There are upgrades you can easily forego, and there are those you should hold on to for dear life.
A surprisingly large amount of the money you spend on your new home will be determined by the options and choices you make — and those options are forever changing.
For example, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, both considered pricey upgrades for years, are now standard in most new homes. However, going with the most common (or lowest) denominator is not always the best way to save — or spend — your dollars. For maximum functionality and a healthy return on investment, consider the following upgrades for your new home:
Start in the Kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of the home, the spot where you will spend the majority of your time and make the most memories. It can never be overly well equipped. Pay special attention to cabinets and appliances, as this is what future buyers will focus on, as well as the tools you will use every day. “A lot of people still forego energy-efficient, higher-end appliances because they think technology is always changing and they can always upgrade later, but that is almost always the more expensive route,” says architect Jerry Gloss of KGA Studio in Denver.
The idea that you have to wait years to see a return on your investment is also false. “A quality refrigerator and freezer can keep food fresh longer without drying out — and with the cost of food rising, this is a savings you’ll notice immediately,” adds certified kitchen designer Joyce Gardine Combs, whose eponymous firm is also based in Denver.
Kitchen upgrades not to be overlooked include quiet, quality dishwashers; microwave drawers, which are easier to access; stand-alone hoods and under-counter beverage centers, so kids and guests can help themselves without getting in the way of food prep.
Cabinets, too, are expensive to replace later. Even simply upgrading to the semi-custom variety will provide more finish options and better-quality materials. Consider dovetail joinery and divided drawers, as well as both deepening and lengthening cabinets to ceiling height for a sleek, custom look and extra storage.
Combs also recommends pull-out pantries over open shelving. “They provide more storage, easier access and take up less space,” she says. Springing for soft-close doors and premium hinges will help extend the life of all of your cabinetry.
You Can Never Have Too Much Light
A lot of folks overlook lighting’s role in everyday life, but lighting adds to the atmosphere of a home and it can help make important tasks, such as cooking or shaving, easier.
The key rooms to light are the kitchen and bathrooms. “Baths are so overlooked when it comes to lighting,” warns Combs. “There it’s always best to have light coming at you from above and around your head.” Opt for both overhead and task lighting, such as ceiling fixtures coupled with sconces, and you may never squint again (at least not in this room).
In the kitchen, most people put recessed lights and a pendant over an island and call it a day. But under-cabinet lighting helps tremendously when you’re cooking. It also brightens the space and provides a great option when you’re entertaining, as overhead lights can be too harsh.
Lighting the inside of a glass cabinet was on trend for a while, but not everyone likes it and it’s not considered key to everyday living. The areas where you eat, pay bills or do homework should, however, have some type of task lighting and are worth the upgrade. Multiple pendants can work well in those areas.
As for the rest of the house, you’ll need a mix of light that you can control with dimmers. For a complete guide to home lighting, check out our article, How to Light Up Your Home — and Your Life.
Walk This Way
Flooring is key to the look and feel of a home and wood floors never seem to go out of style. If money is tight, focus on the living and kitchen areas only. In cooler climates, radiant heat flooring “is such an important part of life — so inviting and comforting,” says Combs. If you can afford to have radiant heat floors installed, you’ll notice the difference and so will future buyers.
There are so many ways to save on your energy bills beyond buying the right kitchen appliances. Tankless water heaters, as well as plumbing and air conditioning units with high efficiency ratings, can make a huge difference almost immediately and are totally worth upgrading to.
Have you ever heard someone say they have too much closet space? That’s because you can never have too much, so if you’re choosing between, say, a formal dining room you will only use a handful of days a year and more closet space, it’s a no-brainer. Closets also add great value if you decide to sell later.
Sit, Eat, Study, Hang Out
Kitchens may be the hub of the home, but kitchen islands are where most of the living takes place. Consider expanding an island to accommodate up to eight people and you’ll be forging your path to less formal dining space — and those aforementioned closets.
Not all upgrades have to be expensive. Simply adding extra outlets and ceiling fans to certain rooms can make life much more comfortable without costing a fortune.
The reason so many people stress about upgrades is because they didn’t plan for them. Earmark a slice of your budget ahead of time and the process won’t feel nearly as overwhelming, so you can focus on where to get the most bang for your buck.
Ana Connery is former content director of Parenting, Babytalk, Pregnancy Planner and Conceive magazines as well as parenting.com.
While editor in chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine from 2006-2009, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market as well as travel destinations.
She’s held senior editorial positions at some of the country’s most celebrated magazines, including Latina, Fitness and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the brand’s “FitHouse” show home.
Ana’s expertise is frequently sought after for appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and CNN. She has interviewed the country’s top experts in a variety of fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and First Lady Michelle Obama.