Joe and I had our house built in 2014 and it was one of the most exciting but stressful times of our lives. Along our journey, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to saving money and keeping costs down. This information applies to using a neighborhood home builder, however I’m sure some of these tips are great if you have a private contractor building your home also.
Our house is a cookie cutter. Our neighbors down the street have the same house as us, the neighbors behind us have the same one, and my friend down the street has one too. Of course, they are all different colors and variations so most people wouldn’t spot the similarities but I studied our builders floor plans and elevations for months, so I know which house everyone in our neighborhood has – three bedroom, four bedroom, office, den, you name it. I’m not against cookie cutter houses at all, in fact I love it. It’s more exciting to me to see how varied each home looks based on the residents taste and design esthetic.
SMALLER BUT OPEN FLOOR PLAN
When we first started looking at homes I had a friend tell me to look at the three to four bedroom houses. It was what we needed, so that wasn’t an issue even though it was nice to dream about the five and six bedroom houses to convert the extra space into a home office, home gym, media room, etc. My friend said that it was much easier to resell a three bedroom house than it is a six bedroom house, the market for them is just higher.
Also, look for an open floor plan. A lot of buyers are looking for open sight lines and spaces where the whole family can be together. With our home, the open floor plan makes our house feel a lot bigger than it actually is. Our house is only about 1600 sq ft and our friends and family can’t believe it when we tell them. Sports parties are so easy with our great room and everyone has a view of the TV no matter where they are.
KNOW WHEN TO SPLURGE
Spend the big money on upgrades you are not willing to tackle yourself in the future – big items like plumbing, room conversions, etc. We splurged on upgrading our master bathroom to a separate shower and tub instead of a shower/tub combo. It was one of my deal breakers and something I wasn’t willing to give up and Joe knew that. To me it made sense to spend the money on plumbing upgrades because I knew it was one thing I wasn’t comfortable doing ourselves.
We also opted for cabinets in our laundry room, but when it came to our budget we couldn’t afford the upper and the lower cabinets. Obviously, it made more sense to just go with the lowers and I later installed some DIY shelving for our uppers. Of course, even those have been changed now and our latest laundry room update is my favorite! Our builder also gave us the option for linen cabinets in our hallway and once again it wasn’t in our budget. Now, that was a blessing in disguise because about eight months after living in our home I decided to create my office in that hallway and it was one of the best decisions.
REALIZE WHAT YOU CAN DIY
Even if you are not the most skilled DIYer, simple things like paint upgrades and lighting upgrades you can do yourself. Our builder offered custom paint and light fixtures, but we opted out and went with builder grade finishes and fixtures. I couldn’t believe the costs they were wanting to charge for some paint. Three years later I have replaced almost every builder grade light fixture and even added some pendant lighting in the kitchen.
We also saved some money installing our own window treatments. The builder wanted to charge us thousands, yes thousands to install blinds in our windows. Our windows are very big, but that price was outrageous. So the first week we moved in, we went to Lowe’s and bought all of our faux wood blinds and installed them ourselves. We payed hundreds vs thousands by doing it ourselves.
The same applied to our backyard landscaping, the builder was going to charge big money for a poured concrete patio and sod. We opted out and hired out for the patio, but chose to lay our own sod. It only took us one weekend and it was a pretty fun project to do together.
HIRE OUT LATER
Joe and I have some pretty good DIY skills, but there a few things we have hired out and will be upgrading later. When we moved in we had a local company install all of our concrete and sidewalks in the backyard. This was an option the builder offered as well, but hiring out later saved us tons of money. Plus we were able to customize how we wanted the shape and style of our patio. Plus, we also hired a local company to install a sprinkler system saving us a ton, rather than going through the builder.
We also upgraded our front door, which I have yet to share here fully on the blog but I will. Our living room area had no windows that faced out onto the street, so we started looking at glass doors and fell in love with the look. It was a semi inexpensive upgrade that has made a big impact on our entryway, living room, and especially our curb appeal.
Our kitchen is a big makeover that I cannot wait to do. We will be upgrading our laminate counter tops to quartz, which I am so happy about. Our builder didn’t even offer quartz, only granite so I am excited to have dodged that bullet and not spent the extra money on granite kitchen counters. We also will DIYing a kitchen backsplash, under cabinet lighting, and a full wall of subway tile. All simple DIYs that the builder would of charged thousands. Just recently we updated our kitchen faucet, which has made a big change to our kitchen.
MY REGRETS & WISH LIST
Now of course, after living in our home a few years there still some things I just wish we would of splurged on or changed. A three car garage was on our wish list, and we gave the up when we chose the smaller but more open floor plan. There are days I wish we still had a three car for more storage, instead we have to come up with creative ways to store our lawn equipment, season decor, etc.
I also wish we would of upgrade for a laundry sink in the laundry room. At the time, I thought we would never use it so why spend the money but now Joe washes his hats, part of his uniforms, etc in the bathroom or kitchen sinks so an actual laundry sink would be nice. Luckily, our laundry room is in close proximity to our master bath so I think it might be a change we will make later down the road.
Just last summer, Joe mentioned he wished we would of purchased a bigger lot. We are in a cul de sac and have an angled lot, so it is a decent size but definitely not big. At the time we were just trying to save money where we could, but it would have been great to spurge a little and Joe could of had the backyard of his dreams.
We spent a big chunk of our money on upgrading our great room floors to tile. I had wanted anything but carpet and it was the best option at the time. I liked the tile and it was within our budget. However, since installing our Pergo floors in our master I am obsessed and would love to have those floors throughout the rest of our home. So the tile isn’t so much of a regret but just something I would definitely like to change now.
Going with a very basic builder home will save money in the long run, because every little upgrade and feature is added on to the cost of the home, ultimately increasing your mortgage payment. For us, it made sense to keep our mortgage low and upgrade features when we can afford it. It has been more fun this way, we have more selections than what the builder offered, and it gives me time to really decide how I want our home to look and feel.
Have you saved money building a cookie cutter house? Anything I left out? Chat with me!