Buying your first new home is a dream come true. But it’s the follow-up trips to your builders design center that can really fashion that structure to more perfectly suit your family’s needs, match your vision, and turn that house into your home. These builder showroom visits are super exciting; homeowners get to personalize their new home and take an active role in deciding on the design.
Home to an almost endless supply of paint colors, granite patterns, cabinet styles and more, builder design centers lay out every new home design and décor option imaginable. New home design centers will vary from builder to builder and visit experience will be different for all based on the size, type and location of the home you are building. While every design center experience will be different, let’s walk through what to expect during your visits, the questions you should be prepared to answer and some planning tips to help make the most out of your trip.
What is the Design Center Process Like?
Most homebuilders set up two to four appointments for new buyers at their design center, and each appointment typically lasts two to four hours.
Buyers typically make between two and three appointments to complete the selection portion of their build process. The first appointment takes between two and three hours, the second takes around an hour to review the items that needed to be drawn or required special pricing from our vendors. The final meeting (if needed) typically takes around a half hour to sign off on the final paperwork, says Blake Lofgren, Director of Marketing at Estridge Homes.
Typically, the buyer will visit the design studio with the sales consultant before signing their contract to help understand what options they will have to choose from and to get a clear understanding of what is an included item versus an upgrade, per Lofgren. The firm includes the vast majority of upgrades. Nonetheless, these days buyers are currently spending 5-12 percent of the home’s base price on options to fine-tune their new home.
The biggest advice we give our customers when visiting the design center for the first time, says Lofgren, is to have already thought through their home and what the important areas are. Having a good understanding of the look they’re trying to accomplish is key. Our designers can then work to accomplish that look within a customer’s budget level. Having a needs versus wants conversation is always a good practice.
Regardless of the size of your home or the builder you are working with, it’s important that you do your homework and have definitive answers to the following questions:
Can You Clearly Define Your Design Style?
Do you like traditional design, a more modern look, or something more exotic? Is low-maintenance a major desire? Check home design websites, blogs and magazines for ideas and collect pictures, magazine tear sheets, and fabric and paint samples that appeal to you. Spend some time looking at examples of similar color palettes, floor plans or fixtures that you like for more inspiration and examples of how styles you love can work in your home. Then, you’ll create a design board showing these color, fabric and product likes — and the builder’s design consultant can help with this. Bring photos of your furniture and even pillow or curtain samples to the design center meeting.
To further help you articulate your design style, mentally walk your new home floor plan. Imagine how your family will live in each area of the home. Picture your furniture in place and how aspects of your personal style will fit with your color palette and daily habits. Envision the options or elements that would make each area live better for you, such as special lighting in the master bath, extra electrical outlets in the den, a surround sound system in the family room, or a double oven in the kitchen.
Do You Have a Good Understanding of Your Lifestyle?
How you live should impact the design choices you make for your new home. You need to have a realistic grasp on your lifestyle before you start trying to design your new home. Instead of going down the list of Pinterest’s trendiest home design options, consider what upgrades could make your day-to-day life better. Think about where your family spends their time and what appliances and features they use in the home. Families that love to cook could spend their upgrade budget better in their kitchen than in the bathroom. People who love to curl up with a book would enjoy a cozy reading nook.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself about cleaning habits and how easily you complete certain chores. Think about how you can leverage your design choices to make your daily life as simple and comfortable as possible.
Do You Know What’s Included in Your New Home?
Get a list of standard features from your builder and view them at the design center or on the builder’s website before your scheduled design center meetings. Walk the builder’s model homes. Drive communities developed by the builder to visualize available exterior finishes and colors. Ask about warranties and paint durability. Note which items are easier to do later vs. now. For potential DIY items, such as dimmer switches, compare the builder’s price to the price of the item at a home center store. Understand what you are going to get and also what else you’ll want (or need) to buy.
Have You Prioritized and Prepared a Budget?
Going into a builder showroom without a clear understanding of your budget, or not having one at all, ensures your home will cost more than expected. Before you go to your builder’s design center, be honest with yourself about how much you can afford to spend on upgrades and additional features.
If upgrades fit into your budget, determine your must-haves and nice-to-haves before your design appointment to make sure you put the extra money into the right upgrades. Identify items on your wish list that would be impossible or expensive to do after move in, such as structural changes to the floor plan to add a room, expanding the garage or removing a wall, or adding a bay window, ceiling fan box, upgrading kitchen cabinets, adding wood floors, a fireplace, spa tub, or a built-in home technology system. Make another list of features that could be added later or even tackled as more affordable DIY projects, such as decorative lighting, crown molding, faucets, smoke detectors, a smart thermostat, and upgraded cabinet hardware. Some of these things you can address at the design center, but others may need to be tabled, especially if you are on a tight budget.
At the design center, you’ll be choosing the exterior colors and material — think roof shingles and pattern, brick, siding, styles , shutters, etc. — for your home, selecting cabinet styles, choosing flooring materials and colors, the quality of carpeting and carpet padding, etc. Having a color palette, or even a general idea of your colors, helps ground you as you go through all your options in the showroom. Be sure to stay focused on picking the right styles and colors of the chosen options and upgrades, without getting distracted by options that did not make your list.
Many upgrades will more than pay for themselves over time, such as choosing a premium grade of roofing material or higher efficiency kitchen appliances. Some things might be more affordably done at the time of home construction rather than after moving in, such as choosing a double oven, or installing an underground sprinkler system or a full home security system. If the new home has a basement it might be cost effective to have it finished by the builder during home construction. While looking at additional items you may be able to or want to add, keep in mind that some new home features will add more to the resale value of your home than others.
It’s tempting to wrap up as many upgrade expenses in your mortgage, but, remember, you’ll be paying off that amount with interest likely for 30 years.
Thanks to today’s design and media influences, says Estridge Homes’ Lofgren, several items have been increasingly popular, such as lighting, decorative tile, stained beams, engineered hardwood floors, framed decorative mirrors, high-tech appliances and home automation items such as Amazon Echo, Ring Doorbell and Mesh Network wireless systems. You might also consider some more practical options. Most homes come with a single outdoor hose bib – you might want to have the builder install another one on the other side of the house. You also may want a gas line on the patio for the grill or extra electrical outlets in the workroom or in the garage for the golf cart. Just some things to think about!
Other Things to Consider When at a Builder’s Design Center
When you get to your design center appointment, pay special attention to these areas:
What’s the energy performance rating for your home’s windows and doors? Do they carry National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) or ENERGY STAR labels? What’s their U-factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, Visible Transmittance, Condensation Resistance and air leakage ratings? Are upgrades available?
How well insulated will your new home’s walls and ceiling be? What’s the R-value (thermal resistance) of the home’s exterior envelope? Are there options to enhance insulation values?
How efficient will the standard furnace, air conditioner and hot water heater be? Gas furnaces will have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. Central air conditioners are rated according to their Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). A water heater might have an ENERGY STAR label. What’s the capacity of the water heater? Are efficiency upgrades offered? Can the builder also provide a built-in air cleaner and or humidifier?
Ensure you have a productive visit to your builder’s design center, free of stress and wasted time. If you plan before you make a trip to a builder design center, you can relax and simply have fun deciding on all the details of your new dream home.
Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.