-mount sinks.
Replacing an undermount kitchen sink after market isn’t impossible but it can be labor-intensive and costly.
The expenses of sink removal, plumbing, purchasing a new sink, and reattaching to the countertop.
Switching a double basin to a single bowl or from an under-mount to an apron farmhouse sink can complicate matters.
Remember, kitchens are the key selling points of homes and deserve a significant share of your design budget.
Stick with our DRAW PEN strategy and prioritize this upgrade to avoid after-market destruction, headaches, voiding warranty, and enhancing resale.
6. Kitchen Countertops
Kitchen Countertops – Deciding on kitchen countertops isn’t easy, given their prime position in the heart of your home.
For butcher blocks, quartz countertops, or other manufactured surfaces like Corian, my advice leans towards opting for builder upgrades.
When it comes to natural stones – granite, marble, or quartzite – my controversial yet experience-based opinion is: wait for the aftermarket.
Surprised? Let me explain. The charm of natural stone lies in its uniqueness. Yet, this can also be a pitfall if the slab installed looks nothing like the design center sample.
Unwelcome brown spots can mar your perfect white marble kitchen island. After all, it’s nature doing its thing. Or as my wise 8-year-old daughter likes to say, “You get what you get, and you can’t get upset.”
When it comes to natural stones, I recommend personally selecting your slab from a stone yard.
An opportunity and luxury typically not offered by production home builders.
This way, you know exactly what you’re getting and where it will be featured in your kitchen.
7. Kitchen Appliances
Kitchen Appliances – Are kitchen appliances the top upgrades in new home construction? It depends. You’ll need to do a little homework comparing retail costs of standard appliances versus builder upgrade costs.
Let’s break it down: suppose the standard free-standing gas range retails at $650, and the builder charges an extra $500 to upgrade to a sleek slide-in model retailing at $900. Your total? A whopping $1,150, overshooting the retail price by $250. In such cases, accepting the standard appliance and selling or gifting it could be the smarter move. So, arm yourself with a calculator, a notepad, and a search engine, and crunch those numbers before deciding.
Consider Kitchen Appliances – Appliances can have a larger impact than you might think.
They can even influence the structural components of your kitchen.
For instance, upgrading from a recirculating microwave to an externally vented hood requires significant adjustments.
Similarly, a larger range might need a wider cabinet and countertop opening, which can be tricky to retrofit. Thus, when considering appliance upgrades, factor in the potential implications for plumbing, electrical, and cabinet configurations.
Always thoroughly research and understand all that’s involved before deciding.
8. Flooring the whole house
Flooring – As the canvas upon which your home’s design is built, flooring choices are essential. Choosing your main flooring with the builder is often the more sensible decision, for these reasons:
- Small, square, ceramic tile floors in some are often the standard feature with builders, which can be costly and labor-intensive to remove, purchase new tiles and install.
- Installation order is crucial: tiles are typically laid before cabinets, baseboards, and final paint so changes would likely necessitate re-painting, and cabinet and baseboard removal.
- Builders meticulously select high-quality tile and underlayment and skilled laborers to minimize warranty repair costs, tracking customer satisfaction, take rates, and installation difficulty. Tiles with inconsistent dye lots, susceptible to staining, slippery, or easily scratched surfaces get discontinued. Top flooring manufacturers like Shaw® and Mohawk® provide hardwood floors with custom colors, sizes, styles, and trends just for builders providing unique insights and offerings you can’t find at retail stores.”
- Upgraded flooring may also interfere with interior door fittings if the new floor is thicker than the original one.
- Flooring is a major expense anyway, so it may be more satisfying and cost-effective to invest in a floor you love right from the start.
Remember, thoughtful flooring choices during the construction phase can save you from post-closing headaches, heartaches, and unexpected costs.
Pro tip- Hardwood floors are still the most desired flooring in new construction homes.
9. Shower Wall Tiles New Home Upgrades
Like flooring, replacing shower wall tiles after construction can lead to significant costs and structural damage. Plus, if you change the shower floors and tiles, you may risk voiding warranties for plumbing and water intrusion in that space.
Builders often provide such warranties due to their trust in the quality of their labor and materials used, such as Kerdi Boards.
Remember our DRAW PEN principle: such an upgrade may lead to post-construction disruption and substantial costs if left for later, and potentially causing unwanted headaches and a voided warranty.
10. Bathroom Sink Faucets
When it comes to bathroom faucets, builders often provide high-quality, yet entry-level products, such as Moen, as standard. This typically prompts thoughts of an upgrade.
But before you make a decision, consider the faucet spread and how holes are drilled into your countertops. This is permanent, so you need to choose wisely.
Consider replacing the faucets aftermarket using the same spread to avoid high costs and extensive remodeling. Though this may void warranties, it might be a worthwhile trade-off given the significant markup of builder-offered upgrades.
Remember to revert to DRAW PEN for all decisions. The effectiveness of this strategy depends on the faucet spread of the standard fittings and your personal taste.
11. Shower Handhelds and additional shower heads
For a luxurious, spa-like bathroom experience, upgrading shower handhelds and additional shower heads during the initial construction with your builder can be beneficial.
Upgrading plumbing fixtures afterward could mean removing shower wall tiles to access plumbing valves, especially if you want them to operate independently.
Rainfall shower heads, for instance, require drywall penetration at the ceiling.
This post-construction work isn’t just complex, but it can also void any warranties on your bathroom and prove costly.
The master bathroom is among the top three rooms where design investments should focus, given their high return potential. Just ensure upgrades align with the home and neighborhood value for a balanced investment.
12. Frameless Heavy Glass Shower Enclosures
Frameless Heavy Glass Shower Enclosures – Few things shout “builder-grade” quite like flimsy standard shower enclosures, which not only wobble when you pull them but are also known for their notorious nail-snapping abilities.
A frameless heavy glass enclosure, typically 3/8″ to 1/2″ thick, can be a worthwhile upgrade, particularly for your owner’s suite bathroom.
With their superior durability and open sightlines that don’t require unsightly metal supports (notorious soap scum magnets), heavy glass enclosures are easier to clean and more aesthetically pleasing.
Given that such upgrades can be costly, whether made pre or post-market, consider applying this upgrade first to your owner’s suite bathroom, especially if you’re taking my advice and investing in the builder’s shower wall tile and plumbing upgrades.
It would be a shame to drill screws into your beautiful new tiles or deal with the after-market headaches of destructive adjustments.
When your budget allows, you could extend this upgrade to other bathrooms
13. Door Hardware and Finishes
Door Hardware and Finishes – Few design elements thread through your entire home like the finish and hardware on your doors.
This includes the metal finish on your front door handle and lock, interior door knobs, handles, hinges, and pins, and sometimes this option extends to your bathroom vanity lights and accessories, like towel bars and toilet paper holders.
Each builder’s standard offerings vary, with some providing chrome as standard, while others offer brushed nickel.
While these may align with your decor, you might be tempted to upgrade to popular gold, black, or brass finishes.
If this is the case, upgrading with the builder is highly recommended, due to the ‘now or never’ factor of our DRAW PEN principle.
The thought of removing every door from its hinges to replace handles and hinges later can be a daunting aftermarket headache.
14. Electrical and Lighting Upgrades in New Construction
Lighting fundamentally shapes home design, yet many homes lack adequate lighting.
When you revisit the builder’s model home, count the light sources in each room.
Though it’s tempting to divert funds toward a designer kitchen backsplash or a chic kitchen faucet, prioritizing diverse light fixtures such as pendants, chandelier pre-wires, ceiling fan pre-wires, recessed cans, LED downlights, and under-cabinet kitchen lighting, will prove invaluable for your future design endeavors.
Undertaking lighting modifications aftermarket is complex, messy, can void warranties, and is often costly.
Many modifications need a licensed electrician and oftentimes require a building permit.
My mistake-Not taking hardwired under cabinet lighting is one of my personal new home build mistakes. I finally found an aftermarket option that works pretty well on Amazon. It’s thin, rechargeable, easy to remove, and offered in white and warm white. I still wish I had just splurged for the builder’s option, but this is working well.
Implementing layered lighting across every room is the bedrock of a well-executed interior design.
15. Low Voltage New Construction Upgrade
Low voltage upgrades, though often overlooked, can be fundamental for future-proofing your home.
These upgrades typically include Ethernet and cable pre-wiring, surround sound speaker wiring, security system pre-wiring, and Wi-Fi network extenders.
These make your home ready for all the tech gadgets and high-speed internet needs of the modern world.
While you can and should buy specific devices like a Ring doorbell, Alexa speaker, or security cameras after moving in, it’s essential that the wiring infrastructure is in place from the start.
This approach not only makes future installations simpler and cheaper but also less disruptive, saving you from the hassle of retrofitting these systems later.
Keep in mind, you can change devices, but changing the wiring once the walls are up is a whole other story!
Final thoughts and conclusion
In conclusion, choosing the best upgrades in new home construction is a delicate balancing act that requires careful thought and consideration.
We’ve covered an array of elements from cabinets, to flooring, lighting, and even low-voltage options.
Keep in mind that while these upgrades might seem costly upfront, they can significantly increase your home’s value and save you time and hassle in the long run.
Choosing high-quality standard cabinets, considering hardwood flooring, and investing in good tile work can be valuable upgrades.
Remember, your new home should be a place that brings you joy for a long time, and personalizing it is a big part of that journey.
If you’re a new home buyer and need guidance on what to avoid when choosing design center upgrades, take a look at our previous post here: Design Center Upgrades to Avoid.
This guide complements the tips shared here and will provide you with a more comprehensive overview of the dos and don’ts of new home construction upgrades.
Remember, the colors you choose, the electrical outlets you place, and every other detail should align with your preferences and lifestyle.
Your next home should not just be a property, but a reflection of your personality and a haven of comfort.
Choose wisely, plan meticulously, and share with us your design appointment success stories in the comments below.