When choosing which builder upgrades you should apply when building your dream home, the most important thing to consider is your budget. You will likely have limitations on what you can afford, and that should be the most important factor which choosing which upgrades to go for.
Once you know what your total budget is (price for base model of home, plus upgrades = your total budget), the next step is to list out all the things you want. That list should be prioritized.
One mistake many new home owners make is they get pulled in to all the flash in the model homes presented to them. Model homes are there to sell you the house, and as such, they will be equipped with many of the options possible. Many of those options are fairly expensive when done by the builder (in fact this is where most of their profit margins come in). What you should do as a owner, is take note of all the cool stuff you like, and then prioritize what needs to be done by the builder for Day 1, and what are things you can do yourself later.
For starters, you are reading my Home Decor DIY blog. So you can see many of the DIY projects that are possible after your home has been built.
On the other hand, there are many things that would just be too expensive or destructive to do later on, once you home is built. These are still possible, but you will be paying a lot more for it, not to mention they are more involved.
Below are my recommendations on builder upgrades that are available when building your dream home, and how they should be prioritized.
Structural Builder Upgrades You Should Do
Structural upgrades are the most costly to do after the fact, but are usually the cheapest to get via your builder - since its less work generally while the house is building.
Examples of recommended structural upgrades are the following:
Add Extra Rooms
Builders will often give an option for an extra room - whether its a bonus room, a loft, extra garage, or a sunroom. If any of these are a must have for you, then I highly recommend getting this. It not only increases the square footage of your house, meaning it’s valuable when you sell in the future, it’s easier and cheaper to do it from the start.
Upgrade Baseboards, Crown, and Trim Moldings
Each wall in your home will be surrounded by Base Moldings to help transition from the flooring to the wall. Your base model will come with a standard height. Likewise, your home may or may not have Crown Moldings to transition from the wall to the ceiling. Crowns are usually optional, and often the second floor won’t have them. If you have the budget, this is one of the best areas to upgrade. It will significantly elevate the look of your home, giving it that extra richness. It provides warmth and makes your home look structurally stronger (decorative only). Upgrade options range from adding a crown where they don’t exist, to increasing the size of the base and crown moldings. Depending on your budget, add these and go with the larger sizes available.
Add Ceiling Fan Mounts
Getting ceiling fan and light fixtures from the builder is often expensive. And I recommend you purchase the fixtures yourself from other retailers. However, a ceiling fan mount in each room is critical to get from the builder. When you have this installed by the builder, they will install extra studs in the ceiling where the fan will be mounted, and mount a ceiling fan box to that. Try to do this one after the fact is difficult, as it will require you to have ceiling/roof access, as well as running the risk of the studs not being where you want them to be which will impact fan stability.
Add Flat Panel TV Mount and Conduits
Everyone has a flat panel TV in their living room. What the Flat Panel TV Mount gives you is extra studs in the wall where your TV will be mounted so that the TV Mount has support where it will be bolted to the wall. Not only that, the flat panel TV mount packages usually come with an outlet at that location, which allows you to easily hide the cables.
Depending on where you plan to keep your cable TV boxes, BluRay players, etc, this is also a good time to ask the builder to install a conduit to below the TV or even to a side room. You can then feed those cables through the conduit, and keep those devices hidden from view.
Upgrade Kitchen Countertops
The kitchen is the highlight of any home. This is where you spend most of the time during the day and is alongside the living room in many open home plans. The counter tops should be upgraded from the base. If the base is laminate, then upgrading to granite or quartz will add significant value to your home. Both Granite and Quartz are great options - Granite being a natural porous stone, while Quartz is manmade. Quartz is usually more expensive than granite, but since it is not porous, quartz will last longer than granite.
Upgrade Carpet Padding
Carpet Padding is what makes your carpet feel soft when walking on it. New buyers tend to look more at the carpet and end up upgrading that. But its really the padding that makes the carpet feel softer and last longer. Upgrade the padding first, and if you still have budget left, then you can look at different carpet options.
Non Structural Builder Upgrades You Should Do
Other builder upgrades you should have the builder install are things that aren’t necessarily structural, but would be a pain to install yourself.
Add Underground Conduits
Underground conduits (pipes buried under your footpaths and driveways) are easiest when buried before the concrete is poured. These become useful later when you want to install DIY landscape lighting or transition sprinkler lines across these paths.
If the builder doesn’t allow you to do this, you can still do it yourself by pushing a pipe through the dirt under the footpath, but its just a lot of work, and really shouldn’t cost anything for the builder to just drop a pipe before the concrete is poured.
Add TV Conduits
As mentioned above, have the builder install a conduit in the walls for you to thread cables through. In my home, I installed a conduit between the TV location and a side wall. My HDMI cable and ethernet cable then thread through this conduit into the parallel room where it gets plugged into the appropriate devices. This allows me to keep my Apple TV box hidden from view.
I also had a conduit installed that goes from the attic down to the basement. This allowed my to install my own Antenna in the attic, and then feed the coax cable to my equipment in the basement, allowing me to watch TV for free.
Add Wired Ethernet
At last count, I had over 50 internet connected devices in my home. Installing a wired ethernet network in your home allows devices such as your TV, desktop computers, and other stationary devices to be hardwired into your network, giving them the best speeds and freeing up your wifi for your mobile roaming devices.
Along with ethernet ports in the rooms you need them, you can have ethernet cables sent to various locations where you want to install a Wifi Access Point. This will allow your access points to have a strong network and then broadcast that across your home, maximizing your wifi strength.
Add Extra Power Outlets
Think about the location of power outlets, and look at adding a few special ones. We added outlets above each section of kitchen cabinets, to allow us to easily do our own DIY Under Cabinet Lighting.
We also added power outlets on the floor in the living room where we will eventually place a table with lamps that can be powered from the floor outlet - hence making sure wires do not stretch across the floor.
If you want to install a DIY drawer outlet in your bathroom drawer, then a good idea is to have the builder install an outlet behind where the cabinets are going. Then once your home is built, you can drill your own hole into the back of the cabinets to expose the outlet and plug your hairdryer/straighteners into while keeping them in the drawer.
Lastly, if you are considering getting an electric car such as a Tesla at some point, then you will want to install a 240V outlet in your garage to be able to charge quickly.
Builder Upgrades To Avoid or Delay
Well, that was my top 10 builder upgrades you must do, but really who can stop at 10. Here are a few more upgrades you should do, but avoid getting these builder upgrades from the builder.
Avoid Backsplash Upgrades
Our builder provided a variety of options for the kitchen backsplash. However, none of them were really to our liking. An option you have here is to ask the builder to not install one if you don’t like what they have to offer. They probably will not discount you anything, but at least you don’t need to upgrade to something you still don’t really like. We then purchased our own backsplash tiles from Home and Decor and had it installed by a tiler. The total cost was actually on par with what an upgraded backsplash would have cost, so definitely do your research on this.
Delay Covered Decks
An option provided by our builder was to have a covered deck which would have run us about $8,000. Although it is something I want to have, it was an area we decided to not get done by the builder, mainly because its something that is relatively easy to do later, and a price not too much higher than what they were offering us. Our long term plan is to cover our existing deck, and then extend the deck some more, but we want to wait and incorporate the design with our whole outdoor living concept. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and use the deck, it is probably one of those major items you can push to later when your budget better allows for it.
Delay Rocker Switches
I highly recommend Rocker Switches if you can afford it. They look a lot better than the standard flip switches, but builders will often charge significantly more per switch for this upgrade. If you are mildly capable, it’s not that hard to install rocker switches yourself. It will just take a bunch of time if you have over 100 switches like we do in our house.
If however, you are planning to switch some of the switches to smart switches like the iDevices wall switch then you may want to save you money to spend on those rather than paying the builder for rocker switches you plan to replace anyway.
Avoid Four Side Brick
Four side brick is highly attractive, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really add much value to your house. If the other homes in your neighborhood are all 3 side brick, then you will be paying significantly more and will not be reflected in your sale price when you sell in the future. Save your money on more impactful upgrades.
Avoid Builder Paint
Dont get sucked into upgrading the paint offered by the builders. Builders will often employ cheap painters, and use lower grade paints. Save your money, and either paint the house yourself using better paint, or pay someone yourself to do it.
Avoid Landscaping Upgrades
Builders will try to sell you on landscaping upgrades - from designer plants, to landscape lighting. Don’t get these from the builders as the plant quality will be the cheap stuff, and probably not to your liking anyway. And they will charge a fortune for landscape lighting. Check out my easy DIY Outdoor Landscape Lighting guide on how you can do your own outdoor lighting easily and inexpensively.
Avoid Lighting Upgrades
Don’t get the upgraded lighting packages from the builder. They are still very standard, and you can get much cheaper lighting yourself from one of the many lighting or home decor stores. They are also super easy to install. However, if you want Can Lights in certain areas of your home, those are worth having the builder install as it can get difficult to DIY can lights later.