Visiting the Design Centre and Making Upgrade Selections

Today’s post in my New Home Construction Series is all about the builder design centre and making your structural and design selections.

One of the advantages of buying a new construction home is that you have the ability to customize it to your tastes. These selections are usually made at your builders Design Centre in a series of appointments before your new home is built.

What kind of selections will I make at the design centre?

All of them.

No seriously. You’ll have to select everything from the colour of your door knobs to the height of your kitchen cabinets. And while some things are going to be standard (aka included in your purchase price) many, many things will be upgrades.

When will I visit the design centre?

In our case, we had five appointments in total at the design centre. Our first meeting was only a couple of weeks after we signed our purchase agreement and our last was months later (you can see the entire timeline here).

  • In our first meeting we met the account manager and she outlined the different meetings we would have.
  • In our second meeting we made all our “stage 1” or “structural” selections – this included any changes to the floor plan as well as cabinetry and electrical changes.
  • In our third meeting we selected our exterior package – these were pre-designed packages that included coordinating siding, stone and paint.
  • In our forth meeting we looked at all our options for our “stage 2” (or design) selections. This is where we got into the specifics of cabinet doors, flooring, paint colours and more. There was a lot to think about after this meeting so we chose to go home and think about everything.
  • We then had our fifth meeting where we made our final design selections.

Our design centre was only open on weekdays from 9-5 pm.

How will I know what selections I will need to make?

Generally you will need to select your flooring, cabinetry, hardware and exterior package (siding, brick etc.). There may be multiple variations of your floor plan to pick from and configurations to choose. The, there are the upgrades.

When we had our first visit at the design centre we were given a sheet that listed a bunch of things we could choose to upgrade.

What are upgrades?

An upgrade is anything in addition or above the standard set by the builder.

How will I know what the builder standard is?

For the most part it will be in your purchase agreement, but even that might be vague. Here’s the exact description of what was included in the kitchen from our purchase agreement:

  • Choice of custom quality cabinetry for kitchen from builder’s samples.
  • Kitchen cabinetry features an open, under-counter area for dishwasher.
  • Kitchens feature quality double stainless sink with single lever faucet.
  • Stove area to have heavy-duty plug receptacle and wiring.
  • Exhaust hood fan (white) will be installed over stove area and features outside venting.
  • Laminate top where applicable.

Okay, but what about all the things that aren’t mentioned?

They’re likely going to be upgrades. If there’s something that isn’t specifically mentioned, ask. It’s best to know going in what kind of budget you’re going to need for upgrades.

But, what I see in the model home will be standard right?

Ummmm…maybe? But I would say not likely. If your development has a model home, or maybe a model kitchen in the sales centre, make sure to ask what is standard and if anything you see is an upgrade.

Are upgrades ever included in the list price?

Absolutely. Some builders include certain “upgrades” in the standard which usually raises the price, but eliminates surprises later on. Other builders may offer special promotions where certain upgrades will be included in the purchase price if you purchase before a specific date, or they may offer a credit to use towards upgrades.

So if, for example, my builder includes granite countertops standard I won’t need to upgrade right?

Sure…IF you like the standard granite options.

What we realized really quickly is that there are levels of upgrades and each level is a different price. And, of course, what we liked was usually the most expensive.

Let’s use our kitchen as an example…

First, the standard kitchen cabinets had uppers that were 30” tall. Our kitchen was going to have 9’ ceilings so 30” uppers seemed really short. Right off the bat, we were presented with the option to upgrade our uppers to 36” for $725 or 42” for $895.

Granite countertops were not included in our purchase price so replacing the laminate was going to be an upgrade. Granite ranged from Level 1 at $3,550 to Level 5 at $6,450 and quartz was $7,060.

Then there’s the cabinet doors. The standard doors offered by our builder were all wood tones in very traditional styles – not the look we wanted. The style we liked, a solid colour shaker, was a level 2 upgrade and would have cost an additional $5,000.

This doesn’t even take into account other upgrades like backsplash tile, under cabinet lighting, pot drawers or corner cabinets.


Yup, upgrades can add up quickly and add thousands or even tens of thousands to the original purchase price.

Do I have to upgrade things?

No, of course not! You definitely don’t need to upgrade. You can pick the standard for everything and not pay a cent more than what is outlined in your purchase agreement.

Here’s the problem, you might not like the look of the builder standard or you may want more functionality than the standard offers.

Oh great. I was all excited about buying my house and now I’m panicking.

Or, was that was just me??

Here’s the thing. Before you sign anything you should understand what is included and be really clear on what isn’t – that way you can start thinking about what you will need to budget for upgrades and whether that still works with your overall budget.

Sure, you can upgrade all the things. Or, you can be strategic and upgrade things that may be cheaper (or easier) to have your builder do and leave other things to update later.

We definitely went for option two. We upgraded a few key things, but chose to update a lot of other things ourselves later. This blog started to share exactly that – projects we did to further customize our new construction home!

But Casey, how do I choose what to upgrade and what to leave for later?

I’m so glad you asked! I have a strategy for you and I’ll be sharing it in my next post in this series: 10 Tips for Selecting and Budgeting for Upgrades.

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