Buying New Construction? These Upgrades Will Deliver The Most Value

When buying a new-construction home, you’re presented with a variety of fixtures and amenities to choose from: Would you prefer white Shaker or wooden flat-panel cabinets? Should you go with the gray granite countertops or a classic white quartz?

Some of these design elements come standard with the home, while others are builder upgrades that command a higher price. But how can you possibly begin to narrow down your wish list when everything seems so essential?

“I would only consider paying for builder upgrades that involve something that affects a structural change or the envelope—the separation of the interior and exterior of a house that impacts the climate control,” says David Steckel, a home expert at Thumbtack.

If you can have the builder make the upgrade now, while the house is being built, you’ll avoid spending more money and undergoing a stressful renovation project in the future, adds Jay Kallos, senior vice president of architecture for Ashton Woods, in Roswell, GA.

You also have to think about who will do the upgrades if the builder doesn’t do them. Do you have the ability to renovate yourself, and does it make sense financially?

Below, we outline the smartest builder upgrades to have completed while the house is being built.


If a finished basement or walk-up attic bedroom is on your wish list, but you don’t have the funds to do it during the build, have the builder do the rough-ins now. Rough-in work means mechanical, electrical, or plumbing lines are brought into the home, but the final connections are not made until later on.

“Getting the plumbing in later can be quite a trick, especially the drain lines that will need to be under the concrete slab,” says Steckel.

There is almost no incremental labor or material cost to rough-in components, he continues. Think about the areas and projects you might want to finish later—like a bonus room above the garage or speakers for a home theater—and get the rough-ins done now.

Energy-efficient upgrades

Most base-model homes include the minimum code requirement for things like insulation, windows, and HVAC. But if you’re seeking a more energy-efficient home, it’s better to install components such as Energy Star windows and a smart thermostat now to avoid costly retrofits post-build. The extra funds spent upfront on these upgrades can pay off over time in lower utility bills.

Kitchen upgrades

No surprise here—the priciest builder upgrades are in the kitchen. But if your family enjoys cooking and hanging out in the kitchen, you might want to consider taller cabinets, a kitchen island, a pantry, or a bump-out for a breakfast nook or home office.

Bathroom upgrades

A prefabricated shower and tub might be OK for the guest bathroom, but chances are you’ll want to go all-out in the main bathroom, especially if you envision this space as a relaxing oasis you can retreat to after a long day.

Renovating a bathroom down the road is a messy and costly job, so take the plunge and have the builder upgrade the tub and flooring now.

Builder upgrades to pass on

Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, especially if you’re designing your dream new-construction home. So if you covet that snazzy range hood you saw in the model home, maybe you should get it.

Still, there are some overpriced upgrades you can pass on and not feel like you’re missing out. Elements that fall into this category are countertops, backsplashes, and appliances. There’s a vast selection to choose from beyond what a builder offers.

Upgrades with higher price tags tend to be cabinet hardware, lighting, faucets, showerheads, window treatments, select paint colors, and wallpaper. These are things you can buy and do yourself— and they’ll probably suit your tastes better than what the builder could offer.

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