How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Skyangel23January 24, 2014

I am new to GardenWeb. We are at the blocking stage on our first build. We have two gorgeous acres and 2700 sf, but due to budget we are limited on upgrades.

I would like to know what smaller, less expensive things you are doing to make your home look more custom/high end for less? For example, instead of the builder grade mirrors, we are bringing in our own framed mirrors found at a vintage shop. We deleted the ceramic toilet paper holders and towel bars; the builder will install bronze ones we bring in. In the bathrooms (and kitchen), we deleted the built in backsplash attached to the countertops, and we will be doing custom stone tile backsplashes after we close.

I am very interested in hearing what other people are are doing that are low on the cost factor but high on the "wow" scale. :-)

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3 years back i was facing the same problem as my budget was limited. I contacted several builders but not in my budget and lastly found B&B Homes, meeting my budget. They built custom RTM home and it has been a good experience so far. It can be shifted from one place to another without worrying of packing and unloading of the goods and furniture.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 1:59AM
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Since I'm building my own home, everything is custom. We are also on a very limited budget, though, so you have to get creative. I've been all over craigslist and ebay, buying vintage lighting fixtures. It's ironic that you can get the real thing much cheaper than reproductions! Even if you brought them to a lamp shop for rewiring, you'd still be money ahead. As an example, I paid $40 for a pair of vintage porcelain sconces for the bathroom. Repro ones are $160- each!

I found 10 matching vintage 5 panel doors on craigslist for $10 each. Sure, they need to be stripped and refinished, but they are heavy, solid wood doors. I can always just paint them if refinishing proves to be too much of a chore. I don't need all 10, some I'm going to use 2 of them for paneling in the mudroom area.

On the door theme, I bought a pair of antique barn door type rollers. The (vintage) powder room door will ride on these.

If you have any DIY skills (or the desire to learn them) you can do a lot with trim and paint to customize your home. I have a LOT of skills, so I am making the outside of a small, average ranch home look like an authentic craftsman bungalow, at a much lower cost than paying someone else to do it. We simply could not afford this house unless building it ourselves.

There is a thread going about saving money by shopping around. It does take time, but i really enjoy the 'thrill of the hunt'. When it's all said and done, we'll have a home like no other.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 7:43AM
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skyangel-I like arches, just do. So we found a place on-line that will make them to your measurements for about $50 bucks and my dh put them in, *love* them. So we have arches around our fireplace builtins and master shower that was relatively inexpensive. We are doing a lot of the finish stuff (paint, hardwood and tile flooring install, trim, doors, setting cabinets) ourselves which saves big on labor. With that savings I feel like we could afford a little bit better finishes, solid wood flooring, tile, etc..

It's a balancing act for sure.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 8:55AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

What you want to do is make sure your special things show. So, for example, use standard inexpensive ceramic tile, but then buy a decorative sheet tile, which can be cut into strips so they go a long way, to add as an accent and put it at eye level in the shower or on the backsplash where it will have the greatest impact.

Decorate with color...paint color costs you nothing more, but nothing will make a room look more special than a good color scheme, well applied, especially vs. builder white.

Pick something special in each room to not compromise on, and then it'll be easier to go more basic with the rest.

You may plan now for future upgrades if you wish. Think about what can and can't be easily replaced in the future for when you may have more budget to spend. Light fixtures are easy to swap out and so our plumbing fixtures...but things like tile and windows, not so much.

Also, think about your whole budget. For example, we went with a lot of built-ins which may seem more expensive at first blush, but can save you money when you realize you then aren't buying furniture on top of it to fill the room in. Built-ins are also big space savers.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 9:37AM
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Thanks for the responses.

Mushcreek, I am interested in finding fixtures/lights on craigslist too, but I am worried that I would buy something only to find out when the builder went to install it three months later that it doesn't work. Our builder is semi-custom, but we are in charge of our own lighting, and we can buy fixtures if we want too (just not warranted by builder). Have you had anything like this happen? You are building yourself, so your construction intelligence is well above ours. We are relative babes in the woods, when it comes to this.

Autumn 4, are you doing a custom build? I know our semi-custom builder would not allow us to do work ourselves like that. Most will have to be done after, like our backsplashes in the bathroom. The arches sound awesome! Do you have pictures of the ones over the shower and the fireplace?

Good ideas. We are trying to do this as much as we can. We paid a huge charge to have 10 ft ceilings--can't ever change that later. :-) We upgraded to larger windows also. I am planning to do a few lovely lights now, such as the pendants over the peninsula, most others will be cheap Lowes ones that we will replace over the next couple of years. I am making sure I absolutely love the tile in the bathroom showers, because I don't plan on changing them for the 15 years or more we plan to live here. :-)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 12:27PM
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I was fortunate that a lot of my preferences were for simple materials. I actually wanted simple white ceramic subway tiles for my backsplash and inside all the showers. I could achieve the look I wanted without stone tiles. To make it more "custom" I designed a herringbone pattern using the same tile behind my range. I did have to get the decorative frame pieces of tile which were pricey, but it was much less expensive than using glass or stone tile, and what I wanted anyway! :) Our home is painted brick, and we have an outdoor fireplace. I had the masons create the same design over the mantle on the outdoor fireplace in brick. It is a subtle, custom touch that didn't cost extra.

I agree with Annie that built-ins and custom millwork are a great way to get a big return for relatively little $. We paid @ $1500 to get door and window casings an inch wider than what the builder specified in our contract. Going from 4 to 5 inches for those casings was a relatively inexpensive way to get a very custom feel. Not as splashy as if I had spent an extra few thousand to get a Wolf range vs. my KitchenAid...but I appreciate the luxury and "customness" of it every day. It is also cost effective to use drywall creatively to create "found" spaces in closets and children's rooms. One of my neighbors had one of those crazy complicated rooflines, and our builder suggested that they do something fun for the kids. They created hidden ladders in each room that led to a shared hideout above both rooms. Totally inexpensive to do, and OMG, the kids and their friends LOVE it! It helps if you have a builder who thinks outside of the box. Again, I really didn't want exotic materials for our home, so it made staying in the budget easier. I wanted oak floors, I didn't need cherry or mahogany. I wanted painted woodwork and built-ins, so didn't need to use stain grade lumber. I used my lighting allowance to get very high end fixtures in main rooms and exterior, and ordered lights online from and other sources for secondary rooms. These aren't "cheap" choices, but definitely less than
they could be. Most importantly, we didnt skimp on anything important, like
the bones and structure. I actually enjoyed stretching my budget and was like a game. If I went over on side, I made myself balance it out on the other.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 1:06PM
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skyangel-yes. We are gcing our own build and have done all of the sub-contracting and in some cases we are the sub. We paid a house designer to create a plan for us and had it bid and made our own sub decisions. We are fortunate enough to have a relative with a builders license that would let us do that and he actually framed it for us. There aren't many around that will do that and the bank will not do an owner build period.

We are just at drywall, so arches are not complete but here are a couple pics I snapped of them mid-build. We are at drywall but I didn't take another pic.

Above the shower:

Fireplace (excuse the mess):


Like nini we saved a bunch buying fixtures on line. I bought quite a bit of plumbing during 'black Friday'. Merry Christmas to me! :)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 1:25PM
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Autumn, I love your arches. We also have several in our home but they will not be cased. Just drywall arches.

One way that we saved money was buying pre-made vanities with or without tops for a couple of our bathrooms. The cost of one of our 48'' vanities with a carrara marble top was less than the cost to have our cabinet maker build one (not including a top). We also got a 60'' double vanity from Home Depot for 70% off.

Also, in an effort to save costs we are postponing our laundry and mudroom cabinetry until later.

I've purchased most of my lighting from outlet show rooms and off of ebay for a tremendous savings. You can find some nice high end lighting for great prices! Just have to be diligent with searching.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 3:06PM
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Using vintage lighting fixtures is going to require some legwork on your part. Unless you are experienced with it, bring your treasure to a lamp shop that does repairs, and have them re-wire it. Ask them if it will fit up with a standard electrical box as well. I bought an Art Deco ceiling fixture on ebay. I will re-wire it, but the rest of it fits just fine with a standard ceiling box. The porcelain sconces I bought, likewise, fit standard electrical boxes mounted on the wall. That stuff has been standardized for a long time. You can also google antique lamp parts to find all sorts of repair parts for rebuilding antique fixtures and lamps.

Just make sure that your house will have the electrical boxes in place to support whatever you get. I went ahead and used a ceiling fan box in the foyer, since some vintage fixtures are quite heavy. If you're planning a large, heavy fixture, be sure your contractor and electrician know it.

To me, finding old stuff, and them making it work in my home is the fun part. I know I'll have things that you'll never see in another home. Most of our furnishings are antique as well.

You can get deals on new stuff, too, if you shop around. I bought a huge 43" kitchen sink for less than $200 on ebay.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 5:48PM
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I am a huge fan of Home Depot's daily deals. You can sign up on their website to get them emailed to you each day. Being a savvy shopper, I have literally saved thousands of dollars already and we haven't even started building yet!

I keep up with everything that I buy in a spreadsheet that I use to not only keep up with what I've bought and what I still need, but I also keep track of the regular price versus the price I actually paid for things.

I had mentioned on another thread about my desire to save around 50% on all my lighting, fixtures, etc, etc, and I kinda got laughed at like that wasn't possible. I just updated my spreadsheet tonight with some orders I placed today, and I am now at exactly 50% saved! Included in those figures are all the light fixtures, faucets, ceiling fans, one tub, two toilets, over half the doors, several windows, furniture, sinks, vanities, cabinets, hardware, etc, etc.

We are building a 4 BRM, 2 BA, 2200+ square foot house for less than $100,000. I am serving as the general contractor, which is going to save us quite a bit. I have overseen construction projects before and have helped build two houses and have remodeled several, so I'm fairly confident this is the way to go for us. Our goal is to not have a mortgage when we're finished. We're able to do this because we recently sold two homes and will be selling the home we live in now along with about 9 acres of land that we own outright. We'll be building on the remaining 6 acres that we have.

Another tip: If you're shopping online, always shop through (or - there are several websites like this) where you earn cash back on your purchases. I also buy gift cards through places like So, for example, when I want to order something from, I log into ebates, and then put in Then at, I purchase discounted gift cards (that can be used online within a few hours of purchasing.) Then I go back to Ebates and enter Home Depot, then click thru the link to place my order at Home Depot. I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it's just second nature for me now.

My best find this week is was a hammered copper sink for my kitchen. I had looked at a lot of places where they were well over $1,000, but that just wasn't in my budget. Home Depot had one exactly like I wanted on one of their daily deals one day this week for $399. I had gift cards that I had bought through already and went to order it online, but their website wasn't cooperating, so I called and they agreed to give me an extra 5% off because I wasn't able to go through ebates to get the cash back on my order. So, when all was said and done, after you take into consideration what I saved by purchasing the gift cards through and all the discounts, I paid around $330 for the sink. And it was exactly what I wanted!

I've taught workshops on how to save money, and the first rule I tell those in attendance is to buy when it's at it's lowest price, and then figure out a way to get it cheaper through using tools like Ebates and Of course, when it comes to doing this for a house, you have to be extremely detailed and organized, and I've found that my spreadsheets and pinterest help keep me sane...when I purchase something, I add it to my spreadsheets and also to my pinterest boards (I keep several private boards just for this.) That way, when I'm out and about, all I have to do is pull up pinterest on my phone and I can be quickly reminded of what I've already bought, even if I don't have my spreadsheets with me.

I realize that's doesn't exactly answer your question regarding customizing, but I thought I'd share those tips in hopes it will help some of you.

As for what we are doing to customize our home on a budget, we are doing a lot of the finish work ourselves. I've also purchased things like tile from Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Before purchasing it, I looked up the tile on my phone and it was still in-stock at Home Depot, but by buying it at the Re-Store (still in the boxes even), I saved about 1/4 off the retail cost at Home Depot.

I'm not sure if I really answered your question, but I hope that someone will find my tips useful.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 3:19AM
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what smaller, less expensive things you are doing to make your home look more custom/high end for less?

Please define "high end".

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 12:39PM
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By high end, I really just mean not builder grade, what you see repeated over and over in production/tract homes that are ubiquitous here in Florida. Things that make your house individualized, personalized, little touches that are not expensive like Quartz countertops, but that are eye-catching, different, special at least to you, the home owner.

BethanysMom, I love your ideas! I have never heard of but I will look into it tonight. I will sign up for Ebates too! The spreadsheets and updating Pinterest boards with purchases is brilliant. I will sign up for Home Depot's daily deals as well. If there are any other stores that have similar deals/sales you recommend, I'd love to get that information. Thank you!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 1:52PM
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I was able get some great deals on high end plumbing fixtures for 80% off at You have to check frequently as their stock seems to change often.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 2:16PM
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I do a lot of the same things as you. Another tactic I am using for lighting fixtures is buying a lot of lighting fixtures at BedBathandBeyond. I always have tons of 20% off coupons and use those. I use discounted BB&B giftcards to make the purchase, and also use to find out what cashback portal offers the best bang for my buck when shopping online for a whole bunch of things.

Also, HD and Lowes promise to beat competitors prices for instock things. If you find a higher price, they give you an additional 10% off. I've used that guarantee on several things at Lowes. I stack that with a 10% moving coupon and discounted gift cards. :)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 3:20PM
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Bethanysmom and Carsonheim,

Thanks for those brilliant cost savings ideas!

As for what we are doing, I would say we are trying for one good focal point for all major rooms, and then trying to find ways to save on those features. For example we will have two window seats and 3 fire places (we are in Canada so it is cold). We have gotten great deals on two of the fireplaces, and are searching for a deal on the third. DIY what jobs you can do are key to more savings as long as you have the time to drag out the project. Cabinet prices are insane. My hope is to do mostly Ikea boxes and get the doors through a cabinet door provider. We have been able to get contractor accounts most places as we are GCing and DIY much of the build.

One other unique feature I love is our window wells. I know this is a boring item, but our white, light emitting window wells are awesome for those basement windows that are partially underground (some of our basement windows are above ground). There is no comparisons between these window wells and the standard steel builder special ones. So many contractors that we have hired ask about these windows wells as they are very unique. Our window wells were from Alberta, Canada. Not sure where similar window wells could be had from the US.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 3:56PM
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By high end, I really just mean not builder grade, what you see repeated over and over in production/tract homes that are ubiquitous here in Florida.

So it's the ubiquity you want to avoid? And the same "luxurious sunken tub" that the whole neighborhood has?

Go visit a bunch of builder's models and note what they are promoting. Whatever it is, try to avoid it.

However ... I have discovered that our "split master bedroom", "double-sided fireplace" and "sunken fire-watching lounging area" are suddenly fashionable .... again. they were the trendy tract home posh features of the early 1980s.

We want a NM ranch house feel ... 1880s stylin' with modern plumbing and kitchen, energy efficient ICF construction

We will be controlling costs several ways:

* Use "mass market" materials in inventive ways
* Selective use of "bling" materials where it's visible and makes sense.
* It's a CUBE. It has no dormers, gables, bays, zigs or zags in the walls or roof. But it has a 360 degree wrap veranda
* making the house dimensions fit the material (ICF) to minimize cutting during construction
* standard door sizes and installation methods
* same tile and fixtures in all bathrooms (except the powder room, which is a "public" area)
* same floor tile throughout, just a standard Saltillo-look tile
* Siding will be from locally produced lumber (and awesome!)
* Cabinets will be locally made "custom" but very plain to go with the theme
* Kitchen layout lets us use standard appliances and get the "custom" feel.

* We plan to do some finish work (painting and installing trim, ageing the siding) ourselves.

* If it's drop-dead gorgeous and expensive ... it's going to be art or furniture, not attached to the house.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 8:41PM
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Love your arches! What website did you order them from? Thanks :)
BTW your house looks great!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 8:44PM
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Just bumping in case the OP can see this and advise where they ordered their arches from!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2014 at 9:56AM
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I agree with lazygardens. Think Cube. Absolutely.

Also, do not get so fixated on getting finishes and fixtures for cheap that you forget how much it is going to cost to install it.

Your biggest cost is labor. Not fixtures. Not materials. A cheap material that is more labor intensive is not going to save you any money over a more expensive material that requires little to no labor to install.

Customization is going to be even more labor and money.
If you can get a handle on your labor costs, you'll be 3 steps ahead.

I regret buying "things" like light fixtures and bathroom fixtures before we even started building. I have several fixtures that I just had to buy because it was pretty and cheap. When my walls were finally up and I could see the space, it became painfully obvious that what I bought just simply will not work. So I had to go out and buy it again.

Our house is a simple rectangle and plain looking from the outside, but our inside use of space makes it unique and gives it the wow factor. Everything is simple, standard and ordinary.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2014 at 3:07PM
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If you are in Canada, I'll also suggest triple pane windows. They're more expensive yes, but they cost no more to install than regular windows and the energy pay off is huge. Every single window in our house is triple pane. Instead of granite counter tops, we went overkill with our energy savings materials.

Window placement is another area where you can customize. We designed our master bath so that I can sit in the tub and have a sight line straight out of our master bedroom window for an ocean and mountain view, without sacrificing privacy.

Three huge windows in the living room to take advantage of our view and natural light and we moved our "front" door to the "back" of the house. It makes sense considering our parking area is in the back of the house and it frees up a lot of usable space in the living room. If we had put the front door at the front, guests would have to come up the driveway, park and walk around half the house to enter the house on the side that faces the street.

Little things like that makes a house unique.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2014 at 3:18PM
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I wrote an article about what are the basics to make a home look high end.
We also did things like:
in the living room we have 3 windows together...instead of order a triple window, we just made it look like there were all together by the molding we put around it. This saves money bc a triple window costs more and you have to have a more expensive beam to put above those windows to hold the house up.
Instead of transom windows, we just made our windows taller to let in more light, that only added $30 per window. We also only did grilles on the top of the window and not on the lower half, no extra costs and it gives it a higher end look.
I'd also choose light fixtures that have some personality rather than your builder's basics. You really don't have to spend more to get these, just have to look around.
We also went with interior doors that aren't what you typically see in a lower end home, no extra cost, b/c our builder talked them down.
In the kitchen we saved thousands by not going with a full overlay door b/c the birch (I think it is) cabinets that Marsh Cabinets offered didn't have full overlay and since we were doing it painted white, birch was cheaper.
Wood on the steps makes a big difference.
I just realized I haven't added pics of our new house to my blog...gonna go do that now :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Best upgrades to spend money on

1 Like    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 11:10AM
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I am going to look into Raise, Deal Yard, and Ebates. Tulips, thank you for the link to that blog. Very interesting!!

I think one thing we are trying to do is do higher end on certain things that we think are really important to us.

In our kitchen we are doing a gas cooktop and double wall convection oven. My husband really likes to cook. We are also doing the Moen motion sense faucet. To save in the kitchen we are doing a promo granite. It's not my fav, but it's white which is what I wanted.

We are doing paint grade cabinets as opposed to wood stained cabinets in all areas of the house. I wanted white and dark gray cabinets so finding out those were less expensive anyway was a plus.

Master bath, we are doing a Victoria and Albert Amalfi tub. That was something I wanted from day 1 and wouldn't back down. We were able to get the tile we wanted for 75 cents less per square foot. I am working on finding things like lighting and hardware for less. I've had "builder grade" before so I know what I don't want :)

Exterior wise, we went with a lower roof pitch of 6-12. It looks good within our neighborhood and a really steep roof would have stuck out. Although we are using stone on the exterior of the house, we are limiting the amount as brick installed is 1/3 of the cost per sq foot than stone. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are all brick so adding stone will help with a higher end look, I think.

We originally wanted 10 foot ceilings, but decided to do 9 foot ceilings instead. They will be wayyy better than the 8 footers we had at our old house!

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 11:42AM
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Very interesting ideas on this thread! I'd say I'm most in line with LazyGardens: We're sticking to a simple almost square footprint, which is a money-saver. I say "almost" because we will have a bump-out covered patio at the back, but it's not a "busy" footprint.

In that same vein, we're sticking to some inexpensive, standard-cost items:
- the house'll be around 1700 sf
- simple roofline
- standard sized windows and doors
- open floor plan

But the biggest of all is that we are purposefully planning NOT to build to the extent of our budget. That is, we are building a house significantly beneath our means. We want a small house that'll be easy to maintain, and because we're building inexpensively, we can afford to go all-out on the couple of things we really want, and it means that we can pay cash, which is freedom to do more of what we want (instead of what the bank wants).

Perhaps equal to that in importance: We are questioning EVERYTHING. Why do we want this? Why do we want that? We've determined that a whole lot of things that most people say are necessities . . . we don't actually want.

I LOVE the arches that some of you are using! I can't believe the HGTV people say these things are old-fashioned and out of style! Every time they say Ewwwww and rip out an "old" arch to update the house, I die a little inside. Come to my house, arches! I will adopt you, paint you a pretty color, and smile at you every single day! Oh, and together we will boo-hiss the HGTV people.

Autumn, I'd also like to know the website where you're getting your arches -- and don't forget to share pictures with us when yours are farther along!

I totally agree with Annie when she says, Put your money where it'll show. For example, I never quite understand people on HGTV who put big money into custom closets. I mean, I see the point in well-made organization inserts that'll allow you to use every inch of the space . . . but people are going to SEE your kitchen and your living room -- even you aren't going to linger in the closet.

I'll second what someone else said about being careful of old materials =ing increased labor. Doors are a good example. If you buy a new pre-hung door, a carpenter can pop it in super-fast (costing you little). On the other hand, if you bring him a used door sans frame . . . he's going to have to fabricate a frame from scratch, and that'll take him much more time (and you'll pay more). So if you're bringing in old doors (or whatever else) because you want the old-fashioned, nostalgic look -- cool! But if you're bringing them in to save money, you might be shooting yourself in the foot.

On the other hand, vintage-nostalgic-cottage is our style . . . and I am searching out vintage light fixtures. However, the Electronics teacher at my school is having his intro-level students refurbish them for me as a lesson! He appreciates "real work", as it is educational for them. If something is ruined, or if I buy something beyond repair . . . well, I've saved so much that I can afford to "lose" occasionally. I pay for materials and slip him a case of sodas every now and then. He's also going to do my electrical for me. Likewise, our school's Masonry teacher is going to lay my brick. I wish Plumbing were offered at my high school!

If you're looking for used items, don't neglect the Housing for Humanity resale store. People donate really good stuff to them (and a bunch of junk too). For example, I saw a WONDERFUL kitchen island -- brand new, never installed -- with beautiful black granite countertop -- last summer. It was on sale for some ridiculous price like $800. I still regret not buying it. I would've gladly purchased cabinets and countertops to match it, though I don't know where I could've stored it.

And I'll disagree with one frequently-mentioned concept: I don't like the idea of building what you can afford today with the idea of ripping it out and replacing it when you can afford to upgrade (this seems to come up with countertops most often, but it could apply to other items as well). In the long run, this costs MORE, and it's wasteful -- both in terms of personal finances and ecological resources. If you're not going to be happy with what you can afford, ask yourself whether this is the right time to build.

I was very interested in Tulips' link to the three-house comparison and spent more time than I care to admit studying those images. Honestly, I was surprised that in every single set of pictures, I strongly preferred the mid or high priced house. I would not have said that windows/lighting and crown molding were THAT important, but the website made a solid case, and now I am a believer. I'll throw out one more item: The fake wooden floors in the low house really couldn't hold a candle to the real hardwoods . . . though I wonder if it would've been SO EVIDENT if the rooms had been full of furniture.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 5:23PM
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tulips33 should check out Vintage Tub and Bath, I wanted a claw foot slipper tub and we ordered one of their packaged deals for I think $1100, around here you can't even get that for double the price. It included the faucet with can be minimum $400 bought separately, I think. It looks great and satisfied my desire for a slipper tub but we didn't spend a fortune on it which made me happy b/c no one except you really ever sees it.
We also went with one of the lower end granites although it wasn't builder granite that you see in every house. It's called Glacier White and we had the granite fabricator hone it for a few hundred dollars. Some people have thought it was soap stone but I think it looks closer to gives a higher end look over the shiny stuff.
I made a study of what are the basics to make a home look high end when we had a parade of homes and I had already gone to see these houses, and I brought my husband to see them all with me to show him. When we were in the mid range house, he was ooohhh and ahhhing over it and then I took him to the higher end home and he immediately saw my point, the molding and lighting in the higher end house blew the mid range one out of the water even though they both had all the same finishes. Our builder didn't even charge us more for the thicker molder and it was only $600 more to add the small crown molding around the tops of the doors and windows.
We were going for the cottage farmhouse look too, I just made my own pendant lights using lanterns that I bought for $25 each at Hobby Lobby.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 6:45PM
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Tulips, I did check out that website! We went with the Amalfi tub because I was physically able to sit in it at the Ferguson showroom. I am a 6'1" female with long legs and I could actually straighten them while sitting in it. Plus we really liked the V+A baths because they are cast stone and will hold heat longer.

Those free standing tub fillers are really expensive. I had really seen any for less than $1,000 that I liked so we are going to have a ledge built right by the tub to run plumbing through it and then put a Roman tub filler on top. That will save us several hundred dollars there. .

If my builder wants to get "the look" from me, he'll jokingly mention getting rid of that tub to save money :)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 11:27PM
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The biggest thing for me has been to shop around. Which seems obvious, but I haven't found that one particular place is less expensive. Some items are way more or less expensive one place vs. another.

I have ordered tons of stuff on Amazon, which is great because shipping is free (even on things like tubs), I get nearly everything in 2 days, and they have a fantastic return policy.

One example: over a year ago, I went with my builder down to Ferguson to look at plumbing fixtures, but we didn't finalize or buy anything. Except that apparently (due to, I dunno, a mix up? miscommunication? I hadn't met my quota for the millions of things that have to go wrong when building a house?) he ended up ordering and installing the rough plumbing for some of the fixtures we looked at. Then finished the walls.

Suddenly, I was locked into very specific, pricey trim such as two $1,300 faucets. $1,300 faucets! I thankfully managed to find the same faucets on Amazon for $200 each.

Some other things:

I needed just a tiny bit more quartz slab for a bathroom and laundry room, but instead of ordering another pricey half slab, I found two small slabs at a recycled building materials place near me for $50 each (sure, it's costing me $400 for the fabrication, but still way cheaper than buying another half slab).

I'm finding used appliances on Craigslist (like a 36" Subzero refrigerator for $2k).

But in terms of little things that make the whole house feel super luxurious:

-Hue light bulbs: at $30 each, they're not more expensive than LED bulbs + dimmers and they are the most awesome thing ever.

-Heated toilet seats: cheapest I found was $99/each at So great, especially in the middle of the night.

-Adorne switches and outlets: somewhat pricey but they look super swank and you can add little touches like night lights to them. (Lowes has a pretty good selection.)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2015 at 7:12PM
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We made lampshades for some of our lights! We used special maps of our neighborhood, had them laminated, and attached them to wire frames with electrical tape! They are totally unique and were relatively inexpensive...there are directions online.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2015 at 7:39PM
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Reasearch and negotiate. No matter what I purchase, from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, I do an insane amount of research and try not to purchase anything unless I know I'm getting good value and only when nothing further is possible to drive a price down; any place, any country, any culture. I negotiate prices even where negotiation is normally out of the question and be considered ridiculous, even in big box stores, electronics, building, hardware, automobiles, land, houses, dentists (yeah them too), lawyers, accountants, clients etc. etc. Here we are talking about building and I, like most others planning to build a house, start months in advance, going back to my contacts and commence negotiating prices for concrete, labor, flooring, siding, roofing, fixtures, other building materials. A lot of this requires an extreme level of timing, patience and shamelessness, works majority of the time. The key is knowing when to stop driving a seller crazy, paying and getting out.

I especially relish negotiating with real hard core salespersons, the very experienced ones, who take buyers/public for a ride everyday; knocking them down on their turf at their own game, is so much fun.

I'm not in sales or purchase.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 12:02AM
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The original question was about customizing, not specifically about cutting costs on the build.

I suspect the OP (who is likely long gone by now) was doing a builder cookie cutter house and wanted a more unique look. In that scenario, I would say that wherever possible, source your own decorative fixtures and finishes.

With a non-custom build, your builder is going to offer you one supplier. You're going to go in, and they'll offer you a small number of options at the base price. If you want anything different, that's an upgrade. So most houses on the street will have one of 6 styles of tile. Or, to be different, you'll have to pay upgrade fees.

But, if you have the option, and you go get your tile somewhere else, you can find different options that aren't necessarily any more expensive than the builder's basic ones.

But how much sourcing you're allowed to do varies.

Also, don't rely just on what the supplier has in their showroom. Most lighting stores can get any fixture from a large variety of sources. But they don't have room to hang samples of every one. So go online, look at what's out there. Go to a few stores and look at the samples. Then go to your builder's lighting supplier and ask for the exact brand and part number you want. But if you go by what's in the showroom, so will everyone else, and you'll all have the exact same light fixtures.

I don't know if this is true everywhere, but it is in my city. Most tile manufacturers have showrooms. They don't sell to the public, but they have samples of ALL their product. The tile store is going to have a small selection from each of the various manufacturers they carry. So rather than going to a dozen tile stores and seeing basically the same thing over and over, go to the manufacturer's showrooms. Pick what you want, then go back to the builder's preferred tile shop and give them the specific tile you want.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 5:36PM
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