Whether you’re seriously in the market for a new builder, or if home touring is just your favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon, model homes are showpieces for builders and developments. Think of it as the catwalk at Fashion Week: a model home is a way to show off what a builder can do—even if it comes with a designer price tag.
That’s why there’s a right (and a wrong) way to tour a model home, to help you better set builder expectations. By understanding what’s standard and what’s not, and by gauging your first few interactions with a potential builder, you’ll prevent confusion and frustration once the process of building your home starts.
If you’re really serious about building a new home versus buying an existing one, it’s important to see what different builders have to offer. Even if your very first builder blows you away with a model home’s design, schedule walkthroughs with three or four other builders before making a final decision. Each builder has different policies regarding the design process, upgrades, and warranties, and you definitely want to compare apples to apples before settling on your builder.
Do some research
Before you visit a model home, check out the builder’s website to see the different floor plans available. For mass appeal, builders usually create model homes from their most popular floor plans, but these layouts might not be ideal for you. By checking out what’s available online beforehand, you can keep your options in the back of your mind as you tour the model home, remembering that your perfect floor plan might be another one of the builder’s offerings.
Ask about the design process
There are three types of home builders:
- Production home builders offer little in the way of customization: you’ll most likely choose only your paint and floor colors, and make some decisions on other cosmetic issues like hardware.
- Semi-custom builders often allow more customization. Not only can you choose cosmetic finishes, but you may also be able to adjust layouts and dimensions within a certain parameter.
- Custom home builders allow you to design your home from bottom to top, start to finish. They might use an existing plan as a jumping-off point, or start from scratch with a completely new design.
As you tour the model home, ask the builder about the design process. The more customized the home, the heftier the price tag, so it’s something to bear in mind. Always ask your builder what can and can’t be changed. Signing a contract based on the assumption that you can change your master bathroom layout or make the kitchen bigger could lead to heartache if your builder doesn’t allow heavy customization. If you love an existing layout and are impressed with a builder’s work, it makes more sense to opt for production over a completely custom home to save money.
Define standard and upgrade
The trickiest part about touring a model home is differentiating between what parts of the home come standard with the design package and which of the features are upgrades. Builders create model homes to show what they can do, so they usually use upgraded finishes, hardware, and fixtures to get buyers to really fall in love with the place. Finding out that the bronze bathroom fixtures you loved are a pricey upgrade can totally blow your budget, so always ask if your favorite features come standard or if you’ll be paying extra.
Any builder can pick out a nice paint color or use fancy furnishings, but when touring model homes, it’s more important to look at the quality of the actual craftsmanship. Is the woodwork and molding seamless? Is the floor laid perfectly straight? Do the cabinets look like they’d last through years of Thanksgiving dinners? Look past the cosmetic facade to really understand each builders’ priorities and attention to detail.
Picture your belongings
Model homes are designed to make you fall in love with everything from the layout to the light fixtures and the furniture. But don’t be so blinded by love that you forget that when you move in, it’ll be your couches, tables, and furniture making the house a home. Can you really picture yourself, your family, and your stuff in the type of home you’re touring? It’s easy to become enamored with a model home when it’s perfectly staged, but remember that it’ll be up to you to decorate and furnish the space.
Touring model homes is one of the best ways to get to know a builder, but make sure what feels like love at first sight doesn’t become sour later because you didn’t do your homework. Look past the polished paint and perfect plan to make sure you pick a builder that is truly your ideal match.