10 tips for selecting builder options

After going through the selections process now twice, I’ve learned a lot.  Here are my 10 tips for selecting builder options.  The most important tip I can give anyone is to do the math.  The internet is a powerful tool friends – use it!  Research costs and get [free] quotes and find out exactly how much your builder is overcharging you.  For more info on the options we did pick, see this post.


1. DO get recessed lighting. Our first house we were trying to save money and we didn’t add any recessed lights.  As a result, 5 years later we still had the huge ugly fluorescent light in the kitchen because we needed it to properly give off enough light. Every day I cursed that ugly light. Every day I regretted not spending $500 to get some recessed lights installed.  Our new house only came with 4.  So we did what anyone who had been light-deprived would do. We added 11 more. 4 in the great room. 4 in the eat-in kitchen and 3 additional lights in the kitchen.  We also added recessed lights to the guest baths over the showers because they didn’t come with any and the vanity lights wouldn’t be enough especially for a night-time shower (think curtain closed).

Chances are your builder installed way more lights in the model than come standard. And unless you want to live in a dungeon, you’re going to have to upgrade.  And it is so much easier/cheaper to add wiring/fixtures before drywall.  


2. Don’t upgrade light fixtures. It’s not worth it. Even if you love the fixture the builder offers, chances are you can find and buy the exact fixture for $50-75 cheaper.  Our builder offered this light.  All of the model homes used it for island pendants and ya, it looked decent (but wasn’t really my taste).  The builder wanted $350 for it.  It didn’t take much research to find the light and realize they were charging a significant amount more.  My husband has installed several ceiling fans and light fixtures now and while I wouldn’t say it’s easy at all, it can be done probably in less than an hour.  You would’t believe how many homes I’ve walked into in our neighborhood that chose to get those lights over their island. It baffles me.

In the dining room we even downgraded from a 5 light chandelier to a single light pendant because I knew I did not like the chandelier they offered. By downgrading we picked $60 back up which isn’t a lot and won’t do much to pay for this light of my dreams but hey, every little bit helps.

3. Don’t upgrade carpet. Unless you really love carpet. In my experience, all carpets suck.  They get stained and smelly no matter how much money you pay. I know our end dream would be to have killer hardwoods throughout the whole house (or maybe at least some laminate or LVT). So why would I pay to upgrade the carpet I’m going to be ripping out anyway?

4. Do consider storage.  In our first house our guest room and loft eventually became mostly unusable because we had to store our suitcases, decorations, rock n play, car seats, outgrown baby clothes, pack n play and all other baby accoutrement there. Our first builder home came with a teeny attic that housed our HVAC unit. There wasn’t much space for anything else and that’s pretty common in builder homes.  My parents have a basement full of storage. My in-laws 2nd story is full of storage. I knew we were going to need SPACE.  So we opted to go for the unfinished 3rd floor.  Other folks like basements – not me but to each their own.  If either of these is not an option you either need to be one of those people that doesn’t accumulate stuff (if you have a child and can still do this TEACH ME YOUR WAYS) or you need to pick another area of your house to use for storage.  That means you won’t be able to use that room/closet for other stuff/living so keep that in mind!

5. Do pick the structural changes.  Because you can’t do it in the future cheaper.  If you want it, get it now.  If you think you might want it in 10 years, get it now.  It’ll never be this cheap to change the structure of your home. Period.

6. Don’t add trim work or built-ins. Crown molding, wainscoting, dropzone/mudroom benches, built-ins, etc. They will charge a fortune.  For nice crown molding in 1 room of our house they wanted $400. You can do it yourself or you can likely hire someone to do a custom job for you for cheaper than the builder wants. Our builder wanted $10k for the built-in cabinets on either side of the fireplace 😳

7. Don’t add a deck. This one goes back to do the math. For us, it wasn’t going to be cheaper to have the builder add the deck and the deck is the one thing that you can do later that does not depend on anything else. It doesn’t matter what flooring you pick out, lighting, structural selections, etc.

The other thing to consider is the size of the deck. The deck the builder offered was too small. We knew we’d want space for a small table AND our grill if we built a deck and the size offered would not accommodate that.

The only reason to consider adding a deck as an option would be if your house is tall in the back because it’s more difficult and expensive to build it yourself.  Chances are your builder gives one price for the deck. And the decks that almost touch the ground are the same price as the ones that have a full staircase off of them.

8. Add double vanities. Because your builder designed the bathroom that way and if you don’t opt to add the double vanity you get a single vanity that looks lonely. True story.

9. Don’t upgrade appliances. Unless they don’t include stainless…then I would say maybe. The base stainless package they provide will be fine. These days all appliances are made to fail within a few years and whether you get a slightly nicer oven probably won’t change the expiration date.  The baseline appliances in our first home served us well. I would have loved to not upgrade the appliances in our new home but that was not an option since we wanted the vent hood. We had to pay over 3k for a nicer oven and dishwasher only. For that kind of money I could’ve gotten 2 ovens but nope, I’m only getting one. Where is all that money going? Into my builder’s pocket, no doubt.

Seriously expensive oven.  Better make my food for me.

10. Ask questions. 9 times out of ten the answer is “No, we can’t do that.”  This is about the time you are pulling your hair out and wishing you had paid a fortune more and gotten a custom floor plan and builder.  But it never hurts to ask.  I sent the design consultant about a hundred emails – “Can I not get flooring at all and put in my own?  Can I get a different countertop for the island?  Can I pick out my granite slab?”  You never know what they’ll allow unless you ask.  If I hadn’t have asked, I would not have gotten the refrigerator cabinet I wanted with the stacked cabinets. They originally said it wasn’t possible but since I asked they checked with the cabinet maker and found out he could do it.

No ugly black fridge walls in my all white kitchen!


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