When it comes to creating your dream home, understanding the design center upgrades to avoid is just as important as knowing which options add the most value.
How would I know? Well, I’ve been in the trenches, conducting over 300 new home design center appointments.
This first-hand experience has given me insight into the design center upgrades to avoid and the new construction upgrades that truly add value.
In this post, my goal is to arm you with the best tips and tricks for navigating a production builder’s new home design appointment like a pro.
I want to help you make your design choices confidently, ensuring your first picks are your final ones, leaving no room for “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure here.
Understanding the New Home Design Center
You’ve selected your floor plan, secured your lot, and made structural decisions.
Now for the fun part – personalizing your new home’s interior design.
Production Builder vs. Custom Builder
There are two types of builders a production home builder and a custom home builder.
Production builders have established floor plans, with pre-determined floor plan changes and pre-determined design center upgrades. Due to these pre-determined options build time is fairly quick.
Custom builders collaborate with the homebuyer to create and design all aspects of new home construction, including limitless design options. Given the ground-up design and creative process custom builds take much longer.
This post is about navigating the design center upgrades to avoid when working with a production builder.
Know the Included Features
Understanding what upgrades to consider requires a solid grasp of what’s already included in your base package.
Don’t just obtain a copy of your included features sheet—make it your bible. Study it, dissect it, and ask to physically see the standard features of your home.
The knowledge and comprehension of standard features is not just important, it’s paramount!
Design Center is limited but curated
Here’s the good news and the bad news: the options presented to you at the design appointment are curated but limited.
Production builders only work with approved vendors and suppliers to ensure ease of installation, mass appeal, and most importantly, the safety and longevity of products to uphold the builder’s warranty and reputation.
So, while the choices may seem vast in the retail market, there are strict boundaries in the design studio.
Don’t race off to Floor and Decor and fall head over heels for options not available at your design center.
Understanding these constraints upfront can save you disappointment and help focus your design vision.
Structural Decisions impact Design Decisions
When investing in a home from a builder requiring early commitments to structural choices, it’s essential to have a candid conversation with your sales consultant about how these choices will influence your design alternatives.
Consider the kitchen. Typically, the standard package includes a freestanding range and an overhead microwave. But there’s an enticing upgrade available—the gourmet kitchen—that trades the range for a sophisticated cooktop stove and a wall oven seamlessly integrated into the cabinetry.
Appealing, isn’t it? However, there’s a caveat. If you don’t commit to this gourmet kitchen upgrade during the permitting phase, you’re confined to the standard kitchen setup.
The importance of these decisions can’t be overstated. If you’re familiar with my earlier blog posts, you’ll know my stance on kitchens.
Kitchens are the heart of a home, playing a crucial role in its marketability and setting the overall ambiance. An oversight here could lead to significant regret later. Hence, it’s vital to approach our structural and design decisions with a strategic mindset.
The importance of being prepared
Here’s the deal – most homebuilders give you a timed one-shot appointment at the design center experience. If changes are allowed later, they usually come with a cost. And trust me, changes involve much more work than you’d expect.
A single, seemingly insignificant modification can create a ripple effect, impacting other options and necessitating data entry changes, administrative updates, photography edits, and a flurry of emails to trades, vendors, management, and the construction team. And with every change, the chance for error increases.
Preparation is key. Don’t waste design dollars on late change fees!
Money Matters: Scheduling a Meeting with Your Mortgage Loan Pro
I can’t stress this enough: know your budget before you set foot in the design center.
If you pile on too many upgrades, you might jeopardize your loan qualification or over-improve your house, leading to potential appraisal issues down the line.
You might even find yourself having to cover the difference out of pocket.
On the flip side, if you don’t add enough options, you could leave valuable resale value untouched. Now, wouldn’t that be a shame?
So, make a date with your lender. Understand how much you can add, and how that changes your payments.
Remember it’s not just the upfront cost of the upgrades, taxes and interest have to also be considered, and sometimes even insurance costs when upgrades like a pool are added.
What is the average design spend on your new construction home?
Ask your sales consultant what the average design spend is for your floor plan.
If your sales professional doesn’t have this information, ask them to find out.
Trust me, it’s someone’s job in the company to know the average design spend for each layout.
Stay within or better yet below those averages and secure your financial footing before you start choosing finishes.
Know Before You Go: Assessing Builder-Provided Design Center Resources”
Most builders will hand you a new home design center checklist or, even better, a catalog that lists and previews all the options and pricing you’ll see at your design center appointment. My advice? Devour it!
Use this material to spark new home design ideas. Flag the options that make your heart flutter, highlight any questions that pop into your head, and get those answers well before your scheduled appointment.
Being familiar with your options and having a sense of your preferences before you step into the design center can make the whole process smoother and more enjoyable.
Let’s make the most of the resources at hand.
Model Homes: Your Ultimate Source for Design Center Ideas
Homebuilders have model homes that the public can tour. These models are designed to showcase as many structural and design options as possible to get your creative juices flowing.
But don’t just walk through your floor plan – explore all of them, both smaller and larger than your own.
You’re on the hunt for new home design center ideas.
A top tip is to tour the models of neighboring sister communities in the area too.
Your mission? Snap pictures of floors, countertops, tiles, and any details that catch your eye. Maybe it’s not the floor color you love, but the way it’s installed – take a picture.
Weekend Warriors: Prepping for Your Design Appointment
Here’s a little insider tip: most design appointments are conducted Monday-Friday. So, guess what?
The design studio is usually empty on weekends! Ask about getting after-hours access so you can start planning your dream home.
Bring along all decision-makers. This is a perfect opportunity to have those lively discussions about choices and compromises, and why not take some selfies for new home photoshoot ideas.
Start creating your design combinations. Don’t strive for perfection – that’s what the design consultant is for. Just arrive at your appointment with solid ideas for a successful session
15 Design Center Upgrades to Avoid
Before we delve into the upgrades to sidestep, remember to fully comprehend your standard options and review all structural choices. Each home builder is distinct, with different standards and upgrades, so invest time in understanding these features for your specific builder.
Additionally, many of the options I suggest avoiding are largely based on cost. Therefore, conducting retail market research is crucial.
If you can acquire a design center price list, it can be tremendously beneficial for a cost comparison. If you can’t get access to a price list, ask your sales professional to do a price out.
I’ve witnessed instances where builders offer excellent options at attractive prices, which makes them worthwhile to do with the builder.
So, keep these factors in mind as we explore the upgrades to avoid. Remember, an informed buyer is an empowered buyer.
1. Front Door Upgrades: A Design Center Upgrade to Avoid
Let’s kick things off right at the front door. Builders typically offer a slew of front door upgrades, but hold up – this is one design center upgrade to avoid.
Front doors can be easily replaced or enhanced aftermarket, often at a fraction of the cost.
A popular choice is to add a glass insert to your existing door. This can be done on-site, on the same day, and can save you hundreds.
Conduct a local Google search for “custom glass inserts”
But remember, most exterior changes require HOA approval. So, before you make any moves touch base with your HOA management team.
2. Crown Molding: A Design Center Upgrade to Sidestep
When it comes to cutting costs and staying within your budget, I often suggest buyers reconsider crown molding upgrades.
Crown molding can be easily added aftermarket when your time and budget allow. It doesn’t require any destructive alterations to your home and can be affordably installed by a local carpenter or even a talented handyman.
Instead, spend those precious design dollars on upgrades that are more invasive and disruptive to install later.
3. Backsplashes: Overpriced Design Center Upgrade to Avoid
I’ll be the first to admit – I loved helping buyers select a backsplash that complemented their countertops during design appointments; it was like adding the icing on the cake.
However, they’re also on my list of design center upgrades to avoid.
The truth is, backsplashes tend to be an area where builders are known to overcharge.
Would you believe me if I told you that 3×6 plain white subway tile retails for about 15 cents a piece? but when subway tiles were at their height of popularity builders were gauging subway tile cost.
More than the cost, backsplashes are a focal point of the kitchen – one of the biggest opportunities you have to differentiate your home from others.
The after-market selection of backsplashes is so vast that it’s hard to limit yourself to the builder’s curated choices.
Pro tip– Ask your construction manager to skip the installation of the 3″ countertop backsplash. This little trick will make your life much easier when you decide to install your own personalized backsplash later.
4. Drop the Drop Zones
When it comes to mudroom drop zones, my advice is to decline them.
I understand the allure of a built-in option that fits seamlessly into your home’s design, but before you commit, consider exploring retail alternatives.
Retailers like Home Depot offer hundreds of hall tree options that can serve as functional and stylish drop zones. These options start at around $200 and come in a wide range of colors, both painted and stained.
If you’re set on having a more integrated look, consider getting a quote from a local carpenter. They can measure your space (using the model home as a reference if needed) and provide a customized solution that might offer better value and personalization than the builder’s option.
Remember, it’s all about maximizing your design dollars!
5. Kitchen Faucet
Now, let’s talk about kitchen faucets.
Compare the cost of the builder’s faucets with prices online.
Be careful, though – if you only stand to save $50, it might not be worth it unless you’re confident in your ability to install the faucet yourself.
However, if the savings are substantial, this could be a design center upgrade to avoid. Just make sure to factor in installation costs if you’re not DIY-inclined.
Pro Tip: If you opt to install your own faucet, there’s a good chance you could resell the standard faucet provided by the builder.
The right choice here could lead to a waterfall of savings!
6. Unlock Savings: Cabinet Hardware
“Cabinet hardware is our next stop. Did your pre-appointment homework reveal if it’s included with your cabinets?
Although hardware can often be costly, resources like Amazon offer a plethora of affordable and stylish options.
They even provide templates for precise installation.
Unless the builder’s included hardware really speaks to your design aesthetic, it’s advisable to sidestep this particular design center upgrade.
Don’t forget to check out my previous post where I delve into the top cabinet hardware choices for shaker cabinets. It’s filled with great tips and inspiration.
7. Dodging the Laundry Room Cabinet Upgrade
Now here’s a tricky one. Sometimes, laundry room cabinets are tied to a structural laundry sink option.
If you want that sink, the cabinets are often built into the option.
However, don’t feel compelled to upgrade the cabinets. Stick with the basic ones that come with the sink option. After you move in, you can paint these cabinets a neutral white.
If your builder’s standard is basic wire shelving in the laundry room with the option to upgrade to cabinets this is a design center upgrade to avoid.
You can easily find fully assembled shaker wall cabinets for less than $300. A DIY solution that saves you cash.
8. Smart Shopping Window Treatments
Window treatments can easily tally up a substantial bill, especially considering that builders frequently collaborate with renowned vendors such as Hunter Douglas. (Remember what we discussed earlier about builders needing to uphold warranty and brand reputation)
While these companies offer quality products, the cost can skyrocket once the builder’s profit margins are added in.
It’s worth getting quotes from other sources such as Smith and Noble, 3-Day Blinds, or my personal favorite, Select Blinds.
I’ve used Select Blinds for my own home and am still happy with them five years on!
Pro Tip: Make sure to have your chosen company measure your home after the drywall is installed to ensure timely installation. Be cautious and don’t rely on model home measurements as there could be minor, yet significant differences.
9. Mirrors – A Rare but Avoidable Option
Not many builders offer mirror upgrades, but if yours does, it’s a design center choice to steer clear of.
If they provide standard frameless builder-grade mirrors consider Mirrormate.com to add a stylish frame.
Even better, if the builder allows you to omit the mirrors altogether, then you’ve got the entire online marketplace to choose from. You’re certain to find something more aesthetically pleasing at a much friendlier price
10. Swimming Pools – An Alluring but Costly Option
Pools can be a tempting upgrade to consider, but they’ve skyrocketed in cost recently. In fact, many builders have stopped offering them due to their long lead times.
While it might be tempting to have a sparkling new pool ready for your move-in photoshoot, it’s a design center option you should definitely avoid.
Remember, all builder add-ons factor into your taxes, and a pool is a major one. Plus, builder margins can add thousands to the final cost.
There are reputable pool builders in your area that can do the job post-closing. Just ask some well-established real estate agents for recommendations, get three bids, and you’ll be swimming in the savings.
Pro Tip: Check if your builder provides a pool pre-wire option. This can cut down future costs when you decide to add a pool.
11. Shine a Light on Personalization Skip Builder’s Lighting
Here’s the thing – I’m a big believer in personalizing your home to make it uniquely yours. And light fixtures? They’re a key player in defining your home’s overall design style.
It’s unlikely the builder’s options will truly capture your personal taste. Plus, their options often tend to be too matchy-matchy.
If you’re aiming for a space that looks expertly curated, I’ve got your back.
Trust me, and all interior design enthusiasts out there, skip this design center option – your unique style will thank you.
12. The Stone-Cold Truth About Natural Stone Countertops Selection
Selecting natural stone countertops at the design center is a gamble!
If you adore natural stones like marble, quartzite, or granite, you may be disappointed to find the builder’s design center very quartz-heavy. Natural stone countertops are limited.
Natural stone is pricier and has high variations, meaning the stone sample you see in the design studio may look completely different than what gets installed in your kitchen.
That’s Mother Nature’s way!
This leads to customer dissatisfaction, therefore builders shy away from it: leaning heavily on man-made quartz options.
However, if your heart is set on natural stone, consider this alternative path.
- Request your cabinet diagrams to gauge the exact amount of countertop material needed.
- Explore well-known countertop retailers such as Lowe’s or Home Depot and ask for their stone yard locations.
- Take a trip to the yard and handpick your perfect slab. In my opinion, this is the only way to make a natural stone countertop selection. This hands-on approach allows you to choose a piece that genuinely speaks to your style and aligns with your vision for your new home.
- Secure a comprehensive quote that includes all costs: countertop removal, slab fabrication, new countertop slab purchase, countertop installation, and any necessary plumbing adjustments.
13. Choosing Wall Textures: What’s Worth It?
In the realm of wall textures, choices like knockdown, orange peel, skip trowel, and smooth are typically presented.
However, my advice is straightforward: save your design budget and opt for the orange peel texture upgrade and stop.
From a distance, orange peel appears smooth, and up close, it mimics the skin of an orange – a subtle texture that’s suitable for wallpaper application and easy to paint over.
I’ve sold hundreds of homes, some with price tags well into the millions, all featuring orange peel wall texture, and not once have I heard a complaint from a potential buyer.
Unless a smooth texture is a non-negotiable item on your original design wish list, I recommend sticking with orange peel.
Paying additional for smooth wall texture is a design center upgrade to avoid.
14. Custom closet system
Undeniably, custom closets can put a dent in your wallet, whether you choose to go through your builder or opt for a custom closet company after closing.
Closet systems, much like any other design center upgrade, come in a range of prices and sophistication.
From the Container Store to Ikea, and even Home Depot, there are numerous options that can offer great functionality without the premium price tag.
Remember, builders are in the business of making a profit, and they will likely add a markup to your closet costs. It’s worth exploring alternatives to ensure you’re getting the best value for your investment.
Pro tip- Carpenters can give some of these closet companies a run for their money, be sure to get a quote from a carpenter too.
15. Appliance Upgrades: Builder’s Deal or Retail Steal?
The appliance is an area where research is key. Check what’s included as standard by your builder, and compare the appliance retail cost of your desired upgrades.
This way, you can gauge if the builder’s pricing is fair.
For instance, if the standard top load washer and dryer set included with your home retails for $1,000, and you fancy the front load, the builder upgrade cost is $800 and they retail at $1,500.
At first glance, it might seem like a fair deal, but take a closer look. Your included washer and dryer is worth $1000, retail is $1500 that’s a $500 difference. If the builder is charging you $800 your losing $300.
In such scenarios, it could be more cost-effective to stick with the standard appliances and later sell or gift them.
Then, purchase your preferred appliances separately.
Upgrades to consider when building a new home
- Gourmet Kitchen (structural)
- Shower Wall Tiles
- Stair Railing
- Recessed Lighting and Electrical Pre-wires
- Undercabinet Lighting
- Flat Screen TV Wall Mount and Pre Wires
- Wifi Network Extender
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
We’ve unearthed industry secrets, considered diverse design elements, and listed 15 design center upgrades to avoid.
But as we’ve learned, there’s a depth to this topic that extends far beyond what we could cover in this post.
I plan to explore these in a future comprehensive new home designer center guide.
All of the advice shared comes with a caveat, acknowledging the roles of personal taste, standard features, retail costs, and your builder’s policies and protocol.
My hope is that this journey has prompted you to recognize the importance of being prepared, doing your homework, and ensuring consensus among all decision-makers.
Your home is likely the most significant investment you’ll ever make. It deserves your undivided time and attention.
Take the time to understand your design style. Use tools like Pinterest to create a mood board. This will help your assigned design consultant understand your taste and vision, which will be invaluable in crafting your dream home.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your sales consultant and neighbors for advice on outside contractors like painters, handymen, and of course, talented and reasonably priced carpenters.
These professionals can become a valuable part of your home-building journey, helping to bring your vision to life.
In the end, I have no doubt that you’ll breeze through your new build journey.
With the right preparation, a clear understanding of your style, and armed with the knowledge shared in this guide, you’re now equipped to navigate your home design center experience successfully.
Drop down in the comment section and share your favorite design center upgrades to avoid.
Here’s to the enjoyment of building—and living in—your dream home.