Don't get seduced by a model
first-time buyers Peter and Dawn Crawford set out to buy a new house near Toronto,
they visited dozens of model homes and had to keep reminding themselves that no
matter how much they loved the model, it wasn't the home they'd end up living
Like many potential buyers, they discovered it was easy to
be seduced by the model home but faced a reality check when it came to reconciling
the fantastic features with the home's base price tag.
a common communication problem, says David Foster, a housing consultant with Reid/Foster
Associates in Ottawa. He recently visited a house with a base price of $264,000
but worth $368,000 as presented.
"When you go into the model home, everything
you like is an upgrade," says 30-year-old Peter Crawford, who
asked that his real surname not be used for fear of ruining his
relationship with his builder before he moves in. He adds that he
was sometimes frustrated with the lack of clarity on the part of
building companies, not to mention the high price of upgrades and
standard homes exist?
He's not alone. According to a study for the Canadian
Home Builders' Association, upgrades have become a source of disillusionment and
contention for new-home-buyers. People believe the standard home is a myth; the
running joke is the only things that come standard are the light switches.
a result, "a lot of builders are being more careful in making sure people
know what they're looking at [while] others are upgrading their base standards,"
says Foster. "When there's confusion about upgrades, it doesn't benefit anybody."
with today's penchant for hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, high-end
kitchens and architectural details such as soaring ceilings, few homebuyers end
up with a standard home.
Creating a home
For many décor-savvy buyers, customizing their
purchase is one of the most enjoyable aspects of buying new. It's also overwhelming.
"The important thing for buyers is to take the time you need to make decisions,"
says Foster, adding that changing orders can be costly and delay the building
Large building companies usually have design centres
filled with product samples and staff who help with selections. Some companies
have relationships with manufacturers and suppliers and set up appointments for
their buyers to visit those showrooms. Smaller building companies may dedicate
a portion of their sales office or model home to the process.
base price of a home includes a range of features and fixtures, but standards
vary from builder to builder and even from one design to another. The builder's
package should outline in detail the features and list the manufacturers or suppliers.
It's always a good idea to verify the sources' reputations and warranties.
establishing what comes as standard, do your homework and decide what you can
live with and what you can't live without. Upgrades include everything from premium
countertops, high-end cabinetry and thicker carpeting to fancy towel racks and
You can also expect to pay extra for hardwood floors,
high ceilings, fireplaces and air conditioning -- again, check the builder's package
or talk to representatives for a thorough list and prices.
to spend your money
"We did our homework on upgrades," says
Crawford. "We went in with a set budget and were determined to stick to that
budget." They spent $27,000 on window coverings, a fireplace, nine-foot ceilings,
rounded walls, arches, carpet under-pads, lighting, kitchen features and higher
"Most homebuyers expect to spend a minimum
of $15,000 to $20,000," says Foster. One rule of thumb is to set aside at
least 10 percent of the home's purchase price for upgrades, however, buyers at
various stages in life approach it differently. First-timers tend to be more budget-conscious,
while those moving up usually spend more on high-end features, such as granite
countertops and luxury bathrooms. Empty-nesters, who are downgrading in size,
tend to upgrade without compromise.
While the aim is to personalize
your new home, it's always smart to think about resale appeal. Kathy Wardle, a
Toronto-based Bosley Real Estate sales representative, says "if people are
buying something built in the last 10 years, they don't want to do anything to
Quality kitchens and bathrooms are a major selling
point, as are gas fireplaces. In addition, "everybody is looking for hardwood
floors everywhere -- upstairs and downstairs." Indeed, hardwood floors are
the most popular upgrade; other favourites include central air conditioning, higher-end
tiles and, in the luxury market, media rooms and wine cellars.
neutral colours for major features, such as floor or tiles, and add personality
or colour with paint and accessories. Remember, you have to live with your choices
for a long time, so aim for timeless rather than trendy.
you're handy and you know it
When you're on a tight budget, decide
which features you need now and which you can plan for in the future. If, for
example, it's an architectural detail, such as high ceiling, obviously it's now
or never. If you have your heart set on a bay window, it's more convenient to
have it installed from the outset. But, there are plenty of things, such as painting
or laying tiles, that you can do yourself for a fraction of the cost.
says that while they really wanted hardwood floors, they weren't prepared to pay
$14-plus a square foot when a friend had just laid oak floors for $2.99 a square
Don't forget about the deposit
While it's easy to roll such costs into a mortgage, homebuyers should
be aware that they're usually required to make a deposit, beyond
their initial down payment, on the upgrades. "The thing that
really held us back was coming up with a 35 percent deposit,"
says Crawford. "Overall I was pretty happy -- my only regret
is I didn't have money to do more."
disappointments and disagreements can be avoided by arming yourself with information,
clearly defining priorities and never rushing a decision. "When you're buying
a house," says Foster, "the best thing in the world is no surprises
-- for all involved."
is a writer in Toronto.