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Tips on Building a Cookie-Cutter Home

My husband is an Architect and I’m almost embarrassed to say that we haven’t “built” a home he has designed.  For the most part it is because we chose to raise our five children in cookie-cutter neighborhoods so they would have all of the joys and memories of neighborhood friends.  I don’t regret that choice at all.  Now architecturally speaking…that is another story.

When you buy into a neighborhood a builder will offer several different homes to choose from.  The problem with this is that if you are picking the main stream or favorite of all designs you might end up with almost every other home on the street being “your” house.  Even with the colors mixed up when people drive through it can’t be denied….it is the same house over, and over, and over again.  This is what happened to us in Washington.  It was a big disappointment.

If that isn’t hard enough builders then have a “design studio” where you can go in and pick your interior elements.  Out of these elements you have what comes with the basic home for no up-charge, or some great choices that can potentially add thousands of dollars to the cost of your home.  Before you know it, your money saving cookie cutter choice may not be so wise after all.  Furthermore the inside of your home may look generic at best.

So what does one do?  Well, since I have done this three times now I feel like I have learned the ropes a bit here and there…and through trial and error I have found out what will resale a home plus make my cookie-cutter home unique.  Here are a few of my personal tips and tricks:

1.  Curb Appeal.  Drive around the neighborhood and see what everyone else is doing.  If there are ten houses the same and you love the floor plan then don’t pick that one.  Usually a builder will have twenty homes to choose from.  Start with narrowing your choices down to the home that has the best curb appeal.  Nine out of ten times people will choose their favorite floor plan over the best elevation.  This will be a problem when it comes time to sell your home.

2.  Pick a unique floor plan.  Get excited that your house will be different than everyone else’s.  If you really dislike a certain part of that floor plan ask the builder to change it a bit.  They do have some flexibilities.  I asked a builder once to move a bathroom wall to make it larger, and he had no problem at all.  Remember they want your business, so ask while they are negotiating with you for everything you desire.

3.  Keep Costs Down.  When we moved this neighborhood they had a “pick three promotion” running.  I could get three free upgrades without paying for it.  Well, let me tell you this, you are paying for it.  When push came to shove where the price was negotiated I was able to get the price of my home down $30K without the three “free” upgrades.  Remember it is all wrapped into the price of the home somewhere, even if they try to  hide it!

4.  Careful on the Upgrades.  When you go to the design center for upgrades they always jack the prices up ridiculously.  Remember they get all those items to put into your house for a discounted price and then charge you 3X the cost plus labor.  We knew this from other homes so decided to be smart this time.  We went to Home Depot and Lowe’s and picked out what we would like first and had a general idea of the price it would cost us to do on our own BEFORE we walked into the builders design center.

5.  Be Smart with Upgrades.  You will want to upgrade some things so you don’t look quite so generic when it is all said and done.  Here is what I did in our home:

Kitchen:  The best place to upgrade is your Kitchen.  People love kitchens and kitchens resale homes.  A modern or “of the times” back splash is a key element.  Don’t pick what everyone is doing or what you have seen over the past five years.  I chose a modern glass tile for my back splash and decided to paint out the cabinetry on the walls and have the center island stained walnut as well as the vent a hood.  This instantly gave my kitchen a designer feel.  In fact, the builder was so impressed with my choices he later used it in one of his model homes on a different lot.

Flooring:  I don’t think it necessary to upgrade to wood floors throughout in the beginning.  To keep costs low we upgraded our carpets one level so we could get a better color that would last longer, and we asked for our tiles to be laid in a “brick” pattern which gives the home a much more modern feel.  The wooden entry came with the home and was not an upgrade.

Bathrooms:  I had the tiles in our bathrooms laid in a “brick” pattern for a modern feel and asked them to leave off the huge full wall mirrors.  After I moved in I hung my own mirrors on the walls which makes any bathroom instantly look like a higher design.  I also asked for the mirrored walls to be painted my accent color, that way I didn’t have to go in the bathroom and paint it to have it look more dynamic.

Believe me I still have plenty to do in my latest cookie-cutter home.  We’ve been here almost six months and the work has just begun.  But I am thrilled that my choices included keeping the cost of my new home down so that I can have wiggle room to design and add to my fabulous spec home.  Next time we will build a “Doug Designed Home”.  Fingers crossed!

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