As part of my job working as a builder’s designer, I walk the line as the liaison between the builder and the homebuyer. A common misconception I have had homebuyers admit to me, was that before their appointment they were expecting their builder assigned “designer” to be a sales-person. The first-time a homebuyer shared this with me, I was horrified! I would not be able to do the job I am doing in Interior Design (which can frequently be very vanity based), if I had sales on the mind. From the beginning of my career, I have been blessed not having to be work for commissions but rather to be on a salary (that is until recently when I left a good paying job to pursue my own design company…no salary here—big gulp as I squint my eyes and take a deep breath hoping I made the right decision).
Don’t get me wrong though, builders financially benefit from upgrades and over the years I have received the occasional bonus based on the company’s yearly profit. However, the reason why I do not view myself as a sales person, is that the upgrades I recommend to the homebuyers I work with are honest and upfront where I present the pro’s and cons of the upgrades. I often tell homebuyers NOT to upgrade because I know they can get a much a better deal after closing or if I believe they will not get an adequate return on investment. Here are the Top 5 upgrades that I do recommend in the Kitchen when building a new house or remodeling:
1. Kitchen Backsplash Grout-$
Universally, no one likes grout. I have yet to meet a person who has told me “I love the look of grout lines between my beautiful tile and enjoy having to clean up the crud in them and find it relaxing to seal and re-reseal it every year”. Grout is an inexpensive item for your builder or flooring company to purchase and install. Most builders here in Texas in 2016 still use a basic grout as the “included” selection in the base price of the homes they sell. It is important that you are informed that grout has come along way technically speaking and is now available with the sealer included. Typically, this is less than a dollar/sf installed cost to you as a homeowner and will pay itself off after the first year when your neighbors are having to purchase grout sealer at the local hardware store which is expensive to begin with, and typically does not cover the amount of square footage needed resulting in having to purchase numerous cans of sealer. This upgrade cost will be minimal to you, save you money over time, and will require very little to no maintenance.
2. Island Kickspace-$$
Are you excited about the new oversized breakfast bar island you will be getting in your new house or newly renovated Kitchen? Kitchen islands are arguably the heart of the home considering all of the meals you will be feeding the kiddos at that island, or the great conversations with guests while you’re entertaining that will take place. Isn’t it a shame that this treasured space gets banged up with jean marks and kid shoe scuffs? An inexpensive way to maintain the drywall at the “kickspace” of your island is to finish it out. Either with tile, wainscoting, or cabinet panels to match the rest of your Kitchen. This upgrade is priced moderately depending on which direction you decide to go and will also provide your Kitchen with as much as a focal point as it is functional.
3. Quartz Countertops-$$
Quartz countertops do not have to be expensive. It is all relative to what you are starting at as your “standard” or the included allowance. If your standard is a base level granite; doing a base level man-made quartz product will on average be approximately the same cost or only slightly higher for you. Man-made quartz is superior to granite for their anti-scratching properties and for the fact that man-made quartz does not need to be sealed. Some of the more prevalent brands of man-made quartz are Silestone by Cosentino, Caesarstone, and Cambria. This is one of those upgrade options that will not break the bank but will provide years of function and low maintenance. Higher levels of man-made quartz (often ones that are a pure solid color or look like a marble) will be more expensive. Keep in mind that with man-made quartz, typically the warranties and product properties will be the same between levels-the higher levels are only that because of trend demand and production. If deciding on a man-made quartz countertop, I suggest checking the manufactures website on specifics of warranty and maintenance.
4. Cabinet species and finish-$$$
All upgrades are relative, especially so when it comes to cabinets. Many of my clients ask me if they should add cabinet accessories like the built-in trash, pullout shelves, etc… Cabinet accessories will definitely help with organization and if you are re-selling your house; these bells and whistles are very enticing to potential buyers. However, if you pay to have your builder add these cabinet accessories in, you are paying for their parts typically with a mark-up, labor, administrative processing, supervision-and most of all the convenience. A lot of these cabinet accessories can be purchased at your local hardware store and installed yourself after you close on your house. My recommendation is to do your research to know your prices so that you can make an informed decision on whether you want to pay a little extra for the convenience of your builder installing. I do recommend upgrading the cabinet species and/or finish with your builder. Cabinets are one of those things I recommend spending your upgrade design center allowance on-you only get one try at cabinets if you want to be economically smart with it, so you might as well get what you want now instead of having to replace the cabinets down the road which will result in much higher costs replacing countertops, sinks, faucets, and baseboard/trim.
If you have extra money in your design center allowance or have been planning to splurge on appliances-you chose well! Upgrading appliances are definitely a luxury item in the new construction/remodeling world. You get what you pay for. In terms of design, the appliances will timestamp when you built your house and will directly affect the layout of your Kitchen. The current appliances trends are to have double ovens, built-in microwave, silent dishwasher, and to have a cooktop instead of the cooktop/oven combo “range” with a focal point vent hood on top. Since appliances affect both the cabinet layout and the mechanical (electrical and plumbing rough-ins); the appliance category is one of the first things to think about when starting a remodel project or building a new house. You will have to make the appliance decisions first so that all other design selections can fall into place. Over the years of working with homebuyers, having to decide on appliances so quickly can be overwhelming and slow down construction if decisions are not reached in the assigned timeframe. Be ahead of the game and know what you want before starting your build!
Feel free to comment below with any questions/comments or call us for help on the selections and upgrade choices for your new home!