One of the best parts of building a new home is that you get to personalize it right away. And while you are scrolling through design media looking for inspo, don’t choose improvements and finishes purely in pursuit of a certain aesthetic. It’s a more complex consideration that should add resale value to your home.
Remember that beyond providing shelter and being a canvas for self-expression, your home is an investment – and design and décor choices can help to create value – if you are strategic in your selections.
Whether you are buying a production, semi-custom or fully-custom home, it’s wise to consider your home improvements through the eyes of future buyers, which is what will ultimately generate value.
With so many options, where do you start? Which are most appealing to buyers? Which are most cost-effective and convenient to do during the construction phase? And how do you strike the balance between making your style statement and making value-based choices?
Set the budget for what adds the most value
Before you begin choosing, set a budget, along with a list of priorities if your budget doesn’t permit your entire upgrade wish list. Look at your upgrades in the framework of return on investment and explore ways to keep your costs down- like taking advantage of builder incentives to reduce your spend.
Home improvements that add function
It’s one thing for an upgrade to have visual impact or offer a touch of luxury, but the most profitable fundamentally and absolutely have a pragmatic base. They have to make a space more useable or more comfortable; it is a bonus if they add to the aesthetic.
Getting the best ROI begins with proper planning through the lens of usability. Thinking through in detail about how you will live and what purpose each space serves, “in and of itself adds value to the home,” says Susan Hill, principal and owner of Susan Hill Interior Design.
Once you have visualized life at home, assign design elements and items to create the best user experience.
For example, in order to facilitate entertaining in the kitchen, is there any opportunity in the floorplan to create a nook to house a dry bar with a bar fridge and icemaker, by bumping out slightly into adjacent spaces? This design supports flow for entertaining, as people can use the secondary and primary spaces concurrently, making your home unique and more desirable to future buyers.
“Look to supplement space around your primary spaces. Identifying functional spaces in a plan will add value,” says Hill.
Adding more space is welcome too, whether it is digging a deeper basement so you could create a luxe lower level, or adding rooms with flex appeal, for a future bedroom or home office down the road.
Which should you do at the construction phase?
As a rule of thumb, work that will be messy, disruptive and costly down the road is generally better done during the construction phase.
Diane Morrison, chief sales and marketing officer, Mattamy Homes U.S. says, “Generally speaking, structural options are recommended to make the home work for the customer so they do not have to remodel the spaces after they move in.”
Not only will you avoid the inconvenience of living through renovations, if the budget permits, it makes more sense to absorb the cost at the outset from a planning perspective, especially for cost-heavy projects, like a bath or addition.
It’s also advisable to pay particular attention to electrical and rough-ins for changes that you’d like now – or would like the option to have down the road.
“If you think you may want to add pendants over an island or a ceiling fan to a bedroom, then be sure to add wiring where you may want it. It will be much more complicated and expensive to add electrical once the home is built,” says Lee Crowder, national director of design & model experience with Taylor Morrison.
Kitchens are a big draw for buyers
It’s is the heart of the home, and is something that future buyers will be drawn to – and will use as a metric by which to judge the rest of your home, so this should be your first focus. It’s also one area in which buyers will pay for premium options. Today’s buyers are happy to scale back in other rooms if it means they can have a show-stopping kitchen.
“Buyers are focusing more on the kitchen and upgrades for features such as cabinets and countertops,” says Crowder.
The 2022 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Study shows that homeowners are most willing to splurge on countertops, so it makes sense to prioritize this finish.
Of all the rooms in a home, making cost-conscious choices in this key room is paramount, as costs can add up quickly, but there are lots of options available in a wide range of price points that are worth considering when considering this home renovation before the home is even built.
Materials matter, and you don’t necessarily need to abandon your desired aesthetic to be budget friendly. It’s about keeping an open mind to alternatives that could be more profitable for you down the road.
Let’s say you saw dreamy quartzite countertops in a magazine. Quartzite has a luxe patina and is stunning, but it is very expensive – so it is worth thinking about how else you can achieve the same look.
“There are less expensive options. There are beautiful products now that will mimic what quartzite or marble looks like,” says Hill. For example, quartz looks a lot like quartzite, but quartz is man-made, while quartzite is natural stone- and considerably more expensive.
Quartz is the counter of choice right now says Crowder. “Quartz is very trendy with buyers and they seek options with beautiful veining.”
Morrison echoes this sentiment, “Homes are being finished with pre-selected popular upgrades that buyers are desiring today, such as warm cabinets and quartz counters.”
It’s worth investing in kitchen cabinetry
Another smart update is the cabinetry. That is in part because cabinetry occupies a lot of visual space. If it is sub-par, it can work against the perception of value.
There is also a pragmatic angle here, as cabinetry is expensive and difficult to change out down the road, and getting it right the first time will contribute positively to your bottom line and your décor.
“Even on a production home, cabinetry makes a huge impact and it is something that you cannot easily change as far as investment goes. So, if you’re going to spend money on something that is going to add value, then that’s one of the first places you should look,” says Hill.
Consider extending your cabinetry to ceiling height (most builder-grade cabinets are well short of ceiling height). Not only does this provide more storage, extended cabinetry provides a more cohesive look. Under-cabinet lighting is useful, as are drawers and accessories like roll-out shelves, plate holders and spice shelves.
Appliances are a must have
Also super-hot with buyers right now?
And it’s not just that higher-end ones look sleek in a kitchen, it is that they are the ultimate support to functionality, aside from physical design.
Like cabinetry, this is an improvement that is wise to do in the construction phase, as placement will affect cabinetry design and rough-ins for plumbing and electrical.
“Customers want to make sure they have the right tools from the start… such as being able to control their appliances from their phone while away or having an oven with convection or air fryer capabilities,” says Crowder.
In addition to big-ticket appliances, buyers are seeking small appliances that make life easier such as “little wine fridges, ice makers and refrigerator drawers,” says Hill.
Recommended bathroom changes
Having a spa-like bathroom is sought after by buyers, but be careful when selecting changes. Much like in the kitchen, it is easy to spend a significant amount of money on fixtures, finishes and décor in a bathroom. And while high-end finishes and fixtures might look impressive, you won’t necessarily get your money back for these choices in the bathroom.
The value will come from the overall functionality the bathroom, which means pre-planning the design in detail.
“Make sure in your shower your valves and fixtures are in great locations. You might have a floating bench, or a toe niche for when you are shaving,” says Hill. “Make sure you’ve provided enough storage.”
While better cabinetry is recommended in the kitchen, the ROI isn’t generally the same in the bathroom, unless you enhance functionality, like refrigerated drawers for make-up or docking drawers for narrow tools with a plug strip inside.
Radiant heat flooring is popular with buyers, and contributes to a spa-like experience.
Even if unwinding in a hot bath isn’t your thing, having at least one tub in your home is wise if your market is family-friendly. It’s also good design to separate tub and shower if space allows.
This creates a clean aesthetic, and also designates zones within the bathroom. If you are building a home in which you hope to age in place, think about a zero-threshold shower to promote accessibility.
Hill says if upgrading all the bathrooms in your home isn’t in the budget, pick the primary bath, because of daily use and the enjoyment you will get out of it- and it is the one that future buyers will be most concerned with.
Lighting is key
Buyers may not necessarily notice if your home has lots of lighting- but they will notice if you don’t and it will make your home less appealing. Lighting adds to the function of a room as well as playing a role in décor, adding warmth and dimension to the space.
Your high-traffic rooms (i.e. your kitchen and bathrooms) should receive the most attention. In the kitchen particularly, task-oriented lighting (well-placed LED pot lights and undermount lighting) is helpful because it facilitates cooking and prep.
In bathrooms, make sure that you have dimmer options with your lighting- especially in the primary bath. Pay special attention to bathrooms that don’t have a window; bright LED lights will illuminate these rooms better.
While upgrading lighting during the construction phase is wise, you don’t necessarily have to improve the fixtures. Fixtures are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace on your own, and you will probably want to update them more frequently as a simple way to refresh your space.
Flooring is popular with buyers
Flooring pays an important role in your décor, but it is also a strategic update to capture value.
“It’s beneficial to maximize your budget when it comes to flooring – a material such as tile, laminate, or luxury vinyl plank (LVP) can help elevate the value of your home,” says Crowder.
Hill recommends site-finished floors because they show wear less over time. It’s also easier to simply refinish them down the road if you want to change your color palette.
If site finish isn’t available from your builder, then a high-end pre-finished wood floor could work as well.
From an aesthetic point of view, regardless of which type of flooring you choose, make it flow. Choppy floor styles are mismatched and undermine your style statement.
“In a production home, you get higher value by having hardwood throughout everywhere on the first floor for example, Instead of hardwood in a smaller space and then tiling your kitchen and carpeting your family room. It’s worth the spend to create that systemic aesthetic flow,” says Hill.
Creating an outdoor oasis
Creating usable, beautiful outdoor space became extremely popular over the pandemic, and it is one design feature that is likely to stick going forward, as homeowners look to replicate resort-like amenities at home.
They want to make the most of their outdoor spaces and that includes everything from outdoor kitchens, to gardens, to decks, patios and more.
Phil Shearon, president and principal designer of Shearon Design Collective suggests that to create a seamless outdoor living experience that is an extension of your home – apply the same level of thoughtful planning outside as you would inside. Working with support from a landscape architect or designer creates design continuity and enriches usability- which is the best way to increase value.
“You want to get it right. Especially with a new build,” he explains.
First steps when planning your outdoor space include looking at the space and the natural influences that are available. “Think about sunlight, water access and physical access,” says Shearon.
Think about how you intend to use the space and what kind of aesthetic appeals to you.
And the design feature that is both the easiest and most supportive to ROI are plants, according to Shearon.
“Plants are transformative,” says Shearon. While hardscaping contributes to incredible outdoor design, it’s the softscape that brings the wow factor. Finished homes with dramatic curb appeal, “have incredible softscapes.”
What if you are including hardscaping in your plans? It can be tricky, as a hardscaping investment can add up quickly- which is something to be mindful of for ROI.
Let’s say a shade structure is a must-have in your backyard bay. Don’t stop with the physical structure, but create a setting that invites an activity or evokes an emotion. Shearon says, “Add a potted plant, with an accent rug and an alfresco dining set.” Using smaller, more affordable accents creates a room vibe, giving the space purpose as extended living area and therefore communicates value.
Although water features look lovely and create tranquility, they are not great choices in terms of ROI, as they are higher maintenance and tend to need repairs or replacement more quickly.
Think about improvements that mimic a resort experience, which is what buyers are after today. Shearson reports that the most popular request he has gotten from homeowners recently is to include pickleball courts in their landscape plans.
Don’t underestimate the power of curb appeal to send a message about your home. Not only does a pleasing exterior that is landscaped and tidy entice buyers, it suggests that the home is well-cared for, which translates into perceived value. And it’s a hint of what awaits inside too.
Balancing personal style and strategic improvements
If you really, really love a particular finish or product, but it falls outside the most cost-effective choices, recognize that some choices in your home are just for you – and that you won’t necessarily recoup the cost in resale. Fit these into your budget and try to balance choices out with changes that will carry the ROI.
If you are planning on selling on a short to medium time horizon, keep palettes relatively neutral. Trends come and go, but timeless choices broaden your options.
Crowder says, “Greys and whites were extremely popular for a long time, but we are starting to see warm tones coming back. These warmer tones can extend the life of furnishings in a home and will have a longer lifespan than trendy colors.”
You can create décor drama instead with accents, which are less expensive and much easier to swap out to refresh or neutralize your space.