Guys, we closed on our new home last week! After nearly a year of planning and building, she’s finally ours!!!
Due to the extremely high cost of customizing a home with a builder, we chose to have some projects done while the house was built, and save others to tackle after we close but before we move in (you can read more about why we did this and how much we’re saving here). As so many of you can probably relate, sometimes you have grand intentions of taking on a project after you move in, and then 8 years later it still remains undone. At our first house we put in granite countertops to sell it, after living with Formica that our Great Dane had chewed on for 5 years. At our second home, we swapped out ugly ceiling fans and made over the fireplace after 7 years of living with the blah ones. NO MORE, GUYS.
While we have a thousand things we would love to eventually do over time to make this home our own - like adding wallpaper, adding wainscotting, and painting rooms - some are critical for us to do from the get-go. Here are all the projects we’re tacking in the 4 weeks between closing and move-in.
Oh, and if you're more of a video person, you can see the entire tour of our home here.
1. Replace flooring. The builder standard finishes for the flooring in this house are carpet basically everywhere, with tile in the bathrooms, kitchen, and entryway. We upgraded to engineered wood floors in the kitchen and dining room only, which allowed our cabinets to be set over the floors and not have quarter-round molding around all of the cabinets. Quarter round is the dead giveaway that something has been renovated after the fact, and just adds another layer of STUFF to the bottom of the cabinets that I didn’t want. We want them to look clean and contemporary without that extra fuss.
Our contractor will be taking out all of the carpet (don’t worry, it’s being re-homed) and removing the tile in the entryway and feathering in more engineered flooring. I secured the product information on what we chose with our builder and ordered additional flooring at the same time they ordered it for our house. This required quite a bit of close contact with our builder to get that timing right, and he was super helpful in that regard. This ensured that our wood would be from the same lot as what he ordered, minimizing risk of crazy color variation or stock issues.
I've been asked about where are good places to donate building materials. Finding a friend or a contractor to take it is the easiest. Habitat will often come and get things from you as well! And i've had great luck with posting things on Facebook Marketplace as well.
Unfortunately the tile will not be salvageable. It will be sledgehammered to be removed, so none of it will be useful. It pains me and I begged for them to just leave the floors bare or to put down carpet (which is easy to donate), but alas, the builder wouldn't allow it.
2. Paint cabinetry. This one is another huge cost savings. To do white or light gray cabinets with our builder was included – there were a handful of colors to choose from - but to do anything other than those finishes was HIGH DOLLAR. And they couldn’t do any custom color that I asked for; there was still a limited selection of stock colors. I had my heart set on moody cabinets painted in Sherwin Williams Greenblack, so we’re having that painted after the flooring goes down. We’re also painting the guest bath cabinet, the office walls and trim, the doors to the office, and the powder bathroom. You can see our full kitchen design plan here.
3. Replace countertops, sinks, and faucets. The builder basic granite leave something to be desired, and the markup on countertops is huge. I was able to get new engineered marble look quartz countertops for the kitchen and master bath for less than the cost up upgrading the kitchen only. That also gave me the freedom to choose whatever sinks and faucets I wanted and not be limited by the builder’s offerings. Our builder uses Moen, and while Moen makes a fine fixture, they don’t offer brass fixtures. Which astounds me, by the way. I also wanted a specific single-basin kitchen sink that had an integral cutting board and colander, so now that we’re replacing the counters I can get exactly that.
4. Install decorative lighting. Never, ever, buy fancy lighting from the builders. Take what they give you for free and pick out your own. In our master bath below you can see some sweet keyless light fixtures with bare bulbs (like you'd find in a closet) poking out of the walls. Our new light fixtures will go there. The builder was kind enough to install them exactly where we wanted them if I marked the locations myself (and then took responsibility for it being right).
5. Tile. We did a mix of tile from the builder and tile on our own, and our decisions were driven between balancing the cost, logistics, and the ability to get what we wanted. We did our master bath flooring with the builder, but are replacing the wall tile on our own, since the very specific mix of white and pink wall tile I wanted wasn’t available with the builder (go figure). You can see our full master bath design plan here.
We also have a SUPER fun tile planned for the boys bath floor that’s an intricate pattern of 3 different tiles, and the builder was like “yeah no.” Can’t wait to share that one with you! We’ll also replace the kitchen backsplash and add thin brick at the fireplace wall.
6. Appliances. Some of these things feel fairly universally true, like swapping light fixtures. I will be the first to admit that swapping the appliances is a 100% luxury and personal preference move. The appliances that came with our house are of great quality and appearance. I’ve just had my heart set on the matte white Café line of appliances since they were introduced. So we’ll be pulling out and re-selling the stainless steel wall ovens, microwave, and dishwasher, and replacing them with their Café cousins.
7. Hardware. Our builder offered like 2 cabinet pulls and they were gross and expensive. We’ll be adding cabinet hardware to every room on our own. This is essential in the kitchen and master bath because we’re doing inset cabinets and you literally cannot open them without hardware (unless you’re using a putty knife or spatula…not super user friendly). We will also swap out things like the house numbers and some of the towel hooks as well as hang mirrors.
Why didn't you just build it right in the first place? It's so funny how the algorithms work, because sometimes I feel like everyone must be so tired of hearing about this, and yet we get the question all the time, so it bears repeating. It would have been AMAZING to just pick out what we wanted with the builder and been done with with, but that didn't work out for a few reasons.
Builders make TONS of money on upgrades. The upgrades you buy with the builder are so deceiving. They sell it as "only 50 cents a month on your mortgage!" but you multiply that by 30 years + interest and you're soon paying $5000 over 30 years for a tile that you may rip out in 15 years. You can read all about that process here and how we are saving tens of thousands.
Because I'm a designer, I know what things actually cost. Those $20K hardwood floors only cost $10K. Those $9K quartz countertops only cost $5K. You take just a handful of those decisions on a house and add them up, and you're suddenly spending tens of thousands on upgrades that you could do yourself (or hire out) for much less.
The builder wouldn't let us install "nothing." I asked to install no floors, no backsplash, no wall tile. Could I get a credit for the appliances instead of having ones put in that we would take out? But they said no. Sometimes this is for good reason - the city inspector won't pass an inspection of a shower with bare cement board and no tile as complete. I get that. Mostly because they make money on efficiency. I was asking them to do extra work (managing what I wanted vs. what is standard on every other house they build) to make less money, and as a business owner I appreciate how that's a hard sell. So we had to put in builder basic finishes, even though EVERYBODY knew we were ripping them out. Yep, it's wasteful. Yep, it sucks. I'm right there with you and don't love it anymore than you do. That's why we're donating as many things as possible to keep them from the landfill.
They didn't have everything I wanted. Because I have access to literally all the materials on the planet, I wanted what I wanted. And the builder didn't have relationships with all of those vendors to provide it. Where I could get what I wanted with the builder and it made financial sense, we did it (like our master bath floors). Where it didn't - like kitchen backsplash, engineered wood floors, shower tile, and lighting - I didn't.
What’s happening to the stuff we’re pulling out? Here’s a question we’re getting a lot! Our goal is to waste as little as possible. We’ll be selling what we can, especially the appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures. We’ll donate what we can’t sell, including the carpet. Some things unfortunately won’t be salvageable. The builder basic tile that is coming out will be a loss. There’s a chance that the granite could come up without being destroyed, and if so we’ll be giving that away to friends.
How are you feeling?! Gosh, so many feelings. Mostly of overwhelming gratitude that we get to live here. After doing hundreds of homes for our clients, having the chance to do one for ourselves is an incredible gift. I grew up in very modest 3 bedroom houses that were homey but nothing too fancy. If my 6 year old self could have seen this coming she would have thought we were moving into a palace. Which we basically are. I mean, it has an office with doors you guys.
There’s a little bit of sadness and concern for our kids moving neighborhoods and all of the changes that brings. They’ve asked a couple of times “why are we moving again?” and I get it. A kid’s reasons for moving are quite a bit different from a grown ups. Our driving factors were raising our kids alongside our best friends, having a house with lower maintenance and upkeep, going to a high school where our kids would actually be able to attend school together, getting a dedicated office space for our business, and a dozen other reasons. Thankfully we’re only moving about 25 minutes away and not across the country, so they can still see their friends. Kids are so resilient though that I’m sure it’ll be no time before they’re happy roaming around the neighborhood creek with their new pals.
Honestly I’m a little beat down at the thought of packing up a house and moving again. Thankfully we only unpacked about half of our stuff when we moved into our rental, so packing back up won’t be the total worst. Though we all know that packing is never actually fun. We’ll have access to the house for a solid 4 weeks before we move in, so we plan on shuttling some things over ahead of time to make moving day that much smoother.
That’s the long and short of it! We have 4 weeks to knock out all of these projects (mostly our friends at DSM Construction are doing these for us) and we’ll move into our home towards the end of June. We’ll update more frequently on Instagram so be sure to check in with us over there!