Design Center New Home Construction Upgrades

10 Tips for Selecting and Budgeting for Upgrades

When the time comes, you will likely be visiting your builder’s design centre to make your structural and design selections. The design centre is lovely, there will be lots of pretty things to look at and it’s really easy to get carried away looking at all the beautiful samples. 

It can also be incredibly overwhelming. 

You will be asked to make a lot of decisions, usually on the spot. You will likely get tired, grumpy, and you might even end up forgetting what decisions you made (only to be surprised when you walk in you home for the first time).

Here's the best tips for staying sane, focused and on-budget when making selections and choosing upgrades but first let's discuss what role your Realtor plays.


Changes to the specs after the contract signing require additional paperwork. Usually the builder has standard forms. If not, the buyer should work with their Realtor or an attorney to write a contract addendum. Both the buyer and the builder must sign off on it.

Options, Upgrades, and Change Orders

It is a common practice, even with spec builders, to give buyers an opportunity to make choices such as floor and wall finishes, counter tops, appliances, and similar details. The purchase often includes a free design consultation to help the buyer make choices. Although the consultation may be free, the design center staff usually works on commission and may try to upsell features.

  • During the initial meeting with the sales representative, your Realtor will find out about design consultation and payment policies for options and upgrades so there are no surprises. Even a "free" upgrade package may require a substantial deposit or prepayment. Everything has a cost and, since options and upgrades involve individual tastes and special orders, the builder doesn't want to be left with materials and choices that can't be undone if the transaction doesn't close or the buyer has a change of mind. In addition to an earnest money deposit, the buyer may be required to pay up front even for included upgrades.


Keep an Eye on Upgrade Costs

It's easy for a buyer to get carried away with upgrades. You should know that too many upgrades can raise the price of a new home above appraised value compared to sales prices of comparable homes. Unique custom homes can present an even more challenging appraisal situation if there are no comparable properties. The builder isn't responsible for the home value and a lender won't approve a loan for more than appraised value. Your Realtor will assist you so you won't be forced to make the choice to forgo upgrades that will increase the price beyond appraised value or to bring more money to closing.

Of course, personal taste, enjoyment, and pride of ownership rank high as criteria for choosing upgrades. Be aware that not every upgrade translates to future resale value or impacts appraised value. For example, an appraiser will note granite countertops, but usually won't adjust for the quality grade—1 to 4—of the stone.

Providing information on sales and resales of comparable properties can help you manage upgrade costs. Your Realtor can help you make value-adding choices and accept that what's of value to the buyer may not reflect in the appraisal.

Now for tips at design center.

1 – Do Your Own Research

I’m not trying to suggest that you builder is try to rip you off, but I do think it’s worthwhile to do some research and price comparisons. If the price for an upgraded bathroom vanity is way more than what you would pay for one at a store, it might be worthwhile to wait and replace it later. 

On that note: don’t forget to consider the labour costs when comparing prices!

Before Your Design Appointment:

    • Walk some of the builder’s homes to see the types of materials used for cabinets, flooring, tile, etc. This will give you a better idea of what to expect at your design appointment.
    • Find out what brand of appliances the builder uses so you have a chance to review appliances Online. Most builders only show a few sets of appliances in their design studio and not everything they offer. Most builders are able to give you a better price than you could get yourself, even if you find a sale. However, don’t expect the builder to match a bargain basement or closeout price that you find Online.
    • It’s a great idea to drive through neighborhoods to see the exteriors of other houses that the builder has built. McKee Homes offers an Interactive Design App that allows you to choose a floor plan and play with the exterior color schemes for vinyl siding or James Hardie Color Plus cement board (per neighborhood).
    • Most builders offer several interior paint colors. Find out what the builder offers before the appointment so you can pull color swatches and put them against your furniture. This will help you decide on the best color beforehand as you will have a lot on your mind with many decisions to make during the selections meeting.



new home selections kitchen ideas

2 – Collect Inspiration Images

Making your design selections is essentially designing your home. Instead of walking into the design centre with no idea what you like, it’s helpful for both you (and them) if you have some ideas to work with.

Pinterest and Houzz make this really easy – create a board/idea book and save images that you like. Pay special attention to the flooring, kitchens, and bathrooms – as this will be where you make the majority of your selections. 

After you’ve saved a bunch of pictures, look for patterns. Make a inspiration board.

3 – Create A List Of All Upgrades You’re Considering

If your builder gives you a list of optional upgrades that’s great, if they don’t, you can still make your own. Look at your floor plan and think about each room, how you will use it and what you would like them to have.

Do you want crown molding above your kitchen cabinets?
Do you want a larger shower instead of a bathtub?
Do you need an outlet outside for holiday decorations?
How about air conditioning?

Write down everything you can think of and decide if they are “must-haves” or just “nice-to-haves”.

4 – Get Prices In Advance

Get the design consultants phone number or email address So before making your stage 1 selections send the list of all the things on your “structural” wish list and ask for pricing.

5 – Don’t Be Limited To What The Builder Offers

Your builder’s design centre will have lots of samples for you to look at, but what if you don’t like any of the options? Before you select something you don’t love, see if they can source something else. 



Sometimes the answer will be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask – right?

6 – Embrace Spreadsheets

Yup, spreadsheets are key. Google Sheets you can create a shared spreadsheet everyone can view and edit.

7 – If You Have A Tight Budget, Pick Your Upgrades Strategically

If you have to be strategic about your upgrade budget, I suggest investing in the structure before the design. You can always make it look pretty later but moving a wall or rearranging a bathroom is easier and cheaper if you do it while the house is being built.

8 – Aim To Have Two Separate Design Appointments, One To Look And One To Decide

If possible, try to make at least two appointments for making your design selections. On your first appointment do not make any decisions, just try to collect as much information as you can. Look at all the options, write down names and pricing and take photos of the stuff you like.

You may find that your builder doesn’t offer anything that matches your design inspiration (or maybe they do, but it’s outside your budget). Don’t make a rushed decision. Go home, regroup and search for new inspiration with your available options in mind. 

Make all your decisions in a second appointment after you’ve had a chance to think about everything you looked at. 

During Meeting Tips:

    • Remember that carpet padding is more important than the actual carpet. Upgrading your carpet padding is an inexpensive way to have your carpet last longer and feel softer.
    • Upgrading a kitchen backsplash with tile is often an inexpensive way to dress up your kitchen.
    • Remember that it’s less expensive to upgrade during the building process than to remodel later. Plus, it’s less hassle as remodeling can be disruptive, noisy and messy once you are living in the house. Think about adding hardwoods or laminates to living areas and tile in wet areas.
    • Don’t forget the little things like cabinet hardware. Adding your own hardware takes a lot of time and precision. Going through the builder is normally less expensive than buying the hardware at a retail shop and paying someone to install it. Another good reason to have the builder install the hardware is liability. If you install your own cabinet hardware, or hire a handyman to do it, and the cabinets are damaged, it is up to you to have them repaired.
    • If you made any other finish upgrades during the design appointment, make sure to upgrade your cabinet hardware to match.



9 – Document Everything

Once you’ve made your selections, your builder should provide you with a document that lists them all, usually as an amendment to your purchase agreement. While this is important for keeping track of your costs, it doesn’t necessarily go into a great level of detail.

Having photos of the different selections you made (especially cabinet doors, flooring, countertops and tile) means you won’t be surprised if you get delayed a few months and forget what “Reeds Brown 13” looks like.

Take notes, take photos, double check all your selections are correct when you do your inspection. Your Realtor can be a great help here opening up chances for futher negotiation if something isn't done correctly.

10 – Before Leaving:

Make sure you feel 100% satisfied with your new home selections before you leave your design appointment because many items for your house such as exterior and cabinets are ordered before construction even begins to make sure the home is completed on time. Changing selections while your home is being built can cause delays in construction and result in additional costs.

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