At the end of July last year, my husband and I decided to take the plunge and sign the dotted line to build a new house in Southern Colorado. We searched high and low for something in our price range that was already built, but everything was pretty much in dire need of a complete gut job. We had already remodeled our old 1970s home, so doing another huge project like that was not something we were jumping at the gills to do.
So my realtor, also known as my mom, took me to see some homes that had more of our wish list. The model homes for our builder happened to be in one of the neighborhoods we were looking in. We instantly fell in love with the layout of the model home and how it felt so open, airy and full of natural light! A couple weekends later after my husband fell in love with the house, too, so we signed our lives away to build our dream home!
Now going into a new build home takes a lot more than you’d think. You pick all of your colors pretty soon after signing paperwork and there are a lot more out-of-pocket costs that you’d think. So I want to share some of the things we learned when building a new house and hopefully give you some inspiration for your new home. Our main goal was to cut costs by opting out of things we wanted to do better ourselves and upgrade things that would matter in the long run.
Windows, windows, windows
This is one of the biggest expenses and most urgent expense needed when building a new home. Sure, you could go to Home Depot or some other window covering retailer and just have them measure all your windows and install all the blinds, but we chose to be more methodical about what went up on our windows. We didn’t want to spend an insane amount of money and I didn’t want to get the generic faux wood blinds we had at our old home. I hate blinds. I knew I wanted something easy to clean and stylish that wouldn’t clash with my decor.
We started researching plantation shutters and found out having someone install 1 window in our house was going to be about $800! No way in hell would we pay that much just for 1 window. We had a lot of windows. The first thing I’ll tell you to do is shop around. Don’t settle on the first sale you see, because more often than not, it’s not really that great of a deal.
I finally stumbled on Blinds.com (not sponsored, just love them) and found that they have awesome sales year round. My husband is also pretty handy, so we followed this awesome YouTube tutorial on how to install the shutters and I am incredibly pleased with how they turned out. We plan on buying 2 more shutters for each of our currently empty bedrooms.
Some of the windows in our new home just would be too insanely expensive for shutters, even with them installed by my husband. For our living room, we opted to do roller shades, also from Blinds.com, and I sewed our custom made, monstrous curtains using high quality upholstery fabric from Joann’s. Boom, window coverings done for less than a small fortune.
Opting out of builder grade features
Some things in a builder grade new build home scream “builder grade.” That’s not necessarily a good thing when you’re someone like me who wants their home to match your personality. We opted out of a few things that normally people wouldn’t think to opt out of. Some things are just better when you do it yourself.
Our master bathroom mirror was one of the first things that had to go. The rest of our bathroom mirrors will be replaced in due time, but I could not have that gigantic mirror in our bathroom right away. We only saved 20 cents by removing the master bathroom mirror, but I am so much happier with the mirrors we found instead. The mirrors are from Target.
You might also notice around our bathrooms and in the kitchen that there is no backsplash. The builder grade feature is to put a granite 3 or 4 inch lip that goes up the wall, which would have been a major hassle to get off when we got around to tiling the backsplashes we want. Rather than pay the builder an arm and a leg for something that’s super easy, we opted out of the granite lip and paying them to backsplash with tile to make it easier for us later.
This is one of my favorite projects that’s currently a work in progress. Our gorgeous fireplace! We opted out of the builder grade fireplace surround, which would have just been the same stone used on the front of our house (or large tile option) and a dry wall mantel. BORING! Instead we started with a blank dry wall slate and we are building our fireplace mantel in steps. So far we have the shaker style wood surround that my husband built out of pine from Home Depot. We painted it using the color Legendary Gray by BEHR paint in a satin finish. Next, we are going to tile around the fireplace using marble herringbone tile that we are special ordering from a local tile shop and we are cutting a piece of wood my grandpa found into a rustic log mantel on top, stained dark brown to match the wood features in the rest of the house. SO much better than just plain stone! We didn’t save any money from the builder by opting out of this, but we ended up not adding extra cost onto our final purchase price! Stone was EXTRA!
Ask your builder what comes standard and what doesn’t
This might be obvious, but I think many people don’t know to ask! Go around the model home with your builder salesman and ask them to point out what is standard and what costs extra.
One of the things we found that wasn’t standard was tile to the ceiling in the bathrooms. This seems like something most people forget to look at. It really actually only cost us around $200 extra on the purchase price to have the builder extend the shower tiles all the way to the ceiling. No moldy, yucky, dust trap ledge for me!
We opted out of the builder landscaping for our front yard and I am so excited to get started on what our yard will be! Right now it’s a gross ugly dirt patch, but soon it will be a beautiful oasis in the front yard and the back yard and we won’t have a cookie cutter builder grade landscape! By that I mean, grass patch, river rock, and 3 standard dying twig trees. We are planning on choosing our own trees and rock types, retaining walls, perennial garden in the front, laying our own sod, installing our own sprinkler system, and building our own back patio, gardens, pergola, and pond. Phew. Sounds like a busy summer, doesn’t it? By the way, we saved $2,500 on our purchase price by opting out of the builder landscaping the front yard.
Upgrade things that matter most, do the rest yourself
As you can probably tell, my husband and I are avid DIYers. We finished an unfinished basement in our old home, completely gutted and remodeled our kitchen, from the floor tile to knocking down walls. Other people relax and watch movies on the weekends, we work on making our home amazing.
So naturally, with our DIY nature in mind, we thought about upgrading only the things that we couldn’t do ourselves or would cost WAY too much to replace in the long run.
Exhibit A. Cabinets. These babies are incredibly expensive if you want to replace them. Not to mention, you’ll have to replace your counter tops as well if you don’t remove them with extreme finesse. So we upgraded these to soft-close shaker style cabinets instead of the builder grade versions. Kitchens sell houses, baby.
If you’re looking to stay as closer as possible to the base price that a builder shows you, don’t finish the basement. I know, I know… You must have heard otherwise. If you don’t finish your basement, you never will! Well, I call bullsh*t. We finished our basement ourselves in our last home, and you can bet on us finishing this one as well. Plus, the builder had some weird layout in the basement that just wasn’t my dream. So we’re doing it ourselves… But not until next year. We have other projects to finish before then and the basement isn’t space that we need right now anyways.
Hopefully that gave you some ideas on what to ask for and what to plan for if you’re going down the new build route for your new home. Let me know what upgrades you went with or share your new build tips with me! I’d love to learn more.