For one reason or another, sometimes buyers purchasing new homes may need to skip an in-person session in their builder’s design center. That may seem daunting, but many new home purchasers make their choices for optional features without a hands-on experience because they buy homes long-distance. Thankfully, with the help of professional photos, interactive tools and design center experts, it’s possible to feel confident in your choices without physically entering the design center.
Information Gathering Phase
Before you’re ready to make decisions about paint colors and flooring options, you’ll need to take the time to establish your budget and understand your builder’s process. Most buyers wrap optional choices into their mortgage but remember that the amount you can spend above the base price of your home is limited by the maximum amount you can borrow and the appraised value of the completed home. For example, if you qualify for a $300,000 loan and the base price of the home you’re buying is $250,000, in theory you’ll have $50,000 to spend on options. However, $50,000 in options on a $250,000 home may not equal $50,000 in appraised value. It’s important to be careful with your optional choices so they are in line with neighborhood values.
Be sure to discuss this with your lender and your builder because in some cases, you may be required to pay for upgrades and options in cash rather than through your financing. Your builder may not want to take on the risk of completing a home with too many upgrades just in case your loan falls through.
Paying in cash for upgrades may be desirable since you can avoid interest charges. Just make sure you have a robust emergency savings account and a move-in budget for your new home.
One more possibility for paying for some upgrades is an incentive from your builder. Be sure to ask if there are any options that may be included, such as if you work with the builder’s lender and title company.
A final step before you jump into design center choices is to decide on structural upgrades such as extra windows, a finished lower level, a room extension or an exterior upgrade. Those choices typically must be made well before you make interior finish choices and could consume a large part of your options budget.
While you’ll want to explore your personal design aesthetic, you’ll need to find out from your builder how much personalizing you can do. For many builders, you’ll have a choice between a few packages for your kitchen, bathroom, lighting and flooring. Others will offer you a broader range of upgrade options that may be categorized as a level one, two or three at different price points. You may even be working with a builder who offers dozens of ways to personalize every feature in your home.
Depending on how your builder presents these options, making choices can be easier or more challenging. You can use tech tools such as an interactive website, virtual reality, photos and a video chat with a design center professional to work through your choices.
Gather Your Ideas
While you may already have strong opinions about home design, looking at sites such as Houzz and Pinterest — along with design magazines — can help you pinpoint your own style. Bookmarking pages, emailing links or printing photos can help you keep track of what you like so you don’t get overwhelmed once you begin to work with a design professional. Remember, you may not necessarily be able to choose every feature in your new home, and your builder may offer you a finite set of options rather than every product on your wish list.
Before you schedule a virtual appointment with your design center, spend time on your builder’s site to look at the details in the photos of homes to identify the elements you prefer. If the site has virtual reality or interactive software to try out various looks, experiment with those ahead of your meeting so you have a feel for how it works and what you like.
Most new home buyers have a vision of their completed home. An important part of the process of a new construction is to match your budget with that vision and determine your priorities. You’ll need to decide what upgrades are the most important to you and prioritize those that are simpler to do during construction rather than to change later. For example, items that have a big impact such as the flooring and the kitchen cabinets can be more costly to upgrade in the future compared to paint colors and drawer pulls.
Work With Your Design Center Team
For many new home buyers, choosing options requires more than one session with a designer. It may take less time if you have fewer choices to make or if you are certain about what you want in your new home. Set up an initial consultation with your design center, preferably by video conferencing so you can share a screen and look at items together.
Discuss your options for the video chat to make sure you’re comfortable with the technology. Whether you’re using Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts or Join.me, try out your software before the meeting so you don’t waste time.
Set aside a quiet place and time for the meeting, preferably with your buying partner, so you can concentrate. Make sure your laptop is charged, get comfortable and be ready to take notes during the meeting so you can follow up on questions. If you’ve been on video conferences before, you may have noticed that the picture quality isn’t always ideal. Work with your design professional to make sure the lighting is good so you can see colors and products from the design center. Make sure your screen’s brightness is optimized so you can see as clearly as possible.
Some of the important questions to discuss during that first meeting include:
- What is the timeline for making choices?
- Can I see a price sheet for each of my choices? Or are options bundled?
- Can you send me samples of any of the products, such as a color swatch of paint choices or a carpet or flooring sample?
- What brands of appliances do you offer?
Once you’ve established the basics, you and your design center professional can begin to narrow your choices. Ask the professional for advice about which colors and finishes work well together. The professionals can tell you about the comparative quality of different products. They should be able to video chat with you and show you samples of a kitchen cabinet, counter, backsplash and paint chip so you can see them together.
There are also online sources you can use to compare finishes and products. For example if your builder uses Sherwin Williams paint, the company has an online color visualizer to help you make paint choices. Once you know which brands your builder offers, you can go directly to product sites, look for reviews and compare options. Remember that your builder makes bulk purchases, so you’ll need to rely on the builders’ prices rather retail prices.
Once you and your design professional have met virtually once or twice, you should ask for a written confirmation of your choices to make sure you fully understand how much you’re spending. Go over the price information carefully and ask for more advice before you make your final decisions.
Most important: don’t overthink your choices. Any new home will have features and finishes that match today’s trends. After all, if you liked what you saw online and in the model home, you’re likely to be content with your final purchase, too.
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.