Over the last few years when I start talking about the projects we’ve got going on at the house, someone always ends up saying something like: “Wasn’t your house only build a few years ago? Why do you need to make so many changes to an already finished house?”
I’ll be honest, this used to really upset me. I’d get defensive and feel the need to start justifying our decisions. Because to me, our house wasn’t finished – it was a big white box with no personality. Now, three years later, I don’t take questions like this as personally. I understand that buying a new-build house is not an experience most people have gone through. For us, renovating our house made a lot of sense because we couldn’t opt for many of the builder upgrades. That’s the part that no on seems to talk about – the real cost of upgrades. I decided I wanted to share our experiences in this post, in case you’re considering buying a new-build home or maybe you know someone who is. Or maybe you’re one of those who thought we were nuts lol.
When we were house hunting we were living in Toronto where the average house was around $700,000 – WAY out of our budget. What we did find in our budget was either not big enough for the four of us to have our own spaces (if you remember, we bought the house with my parents who needed their own space) or it needed a lot of work which would have made it un-affordable. For us, our best bet was new construction just outside of the city. The price tag was right and with more space we had the option of having the builder finish the basement into living space for my folks.
Before we bought our house I definitely had a picture in my head of a new construction home. It looked like the pictures I’d seen in magazines or in TV commercials. It looked the builder show home we went to visit and the builder’s Design Centre where we picked our finishes. You know, I thought my kitchen would look a little something like this:
If that’s what you’re imaging also let me stop you right there – we were wrong. Everything about that dream kitchen is an upgrade. EVERYTHING.
Beautiful floors? Upgrade.
Don’t want laminate counters? Upgrade.
Solid colour cabinets? Upgrade.
Pot lights? $325 each.
That was not going to work for us as our budget was already so tight. We decided to upgrade the big stuff and then DIY the rest ourselves. Our kitchen is a great example. When we took possession our kitchen looked like this:
Not bad – builder grade is pretty good. But want to guess how many things in our kitchen were upgrades?
Taller upper cabinets (standard is 30” we went with 42”)
Two custom cabinets: pot drawers & a lower corner cabinet
Rough-in for venting microwave above the stove
I estimated that the kitchen we wanted would have cost about $30-35K if we had done it through our builder. While that might have been easier, we still would have been limited to the finishes available through their Design Centre. We decided we would do the rest of the kitchen ourselves.
We picked a floor tile and counter-top from our builder that would coordinate with the colours we were eventually going to paint the cabinets. We picked a cabinet door based on the style, not the colour. Two years ago for the One Room Challenge we did it. We got the look we wanted and the all-in cost was under $5K – a significant savings.
I think there’s an assumption that a new house will look like the showroom, that it will be beautiful and finished on day one – and if you’re lucky enough to have the budget, maybe yours will (or does). For everyone else, renovating a new-build home is a great option. You can still get the look you want and you can spread the projects out over time, especially if you’re up for a little DIY.
Yes, you will get some funny looks from people and others will ask why you feel the need to renovate an already “finished” house but you know what? Do it. It’s totally worth it. It’s perfectly fine to renovate your new builder house. In fact, I would say it’s better because it will be unique and completely your style.