Buying Builder-Grade vs Custom

We’ve all heard (and dreamed) of a custom built home. But what about a semi-custom home?

We found ourselves in the market for a home when our property was almost hit by the 2019 Kincade fire. We had purchased it to build our dream home on at the end of 2018. Just shy of 3 acres and backed up to a creek that our dogs just loved. It used to be a dairy farm back in the days and was surrounded by beautiful homes from modern masterpieces to stunning farmhouses. Here’s the catch, when we purchased it in 2018 it had been cleared of its home that was destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire. Notice a pattern here? Yeah, faced with wildfires every other year? I don’t think so. We were evacuated for almost 3 weeks for the Kincade fire and I couldn’t imagine putting my heart, soul and life savings into our dream home only to fear the worst every year.

So there we were, newly completed architectural plans, building permit pending and we pulled the plug. It was no easy decision but when you are watching the news from your parents who took you, your husband and dogs in during the middle of the night due to fire evacuations, you re-evaluate things. I had been so excited to design and build a home for so long that I didn’t want to completely give up on that experience. However, properties in Sonoma County ain’t cheap. Enter the option of a semi-custom built home. We found a community going in about 3 minutes form where our property was and decided to tour the models. We fell in love. The one model had everything I had hoped to have in our custom home, loft area for bar and pool, butler’s pantry, covered outdoor entertaining area AND mudroom. I was stunned!

I knew this home wouldn’t be completely custom, although they have preset floorpans you can tweek ever so slightly (ie: I want this to be a bedroom instead of a den/mudroom etc). But hey, I knew this was the perfect compromise. So we put a deposit down on one that had been framed with our preferred floorpan. Now here is where you need to know what you are doing- they send you to meet with the designer for the community. I’m not sure why I was expecting but it wasn’t what I got. You have about 2-3 hours to pick out your home’s every detail. Maybe some of you thing “no problem! I know exactly what I want”. Yeah I thought I did! After all, I had a billion Pinterest boards for our custom build. Wrong. When you aren’t standing in the room with a vision board and are given 50 tile samples its intense. Maybe its just my anxiety that rushed me but I gotta say, there were some errors made. Nothing terrible! Some say they prefer the decisions I made to the changes I would make but I know it’s not what would have been in my dream home. Looking back I know everything I would do differently but in the moment I let the pressure and the designers suggestions overtake me.

So without further ado, here is what I highly suggest if you are meeting with a designer on a time crunch:

  • Bring 1 “overall vision board” you want the home to feel like
    • No, not Pinterest, the back and forth, switching between pictures and rooms, suddenly noticing another pin you like, just clutters the mind if you ask me. Have one piece of paper with your design layed out and ready.
  • Have vision boards for the major rooms (ie: bathroom, kitchen and master)
    • Besides the main board, bring a paper with the cabinets, counter, floor and backsplash options you like for each room.
  • Sometimes the upsells are worth it
    • Think ahead of time what you won’t settle on. For me I really wanted marble counter tops in the kitchen. I’m so glad I stuck to my guns. Looking at other rooms we didn’t upgrade, I know the kitchen would not have felt as luxe if we went with other options.
    • I decided to not have the builders do the painting. It was a huge upsell cost and I figured I like white walls so might as well keep the base option. Wrong. The white is so cold and stark, it just feels unfinished. Our house is rather large so I started painting and quickly burned out. Now we have to pay to have a painter come when it could have been done before the move.
  • Sometimes the upsells aren’t worth it
    • One of the upsells I’m so glad we didn’t fall for was plumbing fixtures. I know I wanted brass fixtures in the bathrooms and matte black in our kitchen. Instead of paying for fixtures that were just “meh” in my opinion and the labor charges, we decided to di it ourselves. We swapped all the kitchen fixtures and knobs to matte black and until I can find time/decide on the perfect brass fixtures for the bathrooms, I did a paint job on the ugly nickel ones. The champagne brass paint has held up wonderfully and matches our mirrors perfect.

I hope that helps some of you either going through a remodel or working with a builder, to know what is (and isn’t!) worth it in my opinion.

Let me know if you have any other tips tricks for new home upgrades!

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