Building on a budget.. What areas should we focus money?

njbuilding143February 1, 2014

Ok.. So we are building on a budget here in NJ.. We just got back our first proposal from one of the builders we met with. He told us straight out that due to our budget he gave us the best proposal he could.. Mind you this was a basic proposal and there were not a lot of 'specifics' written out.. I was just wondering what areas of a house we should focus money on.. For example in the proposal the builder listed Silverline by Andersen double hung windows.. Doing a little research I found that silverline is a 'contractor' grade material and on the lower end.. So this is obviously an area where I would want to upgrade.. We are not a 'top of the line' couple so we are not looking for everything to be high end but we dont want to build a home that in 2 years we need to replace everything.. We are looking to live here for some time.. Just wanted to get an idea on some other areas that we should pay attention to from those that are further along in the process or done this before..

FYI the proposal we received was for a 2500 square foot home with a 400 square foot attached garage, a 1250 square foot walk down basement (unfinished), and included asphalt driveway, concrete walkways, seed for grass, all excavation, debris removal, and use of their architect to draw final plans.. Basically complete turn key home from start to finish.. The only thing not included was permit fees which they said is whatever the town charges, and tie in fees which everything is at the curb so no need to go into street.. Proposal was listed at 345k..

This is the plan that he based the proposal off of:

Here is a link that might be useful: House Plan

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When you are already at builder grade, there isn't any way to upgrade something and not pay additional prices. You need to find a simpler, smaller plan, take more time to save, or buy existing if you are at the limit of your budget.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 11:24PM
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We are not at our budget, yet.. We are simply building with budget in mind.. Not everything is builder grade.. We have factored in some upgrades already.. We still have funds for upgrades and just wondering where the spending will give us our best bang for the buck.. For example.. We are not focusing on "extras" for the house.. As stated the one thing we found in the proposal was the windows.. Just wondering what are some other areas that those further in the process or have already built would suggest spending more on.. I know that when it comes to upgrading you can just keep spending but just trying to be smart on where the money goes..

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 11:35PM
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Some of it is dependent on location. Better windows won't make much of a difference in a moderate climate. Neither will 2x6 construction. Both will make a large difference in a cold climate. Upgrading the AC to a high SEER unit makes sense in a climate that uses AC 9 months of the year, and hardly any sense at all in a climate that might use it 2 months.

Better DESIGN makes a permanent difference in a home, and it's something a lot of people sweat over, scribbling on pieces of paper, or trying to learn software to manipulate a home design. The better expense is to hire an experienced professional to create something for you that works from the beginning, suits the property also, and is code compliant for your location.

Other things that shouldn't be scrimped on but often are are the things that come near the end of the build, like the cabinetry, painting, floor coverings, trimwork, and landscaping. Out of the 5, only the cabinetry is likely to last you at least 20 years before being replaced. The other 4 should receive basic minimal attention, with the plan to replace or DIY the upgrades after completion or at a later time. Laminate counters can always be replaced. Small shrubs grow. Carpet can be replaced with hardwood. Painting a room is a weekend project. But ripping out cabinets and replacing them is a 30K project that disrupts your life for quite some time.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 11:52PM
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We are also building within a certain budget and have chosen particular areas for upgrades. We upgraded windows which didn't cost a lot more, we will add more insulation, and upgrade the A/C. We had also budgeted for major upgrades in the kitchen and bathrooms for higher end finishes but some overages on some things like dirt, concrete and lumber and some miscommunication with our builder has lowered our budget for the kitchen tremendously. I would suggest that whatever budget you have allowed for cabinets and countertops, add some more to make sure you can have what you want if you have more $$$ available.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 12:06PM
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Concentrate on the bones of the house, things that cannot be changed out easily in the future.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 1:10PM
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@ live_wire_oak - thank you for your comment. I feel so much better over the number of hours (more than any grad school course I took) I have spent researching cabinets.

Now (based on your comment) just wish I got a second architect opinion or posted the layout on GW (probably even better option), but too late for that.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 8:11PM
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We were in much the same boat. We opted for mid-grade windows as an upgrade, an ICF basement which was an upgrade, installing the footings for our future deck now (when it's easier and cheaper, even though it wasn't in the initial build budget), upgraded flooring in the main space (bc it had better longevity), upgraded cabinetry, countertops. The front door. Sprayfoam insulation. The shower (steam shower) and bathtub because I'm pretty sure we'll have to use a chainsaw to get them out of there (tub is a 5'x6' 2-person can imagine). The kitchen sink was also an upgrade (pain to reinstall with the granite counters), along with the stove top (my man is an amazing cook and well...kinda deserved the spoiling since he makes dinner). In-floor heat because my old job involved showering 8 times a day in cold rooms, and I deserve to be warm after a shower. Sound proofing and insulation because again, it would be expensive to do later.

We skimped on bathroom cabinetry because it's easy to replace and remembering my parents' house, it takes a ton of abuse from kids (which someday hopefully not too far in the future will occupy the space). Likewise bedroom flooring, light fixtures (did a ton of online shopping to get cheap but attractive, not a million hideous "boob" lights flushmounted everywhere). Toilets I bought $80 low flush ones with $10 seats because I really don't care about the 5 minutes I spend there a day). Fridge and stove I bought good, attractive appliances at discounted prices. They'll break in 5 years even if I bought more expensive ones. Door handles, trim, the drybar because it's easy to replace later. Same for the pantry cabinets which are currently shelves. Closet organizers because I want to spend time designing something cool.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 1:36PM
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Thanks again for all the input... We already have granite figured in for the kitchen.. The builder gave an allowance of 12,500 soley for kitchen cabinets.. According to him the 12,500 is contractor rate spending.. Basically he said with his discount that spending that amount would give us a 25k kitchen... the kitchen is on the smaller side.. only about 12x12... As for heat/ac he factored in Goodman HVAC units.. 1 for the upstairs and 1 for the downstairs.. We figured he probably factored in basic units that would get the job done so we know we will have to upgrade this.. He didn't specify what R value insulation he would be using but I know its not spray foam.. So again another area where we will probably upgrade..

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 5:46PM
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Unless you've got a hole in the ground, it is not too late. I HIGHLY recommend you take time to list your expectations to the T. Your builder is more than likely hoping you'll just slide into construction so he can continually "change" from his normal level of finishes. You need to do some research and try to find someone to help you with the build specifications. This site is filled with stories where a contractor and homeowner disagree about what the "standard" finish was supposed to be.
Building is a lot of fun if you learn to take the highs and lows in stride. if you have already started researching and don't care for contractor grade windows... you haven't seen anything yet. Every single item in your home has to be purchased and almost every item has a price range. If you do your homework you will save yourself a lot of angst in the future.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 6:13PM
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Structural and insulating can't change that too easily later and you can always make cosmetic changes.

I'd focus on a few well-designed spaces (big living room, big kitchen/eating area) and think about smaller bedrooms and bathrooms...but not too small in kids' bedrooms.

Knowing that your heating/cooling bills will be manageable is a big relief, going forward. Also, how much time do you spend in the bedroom (awake) and bathroom? I'd rather have more space in the living areas. Maybe even a porch or sunroom for more living space, rather than large master bath and closet. Just my two cents :)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 7:15PM
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