Model Homes 101 and Questions to Ask Before You Buy

Our new home journey began in the sales office located in one of Quadrant Home’s designer models. After discussing our families needs with Ronda, one of their very amazing sales agents, we got to experience walking through each of the three designer model homes. My interior design heart was exploding that day. My mind was in overdrive as I slowly walked through each carefully, curated space.

Quadrant Homes – Designer Model Homes

If you’re new to building, I’ll pause here to share something about model homes: They are designed to be inspirational. The finishes are always upgraded from the standard included options, they have beautiful custom millwork like board and batten or shiplap, many of the built-in cabinets are optional and the lighting is often sourced outside of their offerings.

None of this is bad per se, but it is important to know that what you see in a model home is rarely included when you build your house. An honest estimate (at least here in Washington State) for what you would need to invest in addition to the base cost of the home and lot premium, is roughly $100 – $150k+ to replicate the experience you see in the model home.

Model homes are designed to be inspirational. What you see in a model home is not what is included when you build your house.

SnoValley Studio

Upgrades can cause major sticker shock. We have a fixed budget and initially selected a floor plan that was close to the top of our budget. But as I began to add up all the upgrades I wanted to do, I quickly realized that we would need to rethink our game plan or downgrade our square footage to make room in the budget for some of the high end finishes we wanted. We chose the later and in hindsight, while a larger house would have been nice, the floor plan we ended up selecting was more perfect than I initially imagined.

Personalizing a new home is a thrilling experience but it can quickly spiral out of control and without realizing it, you could find yourself tens of thousands of dollars over budget. Below I am going to offer some suggestions to set you on a path for a high-end result without having to sacrifice your style or more importantly, your budget.

Questions to Ask at the Sales Office

Before you submit an offer, take time to work with your realtor, sales agent or both to understand the answers to these questions:

  1. What structural options are included and what is the cost for optional additions? Options like extra bathrooms, covered patios and loft/bedroom conversions are common additional high-dollar costs.
  2. What level of finishes are included in the base price of the home? Ask to see them in person and be prepared to be underwhelmed.
  3. What level of finishes are on display in the model homes and how many levels of finishes are available at the design studio? This will give you a sense of how much higher you will have to stretch to achieve a similar look. For example: the purchase comes with level 1 flooring, but the hardwoods in the model are a level 4. That can equate up to a $12,000 additional expense on paper.
  4. What size doors are included and are there options to upgrade? Standard doors are 6’8″ tall. 8′ doors are a premium feature.
  5. Do the windows come wrapped with any millwork and are there options to upgrade? Most spec homes come only with window sills if any at all.
  6. Are any window coverings included? Usually the answer to this is no. Most spec homes do not come with blinds or shades and this can run you anywhere from $2,000 up to $20,000 depending on how many windows and what kind of treatments you do.
  7. Which built-in cabinets are included? What is the cost for any optional units?
  8. What home systems are included and what brand and models are the HVAC, hot water tank, garage door opener, fireplace, home networks, etc. Knowing this will help you understand if a builder is putting quality systems or cheap entry level ones that will break down sooner.
  9. What brand and model are the standard plumbing fixtures? Toilets, sinks, showers, etc.
  10. What appliances, if any are included in the base price of the home? What is not included? Ideally the less the better as it is better to purchase these outside of your mortgage so you’re not financing them for 30 years.
  11. Are there any technology packages included or available for purchase? If so, what’s included. Lots of modern builders will include things like networked homes with smart technology like Nest thermostats, Ring doorbells, Eero home WiFi boosters, etc.
  12. How big is the average lot size? Is there an example of a yard to see in person for reference?
  13. How much are the lot premiums? Premium locations in a community will cost you more. So if you want that corner lot with the view, be prepared to pay a bit extra: $4,000 – $20,000.
  14. How long and wide is the average driveway size? Is on street parking permitted?
  15. What warranties are included? Ask to see a list of what is covered, how it’s covered, and for how long. A good builder has a great warranty program because they stand behind their work.
  16. Is there a homeowners association and what is included in the HOA dues? Ask to see the CCR’s (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) before buying. There may be rules or regulations that restrict how you use your property once you take possession like boat or RV storage, rules about adding storage space, pools, playsets, paint colors and landscaping to name a few. Violating the CCR’s usually result in hefty fines. So know understand these before you buy.

Knowing the answers to these questions will set you up for success if you decide to make an offer on a new build home. I have consulted with many new home buyers about this process and almost all of them had (expensive) surprises along the way. Building a home is a major project and if you don’t understand the scope and timeline going into that purchase, you are going to be blindsided along the way.

You must be fully educated about the investment you’re making. Otherwise, costly ‘surprises’ may blindside you.

SnoValley Studio

So now what? You’ve fallen in love with a home, picked out the perfect lot, have a good estimate of what the upgrade costs will be and you’re ready to make an offer. In our case, we were encouraged by the sales office to bring out “best offer” to the table. If this scenario doesn’t apply to you, then you’re ready to work with the sales office and/or your realtor to make an offer to the builder. But if you’re up against a competitive market too , you may want to hop over for a quick read on my post about making a winning offer.

I hope this was all helpful. If you think I missed something, send me a message and if I include it, I will be happy to attribute your addition!


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