New Home 101: Designing Your Dream Home, Part 3

A hard-copy document with power tips on how to go about ensuring your house allows for future innovations.

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

Taking the Team Approach to Designing Your Home

Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to look at your choice of options in a model home or design center or online on your builder’s website. Typically you can see some of your choices on your initial visit to a model home and then make an appointment for a lengthier session either at a sales office or design center depending on the size of your builder. Most national and regional builders have design centers while smaller local builders often present option samples in a sales office. Sales consultants often suggest you look at your options at least twice before making a final decision. The amount of time you’ll need depends on how well prepared you are and the variety of options available. Remember to check your contract or ask the sales consultants how much time you have before you’re obligated to make your choices.

Depending on the builder, you’ll work with a licensed interior designer or a design consultant trained to work with new homebuyers. Either way, you’re getting someone with expertise to walk you through your choices.

“When you’re buying a used home, a Realtor can give you advice on everything from financing to decorating, but we have a dedicated team of interior designers in our Home Studio who are available just to give our customers unlimited design advice,” KB Home’s Tom Silk says. “They can take the time to talk you through your choices and help you decorate the home you want. The designers can show you which three items to choose first to set the tone for your home.” 

Beazer Homes also has professional interior designers to consult with buyers.

“My appointments are usually a maximum of three hours, but really after one hour and forty-five minutes everyone starts to get a little burnt out,” Gwynne Liebl says. “To make decisions a little easier, we typically offer four levels of granite and cabinet choices, three levels of hardwood and tile flooring, and two choices of upgraded faucets.”

At Toll Brothers, some people come in with their own interior designer and some are comfortable working with the staff to get guidance on what choices work well together, says Kira Sterling. Buyers get access to the Toll Brothers design website and design center only after they’ve signed a purchase contract for a home.

Understanding Energy-efficient Features

New homes built in the United States today are more energy-efficient than the homes of the past simply because new products and building techniques are available that help homes use less energy. At the same time, new homes must be built to meet the latest standards established by the government as well as buyer demand for energy-efficient features. While certain builders specialize in building “passive houses” that are extremely airtight and are mostly heated by solar power and “zero-energy” homes or design homes with extensive environmentally friendly or “green” features, nearly all residential builders have a package of energy-efficient features that are standard on every home. And, depending on the builder, you may also be able to add optional green features such as solar panels, a tankless water heater, or a more efficient heating and air conditioning system.

“We used to explain all the details and have a specific list of every energy-efficient feature, but the research shows that buyers don’t need to know building science, they just need to know that we’re building our homes to the latest Energy Star standards,” Kathi James of Beazer Homes says. “People mostly want to know if they’re buying an Energy Star home because that’s something they’ve heard of. They just want to know what their utilities will cost. We test every house to show how much they’ll save.”

As a benefit to its buyers, Ryland Homes provides a “House Works” program that details the company’s green construction techniques and the energy efficiency of its homes, says Diane Morrison. The NAHB 2013 survey “What Homebuyers Really Want” showed that 94 percent of new homebuyers want Energy Star appliances, 91 percent want an Energy Star rating for the whole house, and 89 percent want Energy-Star rated windows.

“People want energy-efficient windows and appliances because they know it’s important to keep their utility bills low and because they know they work well,” NAHB’s Stephen Melman says. “Energy efficiency is important as long as people feel they don’t have to pay a lot extra for it. They’re willing to spend a little extra for a tankless water heater, but once you get above $5,000 to $10,000, people are less willing to put out extra money. Things like an expensive solar roof are less popular, but energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems are standard in new homes.” 

High-Tech and Smart Home Features

While some buyers may be more interested in green features, others are focused on high-tech options for their new home, though the two categories are merging in a number of ways.

“Technology has changed the way homes are built and even the products that are available,” Stephen Melman says. “Manufacturers are developing better building products all the time, things like roof materials that look like a slate roof but require less maintenance. Now, we have synthetic fiber framing that’s less costly, provides insulation, and is more resistant to mold and termites.”

Even if you’re not necessarily a high-tech person, you may want to make sure your home has the pre-wiring necessary for high-speed electronics, entertainment systems, and home automation systems. You may be assuming that with so much going wireless you don’t need special wiring, but the reality is that a lot of systems, such as high-definition video and high-quality speakers, need special wiring, and so do data connections to your electronic devices.

Security systems and thermostats can now be controlled through your smartphone and so can your lights. Manufacturers are introducing refrigerators, dishwashers, and washers and dryers that can also be controlled with a wireless device. Some homeowners are installing digital thermostats that adapt to their preferences and begin to automatically adjust your home’s temperature to maximize energy efficiency.

If you don’t want these features now, you might in the future, so discuss your preparation for innovations with your builder. Even small things like putting in electrical outlets with USB ports can make it easier to stay on top of technology. An advantage of building a new home is that you can have updated outlets and you can decide where you’ll need them.

“For a while, everyone wanted a home office because a decade ago we assumed that more people would work at home 100 percent of the time,” Melman says. “Now life revolves around our handheld devices, so you don’t necessarily need a big office with a desktop computer. Most people split their work time between their home and office. They’re doing some work at home but not all of it.”

Updated regulations have changed the way we light our homes, too, so you may need to invest more time working with the design center staff on light fixtures for your home. 
“LED lighting with different color and heat indices has changed the way people look at lighting,” Melman says. “This new technology means that there’s a lot more focus on designing a lighting system for your home.”

Once you’ve committed to your chosen options, your builder can get started, and you can sit back and watch the progress on your dream home while you prepare for your settlement and moving day.

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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