What to Expect When Building A House- The Design Center

Welcome to the third installment of What to Expect When Building A House- The Design Center.

Today we will be talking about What to Expect at the Design Center.  If you missed an installment please make sure you check out The Road to Building A House and What to Expect When Building A House: Is Building a House an Affordable Option.

What to Expect When Building a Home: Part 3- The Design Center

I know, there’s so much going on with Serendipity and Spice it’s like my blog has ADD!  We’ve got all the Disney World tips series starting, the What to Expect When Building a House series, all the recipes, the crafts, the preppy pirate room…..needless to say, you see how my life is going in a billion directions right now!

So, on to What to Expect When Building a House, let’s talk about the Design Center!

This is by far my favorite part so far in building our house!  It can be a bit overwhelming but it was also a LOT of fun!  Normally the design center takes about 3 hours– with us it took 5.5!!!  Yeah, you know me, I wanted to make all sorts of changes and was thinking further ahead than our designer could have even imagined!

I’m not sure what exactly to expect when we went to the Design Center.  I guess I was thinking we’d go to a model home and look at different finishes…..well, we went to this HUGE corporate building.

What to expect when building a house the design center

All of the corporate offices are here, the CAD designers (those guys that draw the blueprints), the pricing team, the managers….they’re all based out of this office.  The design area is actually a small portion of this building where they had about 5 different kitchens and 4 bathrooms set up along with several small cozy offices FULL of samples hanging on the walls and different books filled with finishes.

So why did our 3 hour appointment take almost double the amount of time?  

Because we weren’t properly prepared by the builder’s agent.  You remember how in the last installment I told you to get the a la carte pricing list from the builder’s agent and how it took ours 3 days to get it to us?  Well, that should have been a sign to us!  When we were at the build site with her she kept telling us that ALL design questions would be handled at the Design Center and just kept brushing us off when we asked about decks, flooring, etc.

So, what should you do BEFORE going to the design center?

1. TRIPLE check the pricing!  

Our base price was over $1100 off because the builder’s agent missed that our study was an option not standard and she gave us the price for Upstairs Option 1 NOT Upstairs Option 2 which we chose.  So, yes, when your talking $190,000 that $1100 is just a drop in the bucket– but that drop in the bucket adds up especially when you start pricing out all of the other add ons.  So ask and ask again to make sure your pricing is correct– or you may be giving up that trey ceiling in your bedroom (I did)!

2. ANYTHING you want to add or change make sure you call YOUR agent AND the builders agent to put in a RFP.

I wanted to move a closet from one wall (where there was a window in the closet) to the other wall so the window would shine in the room– no big deal– not a huge structural change– something I could technically do later but don’t really feel like messing with– NOPE it’s a pretty big deal to move a closet.  So we had to get approvals for that while we were at the design center.

Remember how I told you in the Is Building a House an Affordable Option post that we could add on a screened in porch for a fraction of the price it would be to build on later?  Well, that is a HUGE structural change and even though the builder’s agent said we would handle the porch at the design center the screened in porch should have gone through her ahead of time and an RFP issued.  So we had to wait for those approvals too.

Finally, I wanted to move a window in the living room 1 foot so I can build bookshelves once we move in….again it needed prior approval.  

So make sure ANYTHING you can think of that you want to change you get those approved before heading to the design center.

3. Know how much you can spend!

When we arrived at the Design Center we met with a Designer who was with us throughout our appointment walking us through each item we got to choose.  She had a sheet that told her how much we could spend– this sheet was WAY off!  There’s apparently no rhyme or reason for the pricing put on this sheet.  It said that we had to stop adding stuff once we reached 10% over $150,000.  Well, since the base price of our house is $165,000 that means we would have had NOTHING to spend at the design center.  And since we were already pre-approved for $180,000 (from the offer on the previous house) it made no sense.  So we had to call our loan officer to get her to fax over our pre-approval (which we upped to $200,000 just to be safe) before we could begin with anything.

Now, at this point we had already gone through and picked out all of the upgrades that we wanted in the a la carte pricing sheet and we made sure to leave wiggle room just in case the pricing was off– which it was.  So we knew that we were looking at about $20,000 in upgrades.

Remember- just because you are pre-approved for a certain amount you also have to take appraisals into consideration.  So don’t go crazy adding stuff on just because YOU can afford it– if the appraisal doesn’t come back in range with all of your upgrades they will make you take items off or you’ll have to pay for them upfront.

So, given where our house is, the size of the house, and the comps from similar homes in the area we know that we want to stay under $200,000 so we set our limit at $185,000– surely $20,000 in upgrades should give us everything we want…..right?!  Well, almost.

Now the fun part begins……the picking stuff out!

We started with the outside of the house and worked our way through the ENTIRE house picking out EVERYTHING and how it would look.  The designer handed us a look book with color palettes and materials for the outside of the house. She took us to look at the light fixture for our front door, we picked out our front door, we picked a sidelight for next to the door, we picked out our windows throughout the house, the style doors throughout the house, what type of trim- classic or modern, there were so many little choices I had never thought about.  

The most time was spent on the kitchen.  We started with the flooring– I want hardwoods throughout the downstairs so we had to calculate whether doing it a la carte or through the design package was better.  Since I wanted the larger cabinets and granite counter tops too it wound up being cheaper for us to do the junior design package which included many more upgrades too.

What to expect when building a house the design center

Now originally we had agreed that we would just sell the cheap black appliances that came with the house and buy the nice ones through Lowes or Home Depot but we were able to upgrade for less because the double stove I wanted was only $400 more than the “upgraded” stove in our junior design package.  The designer was able to take the “upgrade” price of the basic stainless steel stove and credit it to the “upgrade” price of the better stove.  So if there is something you want– ASK for the price…..they want to sell it to you!

You can always take stuff off at the end if you go over budget!  I’m happy to say we only went $4000 over our budget keeping us below where we expect the appraisal to come in at!

While at the Design Center pay attention to WHAT you are upgrading and whether it’s adding actual VALUE to your home.  By adding on the screened in porch we are ADDING a great deal of value on to our home so we’re able to splurge on the upgraded kitchen faucet and backsplash.

Once you finish with your design center appointment you will know the EXACT price of your house– upgrades and all!  Now, depending on your builder the next steps may be different.  All of the information and changes we made will go to the CAD department where blueprints will be drawn up of our actual house.  Simultaneously all of the upgrade information will go to our loan officer and we will begin the complete approval process for our loan….which means everything goes for the appraisal and we start collecting all sorts of financial documentation!

What to expect when building a house the design center

So stay tuned for the next installment of What to Expect When Building a House: The Loan Approval Process

Have you built a house or are you in the process of building a house?  What tips do you have for getting ready for the Design Center?

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  1. says

    I think its a little shady how the options and prices aren’t available until you go to the design center. It’s extremely difficult to make all these choices in one day. Thankfully my wife and i keep barraging their realtor with upgrade pricing questions. The main decision left is flooring. We have no idea how much it is going to cost. We gave ourselves a 10k budget for it when we get to the design center. Hopefully that is enough but it sure would be nice to have a website where i can price it all out ahead of time.

    • says

      That’s what I was thinking as well….that’s why I pushed the builder’s agent to give us a price sheet for the upgrades…it wasn’t exact but it gave us a ballpark idea. If we ever build a house again we’d rather go the custom route and hire our own contractor and pick out all of our own stuff at Lowes or Home Depot instead of being stuck with the few choices that new builders give you….plus then we know exactly how much each upgrade will cost before we ever get to the build phase.

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