Devotees of HGTV are familiar with the pattern: A tired home in need of renovation gets a makeover that nearly always involves a sledgehammer breaking through the drywall to open the space. While it’s always fun to see the end result, these shows aren’t always relevant to the needs of buyers of newly built homes. After all, new homes have floor plans that appeal to today’s buyers with open rooms, big windows and plenty of light. The challenge faced by new home buyers is more likely to be about what to add to the blank slate of their new home rather than which features to remove.
Now, HGTV and Pardee Homes, headquartered in Pasadena, California, have partnered to film Rock the Block, a design competition show that for the first time focuses on new construction. The competition between four home renovation and design professionals revolves around who can add the most property value to one of four identical model homes in the Arista neighborhood of the Aliento community in Santa Clarita, California.
“When HGTV approached us, we loved the idea, but we had to identify a street where we could build four identical floor plans near each other,” says Lyndsay Fuller, director of sales and marketing for Pardee Homes in Los Angeles. “We usually mix floor plans for an interesting streetscape, but we built these with different models in between. We also knew that part of the challenge would include addressing the exterior of the homes so they wouldn’t all look the same.”
Splurge or Save: Lessons Learned From Design Pros
Every buyer has a budget that influences how much money they can spend on fixtures, finishes and upgrades. On Rock the Block, each designer has a budget of $175,000, an amount that Fuller acknowledges is “extravagant” compared to what most buyers spend. Each 2,530-square-foot home has three or four bedrooms, two and a half or three bathrooms and a two-car garage, with a base price of $750,000.
The four competing designers on the show are Jasmine Roth, Huntington Beach, California-based host of HGTV’s Hidden Potential; Mina Starsiak Hawk, Indianapolis-based host of HGTV’s Good Bones; Leanne Ford, Pittsburgh-based co-host of HGTV’s Restored by the Fords; and Alison Victoria, Chicago-based host of HGTV’s Windy City Rehab. The competition included redesigning the master bathroom, the kitchen, the great room and then, in the final episode, completing the rest of the house and the exterior. Independent appraisers evaluated the finished home prices to determine a final winner.
“When you’ve just bought a new home, it can be hard to stomach spending more money on it,” Roth says. “I decided from the beginning to save money on other parts of the project so I could spend more to up the home’s curb appeal.”
Hawk focused on increasing the overall appraised value of the home by adding living space. For buyers of newly built homes, she says splurging on extra living space can be the smartest use of their budget.
“I researched the neighborhood and learned that mostly young families live in that area, so I knew that creating a family home with an office, an extra bedroom and an extra bathroom would likely add the most value to the property,” she says.
Structural options are an important part of buyers’ budgets, says Fuller, since making structural changes can be difficult to do later.
“For example, adding a stackable sliding door in the great room can be a good way to spend more in the beginning of your purchase rather than to retrofit this later on,” she says.
Fuller recommends that buyers step back from the excitement of designing their new home to think about which elements are most important to them.
“Most builders put in really nice granite kitchen counters, but it can be relatively inexpensive to upgrade the counter and finance that upgrade into a 30-year loan,” she says. “Another great way to stay on budget is to choose luxury vinyl planks for floors like Mina and Alison did on the show. It looks like wood, is budget-friendly and it’s 100 percent water-friendly.”
A solid hardwood floor can cost $15 per square foot, while enhanced vinyl plank flooring that looks as good and is easier to maintain can cost as little as $4 per square foot, says Hawk.
Another place Fuller suggests saving money is on a bathroom used by children.
“Kids won’t take as good care of the bathroom and your guests probably won’t use that bathroom, either,” she says.
Roth suggests that buyers focus on interior and exterior paint upgrades, which can make a big difference in the look of a new home without costing too much.
“It’s smart to keep the original cabinets and counters if you like them because new homes have such great features,” Roth says. “In the kitchen, it can be tempting to bring in professional-level appliances, but the new appliances already there are usually good. That’s something you can save on now and replace in the future.”
Kitchens and bathrooms are the tried-and-true areas of a house to make improvements, says Hawk, but she says in a newly built home you don’t usually need to make a major investment in those spaces.
One factor to keep in mind when deciding where or whether to splurge, says Hawk, is whether this is your “forever” home or one you plan to live in for only a few years.
If it’s your forever home, it may be OK to splurge on a sauna in the master bathroom, she adds.
“In the master bedroom on Rock the Block, there are windows on either side of the bed, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money in that room,” Roth says. “I purchased the least expensive roller shades I could find and then tacked small pieces of wood over the top of the shade. It looked like these were custom window treatments, but I only spent about $10 per window.”
New Home Design Tips From the Pros
For novice homebuyers, the design center can be exciting and intimidating.
“I think buyers sometimes do too little to their new home because they’re scared or they do too much because they love everything they see in the design center,” Hawk says. “It’s smart to choose the paint color you want from the beginning and to choose the flooring you like, but other projects and changes can be done more slowly for good balance.”
In her home on Rock the Block, Hawk made a big statement with a herringbone-patterned enhanced vinyl plank floor in the kitchen.
“You need to figure out one or two things you love, the things that will be the big draw in your house and then keep everything else simple,” she says.
Hawk also recommends avoiding trendy items unless they’re easily replaceable things such as cabinet hardware or peel-and-stick wallpaper.
“Tiling an entire wall in this year’s hot color is a lot harder to undo when it’s not in anymore,” she says.
And according to Roth, simple changes can make a newly built home feel like a custom-designed one.
“Adding an eye-catching new hood and moving the microwave can make a new kitchen look like a custom-designed kitchen even if you don’t change anything else,” she says. “Another custom touch is to change the hardware on your kitchen cabinets. It’s a simple job as long as you buy the same size hardware. I love to find interesting options at World Market, Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware.”
In the bathroom, Roth suggests swapping out the mirrors for something with a little extra style.
While newly built homes typically require far less maintenance than an older home, Hawk says buyers might want to think about maintenance issues when making design choices.
“In the Rock the Block show, I put in big slabs of quartz for the shower walls because they make a statement but also because over the long term, they have less seams and grout to take care of,” she says. “Quartz counters are also easier to maintain.”
Fuller says that viewers of Rock the Block, even if they don’t have as big a budget to spend, can see how the designers chose to divide their funds between various features of the home.
“I think the big lesson from the Rock the Block show is that homeowners should be encouraged to try new ideas and to be different,” Roth says. “I was surprised at how each house was so different from the neighboring houses.”
After the final episode aired, Pardee Homes planned to open all four show homes November 16 for a “Rockin’ Reveal Party.” All four homes will be available to buyers. In addition to the features and finishes available from Pardee Homes’ design studio, buyers will be able to choose from eight “Get the Look Packages,” which include four bathroom designs and four kitchen designs, one from each designer. For more photos, visit HGTV’s Rock the Block page.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.