10 House Building Tips: Choosing Your Upgrades

Hi y’all! I hope everyone is having a great kick off to summer (okay, it’s technically 20 days away but it’s officially June, so I’m counting it). We spent the weekend with lots of family togetherness with parents and grandparents, and the DIY projects pretty much came to a halt so we could fully enjoy each other’s company. (I loved every minute of it, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to get back into finishing some projects.)
This weekend, Robert and I got on the topic of discussing how happy we have been with all of the upgrades we chose when we built our house last year, and I had the idea to let you guys join in on what we learned too. Building a house together is a HUGE test of a marriage, but we figured out some great ways to keep the “fighting” fair and make the planning phase a little less overwhelming. 😉
I know everyone who has built a house before probably has a bajillion tips for the planning phase, but this is our take.
So here they are,
10 Cookie Cutter House Building Tips for Choosing Your Upgrades:

1. Make separate wish lists with your spouse.
After sitting down with our agent and going over all of the infinite possibilities for upgrades, we were so overwhelmed, it made our heads spin. I’m talking there were things that you would NEVER think were even significant like “Would you like a dedicated outlet in the garage?” Um…well, I’d like for my outlets to be committed to me, ya know.  I mean, do non-dedicated ones slack off when it’s time to work? (Har har.) 

So to simplify things a bit, Robert and I both thought about the upgrade possibilities on our own and wrote down a prioritized list of all of the items we felt we needed most for our house. It eliminated the possibility of the discussion turning into a heated argument as we thought things through.

2. Combine wish lists and discuss. 
See where your similarities and differences lie and take some time to calmly discuss why you really want an upgrade or why you didn’t give certain upgrades top priority.

I knew Robert really wanted a bump-out in the garage so he could have a workshop space. Robert knew I really wanted arched doorway openings. Funny enough, when we looked at each other’s separate lists, we realized we had each placed a higher priority on the other’s desires rather than our own. (We just love each other like that.)  Thankfully, when it came to decide we were able to get both, but to nail down our choices, we talked about what we felt was the absolute most important and why (and I’ll get into that a little further down). The rationalizations we gave really helped us see a clearer picture of our choices and why which ones were best.


3. Make 2 categories on your combined wish list: “must haves” and “really want but can live without”
Doing this step really helped us prioritize as well. Yeah, it would be nice to have granite countertops, but the day-to-day functionality of our home really hinges on our upgraded floor plan. The cheapest floor plan would have been great financially, but there was virtually no storage, not even a pantry. So the Transitional Floor Plan was at the top of our “must have” list.

 On the flip side, I would have loved to have matching stainless steel appliances, but we knew we could always replace the black ones down the road and probably at a much more affordable price that we wouldn’t be paying off for 30 years. (By the way, I see them on Craigslist all the time, whereas the upgrade would have cost $1,000 and didn’t even include a refrigerator.)  The black appliances work great, so we’re not sacrificing when it comes to functionality.


4. Choose structural upgrades over cosmetic ones.
Structural upgrades are going to make the value of your house skyrocket. For instance, number 3 on our list was choosing the luxury master bathroom (meaning double sinks, a garden tub, a separate shower, a separate toilet closet, and extra space). We also chose arched doorway openings in the downstairs because it gave a great first impression, and it would be nearly impossible to handle on our own as a home improvement project. Later on down the road, those will play a big role for resale. Focus on the big picture of real estate where structural upgrades are the most valuable, and the choices will be easier to make.

5. Throw out upgrades that can be DIYed later.
This sort of piggy-backs off of #4, but there are plenty of upgrades that you can do yourself for way cheaper than the builder will charge. We would have loved to upgrade to carriage style garage doors and molding in the dining room, but it didn’t make sense to break our budget to get things we could take care of ourselves in a weekend. (We’ve already upgraded the garage doors ourselves, and it cost us $19 per door. The builder was going to charge a few hundred.)

6. Be prepared for some unexpected surprises in the showroom.
Going into the showroom ready to solidify our upgrade decisions, we were warned by our agent that there would probably be a few unexpected things that could throw off our budget. Boy, he wasn’t kidding. We had no idea until the day of signing the pre-blueprint agreement that we would have to pay an upgrade for automatic garage door openers. We also had to pay more for a patio at the back of our house. Those “no-brainers” weren’t included like we thought. Bottomline: ask lots of questions and don’t assume anything is standard.

7. Leave a cushion in your budget.
This goes along with #6 too, but thankfully, because we gave ourselves about $1,000 worth of wiggle room in our budget, we were able to absorb the unexpected upgrades that we needed. We managed to stay within our budget by about $200. Whew! But we did it. And we were still able to walk away with pretty much everything we absolutely wanted.

8. Be realistic.
Unless you have some serious coin to blow on your house with no limits to your wish list, keep in the frame of mind that you don’t “need” the majority of the upgrades. There are people in this world who would give their right hand to be able to build a brand new house. You are blessed. Keep things in perspective. It’s all about compromise. 🙂 

9. Decompress.
Take time to walk away if it gets too overwhelming. Take a walk and breathe when you find discussions getting heated. There will be moments where planning and building a house will seem like the most stressful thing you have ever done in your life, but nothing is ever resolved by worrying yourself to death over it. Some stressful moments in the process aren’t worth the fight where a wedge could be driven between you and your spouse. You’re in it together, and you can work through it together.

10. Enjoy it!
Take in every exciting moment and savor the thrill of the anticipation throughout the planning process. Even though it is stressful and a bit financially terrifying, it is all worth that moment when you are handed that glittering key to open your brand spankin’ new door. Regardless of what you can and cannot afford, you’re getting a new house! And that, in itself, is something to celebrate.

And that’s my take. 🙂 So what about y’all? I’m sure there are tons more tips out there. Share what you learned in the house building (or searching) process!

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  1. I really appreciate your tip to ask a lot of questions when it comes to figuring out what supplies you will get for a home remodel. My wife and I have been thinking of getting a new back patio so we can entertain more guests at our house, and we would love to use antique wood. I will be sure to ask our supplier about the type of wood to make sure that it is the type that we want!

  2. Thanks for the advice about combining wish lists and discussing them together. My husband and I both want a house with lots of storage and at least two bathrooms. It would be great to build our own house and decided exactly what feature we want.

  3. Thank you for the help. My wife and I are wanting to design a house, but have had a hard time getting started. I love your idea to each have our list of what we want and need in the house. Once the lists are made, how do you recommend putting them together in a complimentary way?

    1. Once the lists are made, duke it out to the death. No, I’m kidding. 😉 Really, for our lists, we found that we had a lot of similarities in our upgrade priorities. It at least opens the door for discussion and gives you a concrete idea of where both of your priorities lie and you can start to see where compromises can be made.