New Home 101: Designing Your Dream Home, Part 2

A hard-copy document with written tips on how to save money during the building process.

Need help with your new home design plan? We have all the tips, including budgeting, how to add home value and where to look for design inspiration!

This article is the second part of a three-part series discussing the designing process of your new home. For part one, click here. For part three, click here.

How to Stay Within Your Budget for Options

If hardwood flooring is on your list of priorities, Fulton Homes’ Dennis Webb recommends looking at both a spec home and a model home so you can see the difference between an $8,000 floor and a $32,000 floor.

“It can be hard to visualize if you’re looking at small samples in a design center, especially for something as large and important as your floor,” he says.

Buyers typically start discussing their budget for options in the sales office, says Gwynne Liebl, design center manager for Beazer Homes. Some builders offer a design credit toward options that buyers can choose how to spend.

“I provide a list to the sales associates of what can be done in terms of options for each different model,” Liebl says. “When the buyers come into the design center, I ask them for a round number in terms of their budget, and then we can get into discussing what their hot buttons are and what matters most to them. For instance, if they want hardwood floors throughout the first floor, then we may have to do ‘level one’ options in the kitchen for the cabinets and counters. We explain the difference between ‘level one’ and ‘level two’ options for things like granite and look at the cost throughout the process. Sometimes it takes a couple of rounds of taking things off the option list and putting things back on to get as much of what they want as possible and stay within their budget.”

Liebl says that it’s best if a couple has a good sense of their budget before they go to the design center, as well as a sense of their priorities. While most builders provide a price list of their optional features, many also have this information available online to help buyers estimate potential costs. Webb says Fulton Homes offers a complete online design center that shows every potential option with its full price and the price broken down to the estimated addition to your monthly payment.

“There are always extras that you can add to your home, but you need to be really careful to know how much you want to spend and how to get the most value out of that budget,” says Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a Toll Brothers buyer in Yorba Linda, California. “We relied a lot on the sales associate at our development to help us make better choices in the context of the floor plan we chose.”

Both the sales consultants and design center staff can work with you to figure out which options make the most sense in the context of your budget.

“We want their experience with us to be positive and fun, not so much about the financing aspect of the purchase,” Liebl says. “Sometimes I feel like a part-time relationship counselor, when couples come in with different ideas of what they want most. In most cases, the husband is more laid-back and will just say ‘yes dear’ to everything, except when it comes to electrical or automation options. That’s when the husbands pay more attention.”

Angel Boales says that Meritage Homes has software that buyers can use once they’ve signed the contract that helps them create a wish list, take a quiz on their style, and help them make choices.

“The options need to fit in with the buyers’ preapproved loan amount, unless they want to pay cash separately for the options,” she added.

There’s no hard and fast formula about how much to spend on options in comparison to your home’s base price, but most buyers are limited by their loan approval and their comfort level with a maximum mortgage payment.

Which Options Add the Most Value to Your Home?

While you may plan to stay in your newly built home “forever,” like Dawn Easter, the reality is that eventually you may want to sell it. Even as you design your new home as close to the way you want it as you can get, you should also keep an eye on future home values. Consider potential resale value throughout the process of buying your new home, from looking at future development plans in or near your chosen neighborhood to deciding on a floor plan and lot. Resale value should also be at least a small part of the equation when it comes to determining how to spend your options budget.

Fortunately, there is solid research available to help you determine which options are the most popular today — and that’s a good indicator of what will pay off at re-sale.

The NAHB 2013 survey “What Homebuyers Really Want” showed that 93 percent of new homebuyers want a laundry room, 90 percent want a linen closet in the bathroom, 86 percent want garage storage, and 85 percent want a walk-in kitchen pantry. So, you can see that storage is a strong priority.

“People want shelving and storage in the garage because they’re storing things there besides their cars,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “The laundry room and mudroom, whether they’re combined or separate, are important spaces to buyers because they want to be able to access things like sports equipment but have it hidden behind closed doors. In the laundry room, people want light and ventilation, a built-in ironing board that really works, and a raised pedestal for the washer and dryer to make it easier to do laundry. Now, laundry equipment and laundry rooms are designed without any crevices so you don’t have to constantly search for lost socks.”

In the past, a glamorous owner’s bedroom suite with a sitting area and a huge bathroom was considered a desirable feature, but Melman says that has changed since the recession and is part of the focus on smart use of space in new homes.

A common feature in most new homes is an open floor plan with a great room, reflecting the more casual way families live and entertain today. 

“Ten years ago, the whole idea of a countertop as a selling point sounded crazy, but now everyone wants their kitchen to look special, especially when it’s visible from the great room,” Melman says. “In upscale homes, people still sometimes want a separate living room and formal dining room in addition to the great room.”

Where to Get Design Ideas 

While some people buy a newly built home simply because they relish the thought of having the latest technology and a residence that no one else has lived in before, many new homebuyers look forward to the process of designing the interior. Just as there are builders along the spectrum from complete personalization to minimal options, there are buyers ranging from those having a keen eye for design and knowing exactly what they want to the last cabinet knob to those who have no idea where to begin. Luckily, there’s plenty of help available if you want it.

Interior designers receive training to learn about colors and styles and proportions, but even without a design background there are things you can do to define your own personal style. Look around your current residence and pay careful attention to what you like and dislike about your furnishings, fixtures, and fabrics. The way you dress can also help you decide how to decorate your home: Are you casual or formal? Do you prefer bright colors, pastels, neutrals, or a black-and-white palette? Do your clothes tend to be cutting-edge contemporary or more traditional? Once you start to pay attention to your own current choices, look at the people you care about and think about their homes to decide what you love and what you can do without when it comes to design choices.

Home design magazines such as House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens not only publish monthly magazines, they also publish occasional guides that you can use for inspiration in your own home. These magazines have an online presence as well. Other websites, such as,, and Pinterest, offer plenty of additional resources for home designs. A quick online search will bring up dozens of blogs and design sites that you can peruse as much or as little as you like to get ideas. If you’ve already got the design bug, you’ve probably got a file folder — online or on paper — of ideas for your new home. If not, it won’t take long to generate some ideas of your own.

You should take time to learn what you can about available design options by visiting your builder’s website or by touring homes completed by your builder in your chosen community or other nearby communities to see for yourself what different choices look like. Be sure to take notes while you’re doing your research.

For more expert advice on buying and building a home, check out the free eBook download of New Home 101: Your Guide to Buying and Building a New Home at

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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