Before we could get under contract on our new home, we had to choose our structural upgrades. I know from talking to other new homeowners that some builders work differently. In some cases, you do the contract first, then choose structural options during your design appointments.
Our builder requires the structural options to be included in the initial contract. We really appreciated this approach because it allowed us to understand and budget for the structural upgrades up front. Before we came in to do the contract, the builder gave us a complete price list of all the structural options so we could decide which upgrades we wanted to include. I’ve heard other builders are not as transparent or forthcoming with upgrade pricing.
Tip: When you’re looking for a home builder, I recommend asking how the entire process works step by step. When do you need to make structural decisions? When do you need to make design decisions? For some builders, it’s before construction starts. For others, the design phase happens while the house is already under construction. When will you get pricing information? Do they have a design preview night?
For our builder, Cambridge Homes, the structural upgrades and any structural customizations must be included in the initial contract. Then, all interior design selections must be made before they start building the house. Our builder was upfront with all pricing information. Save a few items, we were immediately given pricing for all of our options. Anything they couldn’t price immediately, they got back to us within a few days. We had a total of four design appointments within 30 days of signing our contract. Other than the structural options included in the contract and our exterior house colors that required approval from the Homeowner’s Association, we did not have to give final approval on our design choices until our last design appointment.
So, the first big decisions we had to make were which structural upgrades we wanted. I want to tell you about the structural options we chose and some of the options we declined.
Included Structural Features
But first, I think it’s important to know what structural features our builder included as standard with our floor plan and elevation. Included features vary widely from builder to builder, and most of the features you see in a model home are probably upgrades.
Tip: When buying a new construction home, ask about every single feature you see—is it standard or an upgrade? There’s no other way to compare base pricing from different builders. For some builders, they lure you in with a low base price and then everything is an upgrade. The builder should be able to provide you a list of all the included standard features. Ideally, they will also give you a list of upgrade options with pricing.
One of the things we loved about Cambridge Homes is that they include many features as standard that are upgrades with other builders. Of course, those features are already baked into the base price of our home, but it made it easier for us to understand the true cost of building a house with the most common upgrades already included.
Our house included these structural features as standard:
- 10’ Ceilings (on first floor)
- 8’ Interior/Exterior Doors (on first floor)
- Vaulted ceiling in the foyer (per our modern elevation)
- Vaulted ceiling in Study (per our modern elevation)
- Oversized walk-in shower in Master Bathroom (instead of shower and garden tub)
- 18 x 8’ garage door
- 5-¼” baseboards (on first floor)
- Front porch (per our modern elevation)
- Covered patio
- Brick facade (per our modern elevation)
- Finished drywall and trim in the garage
The True Cost of Building a House
While the above features were already included in the base price of our home, there was a list of other upgrades we could choose from at an additional cost.
Tip: With new construction, it’s important to understand the base price of the house is less than what your house will cost. I read somewhere that on average people spend 10% of the house price on upgrades (structural and design upgrades), and that was pretty spot on for us. So keep that in mind when budgeting for your new house. The upgrades you choose will determine the final price of your home.
When planning our budget and how much we wanted to spend on our home, we decided to prioritize structural upgrades over design upgrades. Although the design part is fun and there are lots of upgrade options, most of them are cosmetic. Structural upgrades are functional, and most structural changes are very difficult, if not impossible, to do later without a major renovation.
To stay within budget, we used part of our design allowance on structural upgrades. Our builder included a $30,000 design allowance. We used $5,000 to help cover some of the structural upgrade costs. Even though it meant we had less allowance to spend on the interior design, we were able to get all of the structural upgrades we wanted.
Our Structural Upgrade Choices
- Glass Block window in the Laundry Room – Many of the other homes going up in our neighborhood skipped this option, but I wanted natural light in our laundry room. Glass block was our only option because our house is a patio home. The laundry room is on the side of the house where we cannot have clear windows because they would look into our neighbor’s yard.
- Kitchen Island Extension with Skirt – This upgrade extends the kitchen island surface so we can have seating at the island. With the sink in the island, I felt this was an essential upgrade to have more counter space on the island. This is the one upgrade that the builder should make standard because everyone chooses this upgrade. The extension includes the option of posts or side supports for a built-in furniture look. We chose the built-in look.
- Laundry Sink Stub-Out – There is an optional sink in the laundry room, but to have that option you first have to upgrade to include the plumbing rough-in.
- Metal Porch Roof – Our modern elevation came with the option to upgrade the porch roof to a standing-seam metal roof. We love the look and it’s on many of the higher-end custom homes in our neighborhood. Plus, we could not choose our roof shingle color. They use the same brownish shingles for all the houses. The only place on our house where it’s really noticeable is over the front porch. The metal roof solved that problem.
- Double Door to covered patio – The covered patio includes a single door and two windows as standard. This upgrade turns it into double doors with full-length windows on each side, so it becomes a wall of windows. This was a must-have upgrade for me to create a courtyard or atrium-like feeling for our mid-century inspired house.
- Twin doors ar Study (single-lite) – When my husband works from home, he needs a quiet space away from the kids and dogs. We chose the single-lite doors (singe, large glass pane), instead of divided lites. The single-lites are more modern, and way easier to clean.
- Two 3’x3’ Skylights in the kitchen – This is another upgrade no one skips. Since we can’t have windows on the kitchen side of the house, the skylights allow for natural light in the kitchen. They are centered over the kitchen island. The skylights are my favorite structural feature. If I could have added more skylights, I would have.
- Sloped Ceiling in Kitchen and Great Room (10’ to 12’) and 12’ Ceiling in Dining Room – The standard is 10’ ceilings throughout the house. We upgraded to a 12’ ceiling in the dining room that continues to a 12’ ceiling in the kitchen and great room. Because of the roofline, there is a slope above the kitchen cabinets and above the windows in the great room. The extra ceiling height makes the house feel bigger.
- Remove hall closet and reduce closet in Bedroom 3 to standard closet – These two changes were a custom request. We removed one of two hall closets to make a more spacious entry from the garage. We changed the walk-in closet in Bedroom 3 to a standard closet to make the bedroom larger.
- Horizontal Iron Railing at Front Porch – Our choices were no railings, cedar (traditional) railings, or the horizontal iron railings. We’re going all in on the modern look, so we wanted the horizontal railings. This is the one upgrade we could have added ourselves later, but I don’t think we would have found a better price, so it’s easier to have the builder add the railings.
- Electric car charging outlets – We already have one electric car and we don’t ever plan to buy a gas vehicle again. So, we added two electric car charging outlets in the garage, one on each side.
- Flush panel garage door – This was not an offered structural upgrade. We made one special request to upgrade from the traditional raised panel garage door to a modern flush panel garage door that we saw in another community by our builder. Because the flush panel door requires higher-grade steel, this was a relatively pricey upgrade—especially considering the garage door is on the back of the house. However, the garage will be our main entrance to the house, so we want it to have the same modern aesthetic as the rest of the house.
Structural Options We Declined
- Gas Fireplace with Pre-Cast Surround – We decided not to add a fireplace. We never used our fireplace in Minnesota, so I doubt we’d use one here in Texas. Also, because the only option is a corner fireplace, adding the fireplace requires removing one of the four windows in the great room.
- Tub in owner’s bath – Our builder’s standard master bath configuration is an oversized walk-in shower. We love that. Only our kids used the garden tub in our last house. We’ll still have a tub in the kids’ bathroom in the new house.
- Pan Ceiling in bedrooms – The standard ceilings are already 10’, so we didn’t feel the need to further upgrade them.
- Vault ceiling at Master Bedroom – Again, we are happy with the standard 10’ ceilings included in the base price of the home.
- 2.5 or 3-Car Garage – The footprint of the home can’t be increased, so the builder offers to shrink the laundry room and second bathroom to fit a 2.5-car garage or replace the third bedroom with a third garage stall. We definitely did not want either of these options.
Our chosen structural upgrades totaled about $20K. We were able to use some of the design allowance our builder gave us for the interior of the house to cover part of our structural upgrades. The remaining cost was added to the base price of our home.
The next step was selecting interior finishes and upgrades. We had $25,000 remaining in our design allowance included with our house. The greatest challenge of building a house is staying under budget. We did not want to go over our design allowance, which would mean increasing our home loan amount or paying out of pocket for upgrades. I’ll be back soon to share the rest of our design selections and how our budget fared.
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