Buying House Plans Online: Pros and Cons

No two homes are exactly alike because no two families are exactly alike. Still, buying house plans online can feel like a simple way to design a personalized home without the fuss. Sure, someone might have the same plan, but you make a house a home, right? Before you take the plunge and buy stock house plans from a website, make sure you have all of the facts. In some cases, it might actually be cheaper and easier to have custom plans drawn. Consider the pros and cons to decide if stock plans are right for you.

buying house plans 1

Stock plans can save you time. Image: Kurt Baum Architects

Stock Plan Pros

If you’re looking for house plans that are quick and easy, stock plans are a no-brainer. Here are some clear benefits you score by choosing plans from an online store.

  • Cost. Stock plans are typically much cheaper than custom plans. You’re not paying for consultations and meetings where an architect painstakingly creates your vision. You’re paying for the rights to use plans an architect has already created. Expect to pay anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to around a thousand for stock plans. When compared to the $2 per square foot cost of custom plans, buying house plans online is a steal of a deal.
  • Choices. Buying house plans online allows you to choose from thousands of different layouts, styles and exteriors. You won’t get to customize your master bathroom, but you can choose from tons of different options so you get something you really love. Websites selling house plans curate the best styles and plans. That means you get to narrow your search and choose from the best work of hundreds of different designers.
  • Time. When designing plans from scratch, you’re making a pretty substantial time commitment. Combing through options, meeting with your architect and fine-tuning your plans can take weeks. This can really slow down an already-tight building schedule. If you’re pressed for time, stock plans help you sail through the design process and head straight to your build.
  • Jumping Off. Even if you don’t use stock plans, searching online options and even purchasing plans can serve as a starting point for custom designs. If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, going through online options and bringing a few of your favorites to your architect can help you create a starting point. From there, you can tweak and change until you get the right design.
buying house plans 2

Customizations can add extra costs. Image: J Taylor Designs

Stock Plan Cons 

Stock plans can be a good fit for some, but they’re not right for every building situation. Make sure you can live with a few of the drawbacks of buying plans online.

  • Lot Specification. When you buy stock house plans, you don’t get to specify the size and shape of your lot. In some cases, it can be like buying jeans without trying them on first. They just might not fit. While you can usually filter plans based on size, there’s no guarantee that the plan will work on your specific lot. You’ll still need to bring the plan to a qualified designer to make sure it’s a good fit for your lot. Most cities also require a site plan in order to gain a building permit, which means you’ll have an additional cost in having one drawn.
  • Codes and Permits. When you work with an architect, you know that your home is being designed to meet city codes. An architect will also take safety, sustainability and environment into consideration when coming up with the right design. Stock plans, however, aren’t designed to meet specific codes. There’s a chance you’ll still need plans redesigned to obtain permits. Without a design that meets code, your plan is just a picture.
  • Customization Costs. Buying house plans online can be a cheaper option, but customizations can rack up a pretty penny. When calculating the price of your plans, remember to add on any extra cost for having an architect modify plans. Whether you’re making big changes to the layout or you’re having an architect check to make sure your plans are up to code, you’ll have additional costs. Add those to the price of your stock plans and you may find that starting from scratch is close in price – or even cheaper.

If you’re a total design junkie, you’ve already browsed online plans. But before you put your dream plans in your online cart, think about your long-term plans. Buying house plans online can help save time and money, but it also means giving up some of your custom dreams. If you’re dead set on a personalized plan, it might be better to work with a local architect. Still, whether you go stock or start from scratch, you’ll be able to come up with perfect plans for your future home.

The post Buying House Plans Online: Pros and Cons appeared first on

Shipping Container Homes: Cargotecture Pros and Cons

Shipping container homes might seem like a New Age option, but purchasing a DIY home isn’t as rare as you might think. In fact, Sears sold entire home kits to would-be homeowners in the early 1900s. Minimalist dwellings of the DIY variety might have a different appeal today, but the idea is the same: thinking outside of traditional construction can result in more affordable housing.

Modern cargo home

Shipping containers can be stacked for more space. Image: Yerigan Construction

This is especially true when talking about shipping container homes, or “cargotecture.” When shipping containers are re-purposed as the floor, walls and ceiling of a home, it reduces building costs. Still, there are some factors to think about before setting out to make a shipping container into home sweet home.

All About Cargotecture

“Cargotecture” refers to the practice of reusing shipping cargo containers to create dwellings. Because they’re made from strong metal and aluminum, shipping containers can form a nearly indestructible home. And, since they’re plentiful and cheap to buy, shipping containers can keep housing costs low. Although the homes built are far from ornate, the containers can create the basis for a sleek, modern abode that keeps costs low and limits environmental impact.

Shipping container home interior

Cargo homes can be surprisingly cozy. Image: Les Collections Dubreuil

Shipping Container Homes: The Good

Shipping containers simplify the building process. With four strong walls already in place, you’re essentially fast-tracked to the design stage of your home. Here are some of the other benefits of using shipping containers:

  • They’re mobile. Without a foundation, there’s nothing holding a shipping container home down. They’re meant to be portable, which means you can ship and move them as you want. While you may need special equipment to get from point A to point B, shipping containers keep you mobile.
  • They’re custom designed. Even though they may seem simple, you can customize shipping containers to create the perfect layout for your home. Some owners even stack and splice several containers together so they aren’t limited by the size and shape of the initial space. Consulting a designer familiar with shipping container homes can help you decide on the size and layout of your home,
  • They’re easy to find. Shipping container homes are made from recycled shipping containers, which are easy to find. You can simply run a search for container brokers in your area or even find them on online classifieds. Just make sure to look for a container that is watertight and was never used to transport hazardous materials. You can find containers that have been very lightly used or never used at all.
  • They speak to a minimalist mindset. For homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact, cargotecture makes sense. Recycling the basic structure is inexpensive and keeps metal out of landfills. The size and shape of shipping containers also make for lower energy costs.
Shipping container kitchen

A cargo kitchen reduces energy costs. Image: Fredman Design

Shipping Container Homes: The Bad

Environmentally friendly and cheap? What’s not to love? Before you decide to build a DIY shipping container home, however, there are few things to consider:

  • Insulation and condensation. Typical building materials like wood, stone and composites are extensively tested for strength and integrity. Metal shipping containers aren’t designed for living space. This means you could run into issues like a lack of insulation, wind resistance and even condensation buildup. Working with a builder can help you choose and prep the right container for your weather and location.
  • Tricky building codes. Shipping containers are highly portable, but that doesn’t mean you can just plop one anywhere. Local building codes could limit the use of smaller homes or homes built with nontraditional materials. You’ll need to research your county and town building codes before deciding to go with cargotecture. What’s more, you may need to hire a driver with a truck license to move your shipping container from place to place.
  • Contractor concerns. When it comes to shipping containers, not all contractors are created equally. Most contractors are unfamiliar with cargotecture and may not know how to navigate the terrain when it comes to planning and building. Make sure you choose a builder who has worked with shipping containers before to ensure the process goes smoothly and stays on budget.

A shipping container home simplifies the design and build process. That can mean a faster road to a move-in ready home. Still, it’s a new frontier as far as building goes. Building with an unfamiliar material can make the process unpredictable, but with the right planning and design, a shipping container home can make sense for a new homeowner.

The post Shipping Container Homes: Cargotecture Pros and Cons appeared first on

Production Builders vs. Custom Builders: Which is Right for You?

Making the decision to build your own home means dedicating at least a few months to the process. Some builds seem to go perfectly, while others have a few bumps along the way. The type of builder you choose could make all the difference. You’ll need to choose a builder depending on your timeline, budget and level of customization. Custom builders and production builders might seem similar, but they offer different pros and cons. Consider each and compare them to your wishlist before making your final decision. Here are some of the factors to think about.

Production Builders 

Production builders have semi-custom construction down to an art; they can build hundreds of homes a year. They know how much everything costs and structure the build for budget and efficiency. They’ll be able to offer your dream house – within reason, of course. Consider these factors to decide if a production builder makes sense for you.

A production builder uses a set catalog of plans. Image: BCD Homes


  • They offer fixed prices. Because production builders build the same homes over and over, they have a better idea of prices. A production builder can give you a near-exact cost, which means you can choose a home and plan more effectively.
  • They negotiate the best deal with contractors. Production builders tend to use the same contractors for their homes. This allows them to negotiate stellar bulk deals on supplies and services, passing the savings onto you.
  • They’re faster. Managing tight schedules and multiple contractors is a science for production builders. Barring any major snafus, production builders are faster and operate on tighter timelines than custom builders.
  • They offer development amenities. Production builders usually create entire developments at one time. They typically develop amenities like parks, walking trails and even sports courts as a draw for potential homeowners. That means you’ll score major perks by choosing a builder’s development over buying your own lot.


  • You’ll be restricted to existing plans. To keep costs low and predictable, production builders reuse a catalog of plans. Your home won’t be one-of-a-kind and there may be several others in your development with the same or a similar home.
  • Your customizations are limited. Some production builders allow a little customization inside the home. You may be able to have a larger master bathroom or opt for a breakfast nook. But you won’t be able to change the size of the home and may be restricted on things like window sizes or moving walls. You’ll need to choose a plan that’s close enough to what you want, which could put a damper on building your “dream” house.
  • Your fixture choices are limited. When choosing things like carpet, tile, counters and fixtures, you’ll pick from a set of pre-chosen options that the builder allows. Restricting choices keeps prices predictable but it could make you feel stuck with options you don’t really love.

A custom builder starts your plans from scratch. Image: McEwan Custom Homes

Custom Builders

Custom builders create your home, taking you all the way from a blank sheet of paper to a turnkey property. You’ll get exactly what you want, but it can also mean a less predictable process. Here are some of the major pros and cons of going custom.


  • You’ll get a truly unique product. Custom builders start every home from scratch. Whether you come with a plan you found online or you want to create something yourself, each home is unique and designed to your specifications.
  • You can choose your own architect. A custom builder might have a preferred architect or designer, but you can bring your own, too. You aren’t limited to any set of plans and if you love an architect’s work, you can have your plans drawn before you start working with your builder.
  • You’ll have more choices. Want all-gold fixtures? Done! Want a Game of Thrones mural in your game room? Go for it. Want an oversized deck and huge pantry? It’s yours. A custom builder isn’t restricted in any way, so you’ll get to make every choice to your tastes along the way.
  • You’ll have more input. Custom home builders love collaboration, so expect to have more input along the way. Visiting the construction site and having more control over your build is par for the course. It’s a better choice for control freaks or those who truly want the full build experience.


  • Expect a longer build. Custom jobs take more time because there are more decisions to make and contractors are lined up on an as-needed basis. It takes time to send out for bids and hire contractors for your home. Expect a custom job to take longer than a production build.
  • Less predictable costs. Custom builders usually use a cost plus model, which means the cost of goods and services plus a percentage for managing the build. It’s much harder for a custom builder to predict costs because each build is different. Your cost will depend on all of your options, contractor pricing and industry prices that fluctuate.
  • No bulk pricing. Production builders negotiate bulk pricing from the same contractors, but it’s unlikely your custom builder gets the same preferential treatment as a production builder. Your end cost could be slightly higher based on that fact.
  • Too many choices. A custom build can seem like too much of a good thing. Picking all of your fixtures, colors and options can definitely become overwhelming, especially if the sky’s the limit and there’s no way to really narrow down your options.

Production and custom builders each have their pros and cons, so it’s a personal choice. Would you rather have the home of your dreams, even if it’s a little more expensive? Or is price your true bottom line? By deciding which factors are most important to you, you can choose the type of builder that makes the most sense for you, your family and your build.

The post Production Builders vs. Custom Builders: Which is Right for You? appeared first on

Building On An Infill Lot? Here Are 3 Things to Consider

Some people prefer to build their homes in brand spanking new developments. For them, a fresh start with like-minded neighbors makes sense. But if you’d like to build in an already-established area, you’re looking at infill lots. Infill lots are those spaces left after developments and cities have already been populated. They might be empty lots or spaces left after old structures were removed. For some, infill lots mean access to great locations and an established neighborhood, but there are a few factors to consider. Before planning on an infill lot, decide if the spot is right for you.

An infill lot could help you snag a better location. Image: Neokitchen

Location, Location, Location

The main draw for most infill lots is the location. These spaces are often in highly-desirable neighborhoods. But don’t make an offer just yet, since that location can come with a price. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The reason for the vacant lot. Have you considered why a lot might be left vacant in a desirable area? Some infill lots are left over because they’re closer to smells, sights and sounds than the rest of the neighborhood. The lot might also have different utility drawbacks than the other lots. Talk to your real estate agent about why the lot is vacant and see if it affects your opinion.
  • Existing amenities. One of the major pros for infill lots is that you’re able to plug into the existing neighborhood amenities. From parks to utilities and even retail, take a look around the neighborhood to see what amenities you would use (and which amenities might be more of a drawback).
  • Pricing factors. Infill lots can either go one of two ways: they can be cheaper because of certain drawbacks, or they can be more expensive because of the established area. With infill lots, you’re not paying for the land as much as you’re paying for the neighborhood and development. Naturally, your real estate agent can help you suss out the details and negotiate the best price possible.

Other houses may dictate your home’s design. Image: Garman Builders

Development by Design

Because you’d be building a home in an established neighborhood, the design of your dream house is an important factor. Consider these potential issues:

  • The size of the home. Infill lots mean you’re sandwiched between other structures. The last thing you want to do is build a home that towers over or eclipses your neighbors. An infill lot might require you to build a more modest home than you were originally planning.
  • The home’s design. Building a super-modern home in a traditional neighborhood could have your place sticking out like a sore thumb. A talented architect is needed to create a design that feels fresh, but still works harmoniously with the look of the homes in the development.
  • Resale value. Don’t forget to consider resale value when designing a home for an infill lot. Even if you totally disregard the other homes in the area, resale is generally poor in homes that don’t match their surroundings. It’s always better to be the least expensive home in a desirable neighborhood than the most expensive home in a less desirable location. Think about what a potential buyer might see in your home design and how that could affect your resale value.

Consider your neighbors when building on an infill lot. Image: Think Architecture

Neighborly Love

Choosing an infill lot means moving into a ready-made community – for better or worse. Take your potential neighbors into consideration before making any decisions.

  • Making friends. Consider the fact that some neighbors might not take kindly to infill development. If a lot has remained vacant for years, neighbors may have become accustomed to the extra space. Getting to know your neighbors helps soften the blow of the sudden noise and dust of a construction process.
  • Respecting the rules. It’s important to acknowledge and respect any community rules in place. Whether you’re paying an HOA or there are already community rules and policies set up, choosing an infill lot means becoming part of an existing neighborhood. You’ll be responsible for respecting those rules.

Want a new house but an old neighborhood? You might need to find an infill lot. Infill lots definitely have their benefits, but you’ll need to dig a little deeper before making an offer. By considering why a lot has been left empty and seeing how you’d fit into an existing community, you can picture yourself there.

The post Building On An Infill Lot? Here Are 3 Things to Consider appeared first on

Breaking Ground: 6 Things To Do Before You Dig Your Foundation

Your plans are complete and you’ve purchased your lot. You’re probably chomping at the bit to get construction underway on your new home. After all, breaking ground is the first step to the process and your excitement is understandable. But before you grab your trusty shovel (or schedule your excavation), there are a few things to check off your to-do list.

While some of the excavation checklist will be completed by your builder, it helps to understand the entire process. That way, you’ll know that your land is truly ready for the construction process. Follow along with your builder as the final touches are put on your lot before digging.

Modern farmhouse exterior

Make sure you test soil before breaking ground. Image: Coats Homes

The site visit 

Your builder should always visit your lot before breaking ground. Sure, you might have supplied plat maps and surveys as part of the design process, but your builder should also have a personal lay of the land. Make sure you schedule a site visit where you walk the lot together. You can identify any concerns you have about the land (think steep slopes or water run-off) and your builder can make sure your planned home makes sense on the site you’ve chosen.

The soil test

You might see your lot as an expanse of dirt, but that dirt can make or break your home. Soil testing must be performed by a qualified engineer to ensure your home will stay safe on your lot. Soil testing can include a process to test how your soil reacts when compacted and a perc test. Perc testing involves digging a small hole and filling it with water. This gives the engineer an idea of how your soil absorbs and directs water. Without the necessary soil testing, you might not be able to build. What’s more, soil testing gives you peace of mind that your home will stand the test of time (and rain).

breaking ground

Your city might have codes that limit building. Image: Partners in Building

The utilities

If you chose a lot within an existing development, you probably don’t need to worry about utilities. Your developer likely stubbed all power, gas and water to each lot to make the building process easier. If you chose an undeveloped lot, however, you’ll definitely want utilities brought to the lot before breaking ground. You’ll need to know where the utilities enter the home before pouring a foundation. Plus, having power and water helps the build process run more smoothly.

The 811 call

Underground gas and water lines can complicate your build. If you or your builder break ground without first checking for utility lines, the results could be disastrous. There have been instances where entire cities lost power simply because an excavator snagged a power line while digging a foundation. Luckily, every state in the country has a service that identifies all existing utility lines on your property so you’re not playing a guessing game. If you dial 8-1-1, you’ll be automatically directed to the agency or service that can come and survey your land before digging. They’ll identify and stake out utility lines so your excavator knows where (and where not) to dig.

breaking ground 2

Watch out for outdated surveys. Image: Livingstone Construction

The survey

You’ve probably seen a plat map of your property and it’s probably even in your completed set of house plans. The problem is that plat maps – usually procured through the county archives – can be inaccurate and outdated. Case in point: I recently had a five-foot piece of land added to my property line after the county realized the filed plat map was incorrect. A qualified surveyor can come to your property and measure out exactly where your property lines start and end. While I scored more property, my neighbors lost some of theirs. They had already landscaped the area and even had small structures on land that wasn’t actually theirs. A survey ensures that you only build where you’re allowed.

The code 

Finally, make sure you take one last look at your city’s building codes before you build. Your designer and builder should be familiar with all of the rules and regulations surrounding your build, but small details could get lost in the shuffle. Setbacks, for example – measurements that govern how close a building can be to property lines – can be tricky and easy to miss. Digging a home that encroaches on setbacks or is too close to a neighbor’s home could result in costly fixes. Make sure your home is up to par and your build process will go much smoother.

The day you start digging the foundation for your home is one of the most exciting parts of the build process. Don’t let your excitement cloud your judgment and cause mistakes, though. Work with your builder to make sure all of your to-do items are checked off before breaking ground. A week or two of due diligence at the start of your build can save weeks and even months of red tape so you get in your new home faster (and with fewer headaches).

The post Breaking Ground: 6 Things To Do Before You Dig Your Foundation appeared first on

How to Document the Home Building Process

Building your home is a unique experience filled with stories you will never forget. There is also important information you need to remember if you build, even after you settle in. Whether it’s for your family or for future renovations, documenting your build is an important part of the process. Keeping track of your documents and making sure your family stay in the loop can help you stay organized and make sure you remember everything about your build. Not sure how to stay on top of all of the details? Document the process with these simple tips so you can always look back on it fondly.

Airy white kitchen

Use social media and involve your friends. Image: Kroiss Development

Keep friends and family in the loop

The home building process is exciting and your friends and family will want to be included. In fact, you’ll probably find that your new home becomes a popular conversation topic. You don’t need to personally keep everyone in the loop. Instead, you can find ways to keep everyone connected online. Whether you start a blog for pictures, advice and stories, or document all of your progress on Instagram, your friends will appreciate the simple way to stay involved in the process. You can even use social media to crowdsource some of your tough decisions.

White home office

Use your smartphone to track spending and repairs. Image: Jennifer Pacca Design

Organize important documents

The home building process comes with a lot of paperwork. You can keep all of your documents and permits into a file folder, but those aren’t always easy to store or search through. Luckily, there are plenty of digital ways to document and track things like expenses and materials. Try using these apps and approaches to keep up with all your important documents.

  • Use an app like ScannerPro to scan documents – like receipts and contracts – with your phone. You can then create a filing system on your phone or computer to put every paper in its place.
  • Snap a picture to document your materials and finish choices. That way, when it comes time to touch up your paint, you can easily find an exact match. This also helps you find replacement parts like light bulbs and hardware. Take pictures of fixture SKUs in case you require repairs or replacements in the future.
  • Download an app like HomeZada to help you track material inventory, keep a building budget and plan out your next moves. This lets you know which materials you need and how they figure into your big-picture budget. A home management app is an invaluable tool to help you stay organized and save your sanity.
  • Keep paper copies of any signed contracts, especially those between you and lender and you and your contractor. Scan them for easy access or if you have a quick question, but always retain the hard copies in a file for future reference.
  • Keep a set of house plans on your phone. They won’t be to scale and they aren’t for use in building, but you can reference them when you’re walking through your unfinished home.
  • Take pictures of your home before drywall is installed. You can reduce pricey demolition in the future if you already know the location of major electrical and plumbing hookups.
Bright family room

Your building story can become part of your family legacy. Photo: Caroline Sharpnack

Preserve memories

Documenting the home building process isn’t just about business. While tracking receipts and recording SKUs can help you stay organized, documenting the process will help you connect to your new home. The home building process can be stressful, sure, but also meaningful. Take progress pictures and journal about the experience so you can share your story with family and friends for years to come. Create an album of pictures and stories you can refer back to any time.  You’ll meet new people and learn new things when you build a home and it pays to preserve your memories as your own home building story.

Whether you’re just starting your build or are currently in the thick of it, know that your build will become part of your family’s story. Make sure that your story is documented and organized to build a great future in your new home.

The post How to Document the Home Building Process appeared first on

Choosing an Architect: 5 Things to Consider

If you planned on cutting your hair short, you’d probably choose a stylist known for creating gorgeous pixie cuts. It’s the same idea with architects: each has their own style and specialty. And while two architects could have the same technical training, the end results could be completely different. That’s why choosing an architect is such an important part of the home design process. By choosing a designer that has the same style, taste, and philosophies as you, you’ll be on the same page. Take these factors into consideration when choosing an architect and you’ll be able to pinpoint the one that’s right for your project.

Websites are the best place to start. Image: Adelaine Construction

Research online

First thing’s first: narrowing the field. On the bright side, architecture is usually a smaller field than other contractors. Still, you might feel overwhelmed with all of the possibilities. Start by checking out architects and residential designers in your area. Click around their websites and see if you can get a feel for their design aesthetics. One might be great with traditional craftsman design, while another focuses more on modern. Online portfolios are the best way to “get to know” a designer before you start to narrow your decision down to a few.

Ask for referrals

If you really want to know how an architect collaborates with homeowners, ask for referrals. You can put out feelers on social media to see if any of your friends or family have recommendations or check out online review sites. Still no luck? Go straight to the source and contact the designer directly for referrals. Talking to past clients is the absolute best way to see if an architect is right for you. It’s best to ask specifically about the timeline, collaboration, and how residents feel about the finished product. Feel free to also ask past clients what they didn’t like about a designer and weigh their comments against your own set of dealbreakers. If communication is huge for you and a past client complains that they didn’t feel included in the process, you’ll know it’s not the right fit.

A tight timeline could limit your choices. Image: Firmitas Design

Check availability

Homeowners are often surprised at how full architects’ schedules are. The timeline and availability could change the field of potential designers. If you’re looking for a tight turnaround and a quick build, a designer who can’t schedule you for another eight weeks is going to be a no-go. What’s more, the actual design process can take up a large chunk of your build timeline, so make sure you check each designer’s current workload and completion timeline. While you should plan for about six weeks for the process, individual schedules can vary widely when choosing an architect.

Consider pricing

Pricing is obviously a huge consideration when choosing an architect. Most architects calculate pricing based on square footage and it’s pretty rare to find one that uses an hourly rate. Still, it’s worth asking so you can run some calculations yourself. With a general idea of the size of your project, it’s easy to ask for quotes or pull pricing from websites and figure out how much your plans will cost. Remember that your finished project could be smaller or larger than you thought, especially after hearing your architect’s input. Give yourself some wiggle room in the budget and choose an architect who can deliver what you need at a price you can afford.

Meet face-to-face to see how you work together. Image: Heartwood Homes

Schedule a meeting

Before you make your final decision, schedule a meeting with two or three potential designers. It’s best to meet face-to-face to see how (and if)  you work together. Designing a home is an extremely collaborative process, so it’s important to work with someone with whom you can communicate effectively. Ask questions about style aesthetic and specialties, as well as the general design process. How many meetings can you expect? What’s the typical timeline? What happens if there are changes after the plans are complete?

Once you’ve interviewed a few architects, you’re in a much better position to make a final decision. Remember that if you do your homework, you’ll find a designer that can help your vision come to life. It’s worth it to shop around, ask the right questions, and find the fit that makes sense for you and your project.

Here are some additional tips for finding the right architect.

The post Choosing an Architect: 5 Things to Consider appeared first on

Don’t Focus on Cosmetic Features When Buying a Home

When you’re shopping for a new home, it’s natural to favor the more aesthetically-pleasing properties. However, cosmetic features are often decorative and trendy extras. Instead, you should base your decision on the underlying features and value of the home. This includes elements like the plumbing, wiring and roof of any potential home.


Tricked-out closets are trendy, but not necessary. Image: G. Terbrock Luxury Homes

“As a home buyer, it is important that you focus on value over the bells and whistles that can distract from a home’s drawback,” advises Evan Roberts, a real estate agent with Dependable Homebuyers in Baltimore, MD. “Many of these bells and whistles are inexpensive to replicate,” he says. So you shouldn’t pay more for them and you shouldn’t base your homebuying decision on them.”

You shouldn’t increase your offer based on bells and whistles. While you may like them, that doesn’t mean the next homebuyer will. “Paying for low value features will make re-selling difficult,” according to Lucas Machado, president of Florida-based House Heroes. “If you need to move unexpectedly and suddenly, prospective buyers most likely will not assign a high value to low cost features that are already worn.” As a result, he tells Freshome, you might end up selling for a loss, or you may be forced to become a landlord if the sale of your home won’t cover the remaining mortgage balance.

While you may have a list of “must-haves” for your new home, it’s important to be flexible, and consider the big picture. “It’s easy to get caught up in the smaller details,” warns J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company. “Before turning down a house because the faucets are out of date, consider which projects are quick fixes.”

Plumbing fixtures

Speaking of faucets, let’s start with sinks and plumbing fixtures. For example, a farmhouse (or apron-front) sink may set your heart aflutter. But are you really going to base the decision on whether to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home on a sink that costs hundreds of dollars?

Plumbing fixtures

Faucets and other plumbing fixtures don’t cost much to update. Image: Fiorella Design

Another “must have” item for some is either a pull-down or touchless faucet. However, John Blackman, a realtor at Keller Williams/Heart of Austin Homes Team, tells Freshome that you can purchase one of these sink faucets for $200 to $300.

If you’re looking at a kitchen or bathroom with outdated hardware, don’t let these cosmetic features be a deciding factor. “Updating your bathrooms and kitchens with new hardware, like door handles, switch plate covers, vent covers, cabinet knobs and pulls, towel racks and wall hooks, only require a traditional screwdriver, and the effects can really refresh a space,” says Sassano.


Crystal chandeliers are all the rage right now, followed by pendant lights. But while they’re fancy, you can choose from a dizzying array of these and other types of lights for just $100 to $200. So take the time you would spend admiring the light fixture to examine the electrical wiring behind it.


Don’t be swayed by a beautiful light fixture. Image: Rugo Raff LTD

Crown molding

Crown molding, chair railing, and other types of millwork add architectural detail to a home, but they shouldn’t add to the price you’re willing to pay for the home. At the time of publication, one home improvement store was advertising 3 feet of crown molding for $13.97. You can even use paint to make one-piece molding look like three-piece molding. This is one example of how some cosmetic features may not be what they appear.

Here’s another example: “A lot of builders will use MDF, or medium density fiberboard, but that material doesn’t last very long,” according to Seth Argo, president of Nashville-based luxury custom home developer Focus Builders. “It’s also not as smooth as higher-quality alternatives and it  doesn’t allow for staining, though you can paint it,” he adds.

Crown molding

Crown molding provides architectural detail, but you can add it yourself. Image: Jane Lockhart Interior Design

Garage doors

“Fancy garage doors look great and add a sense of luxury, but don’t cost much,” notes Blackman. In fact, he says it’s the #1 value add component for increasing the sales price, whether it’s wood or painted to look like real wood. That’s great news for sellers, and it’s need-to-know information for buyers.

Garage doors

You can mimic the look of real wood on garage doors. Image: Affordable Door

Custom kitchen cabinets

Custom kitchen cabinets in the home you’re considering may not even be custom kitchen cabinets. “You might think you’re getting custom cabinetry, but they’re really factory cabinets,” warns Argo. He says it’s standard for the majority of builders to use factory cabinets. “Some of these cabinets might look nice from a distance, but they’re actually mass-produced for cheap and then sold locally as custom cabinets.” He recommends feeling the material of the cabinet and hardware to tell the difference.

But, suppose the house has old, outdated cabinets? Sassano says that replacing them can be costly. “As long as the cabinets are in good shape, new doors, new hardware or a fresh coat of paint can make them look like new,” he adds. Again, it’s the underlying quality of a home’s features versus the style or cosmetic features you should consider.

Custom kitchen cabinets

Cabinets shouldn’t be a deal-breaker when considering a house. Image: Martha O’Hara


If the house is beautifully painted, Machado warns against being swayed by it. “Although a freshly painted bright room is immediately appealing, walls may be marked up in a few months,” he says. “You can also get a brand-new coat in your choice of color at minimum cost.” He warns that wall paint degrades quickly and says it doesn’t really add significant value to the property.

“In fact, fresh paint on basement floors and walls could be masking issues below the surface,” according to Lance Marrs, principal broker at Living Room Realty in Portland Oregon. “Even with fresh paint, a good nose can sniff out potential moisture issues not clearly visible to the eye,” he explains. He recommends having your home inspector check for signs of water issues.


Paint is the most inexpensive way to change a home’s appearance. Image: Michael Abrams Interiors


There are two reasons why you shouldn’t be swayed by the staging. “The staging will be gone at move-in, unless the offer is to include all the furniture and other items, which is sometimes possible, to be sure,” says Michael Hausam of The Hausam Group at Shore Capital in Irvine, CA.

He also adds that a perfectly staged home is almost impossible to evaluate objectively.


Size and functionality are more important than how the room is staged. Image: Merigo Design

What you should look for in a home

So, what should you consider when buying a home? “Major items such as the roof, heating and cooling systems, patios, pools, electrical, and full green lawns are expensive and time-consuming to install or replace,” says Muchado. “Big ticket items add real property value and should be factored in to your decision and your offer,” he advises.

Hausman recommends evaluating and rating the home in terms of its benefits rather than cosmetic features.  “Focusing on questions like ‘Can I picture myself entertaining my friends in this kitchen/backyard/living room?’ or ‘Is this home a relative bargain?’ can help you look past a particularly appealing staging job to determine if the house is really for you.” Just remember to focus on the the home itself and not the easy-to-replace cosmetic features to make sure you find the right home.

What you should look for

A house with a pool, outdoor lounging area and separate living quarters is worth the extra money. Image: ShubinDonaldson 

The post Don’t Focus on Cosmetic Features When Buying a Home appeared first on

Building Your Energy-Efficient Dream Home

Take some notes from the 2018 HGTV Smart Home designs and equip your home with the best ways to make your home energy efficient. Source: HGTV 

Customize your modern home with energy saving appliances that can offer style and comfort. While older homes have their charm, building a new house is a unique opportunity to customize. You can choose building materials, layouts and add-ons that can make your home more energy efficient.

When shopping for the fixtures and appliances to install in your new home, make sure to think about both the initial and long-term cost. Less efficient appliances may be cheaper up front, but be more expensive when lifetime energy usage is taken into account. Here are some of our recommendations for energy-efficient fixtures and appliances to consider for your new home.

Energy-efficient fixtures and appliances

Setting a schedule to your programmable thermostat is a great way to adjust to your family’s schedule. Source: Trane

Programmable thermostats

You can set a programmable thermostat to change the target temperature throughout the day. This lets you set a different temperature for when your family is at work, school or sleeping. If you’re looking for more, consider a remote thermostat, like the ComfortLink™ II. These can be paired with the Nexia™ system and your smartphone, tablet or desktop computer to control your heating and cooling system from anywhere.

Low-flow water fixtures

Low-flow shower heads, toilets and other water fixtures can help reduce manage your water usage. Ask your plumber for recommendations that will provide the right balance of comfort and efficiency for you.

Tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters instantly heat up water as you need it. This is more efficient than keeping a tank of water hot all the time. While tankless water heaters can reduce your energy bill, they are currently more expensive than traditional water heaters. If you’re considering a tankless system, do some research to make sure the long-term energy savings will make up for the difference in price.

Efficient appliances

When selecting your kitchen appliances consider those with Energy Star certified products. Source: Modern House Architects

When shopping for appliances like stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers, make sure to consider the estimated annual energy usage of each. Look for ENERGY STAR certified products to keep gas and electric costs down and minimize the total lifetime cost of your appliances.

Your local Trane dealer can talk to you about ENERGY STAR qualified HVAC systems, as well as Nexia thermostats today.

The post Building Your Energy-Efficient Dream Home appeared first on

Aging Gracefully: Timeless Design for a Classic Home

Trends may come and go, but taste is forever. When designing your own home, it’s tempting to take an “everything but the kitchen sink” attitude. There are so many exciting features and fun trends to inspire your build! But before getting whisked away on the trend train, you need to remember that today’s trend is tomorrow’s dated. It’s better to take a classic approach to designing and building your own home. That way, you can incorporate trends without letting them take over. Aging gracefully isn’t just for skin care and fashion; the same ideas can be applied to home design. Take these factors into consideration to create a timeless design for your home.

timeless design arched windows

Co-opt classic timeless design elements like arched windows. Image: Phoebe Howard

Blast from the past

There’s a reason some architectural styles have been popular for centuries. By incorporating some of these classical design styles, you’ll be sure your home will age gracefully. Ask for Greek elements by incorporating columns, or embrace French style with arched windows. Work with your architect to bring historical elements into a fresh perspective. Borrowing from the past means a chic, tasteful future for your home.

timeless design cabinets

Simple cabinets always look classic. Image: RLH Studio

Keep it simple

Clean lines and simple layouts keep your home fresh for years to come. Think about it: Yesterday’s smaller rooms seem outdated when compared to today’s open concept layouts. That’s because homes designed around specific purposes and trends fall victim to time. What worked five or 10 years ago might seem stale today. That’s why simple design and clean lines work best. After all, it’s much easier to paint over simple woodwork than to replace ornate and outdated cabinets. In design, less is more for aging gracefully.

timeless design functional

Let function be your guide for a well-designed home. Image: Dreamhouse Studios

Function over form

An architect worth their salt will be able to tell you that form should always follow function. That means you should focus on the function of your home before you start thinking about aesthetics. Sure, you might have always dreamed of a hacienda-style place, but timeless design focuses on the purpose of the home first. Talk to your designer about the way you live, work and entertain. Nail down the specifics of your home’s function first and you’ll find that its form will better stand the test of time.

timeless design neutrals

Neutral backgrounds keep your home current. Image: D2 Interieurs

Neutral backgrounds

A surefire way to make your home look dated is to use the color du jour for the walls. Sure, it’s popular now, but will it always look as fresh and current? Just five years ago, coral was the “it” color for new homes, but gray has been more popular in years since. In fact, we’d be willing to bet that there have been more than a few coral cover-up jobs since then. By using neutral colors as a backdrop for your home, you can easily swap in colorful, trendy accents. Commit to neutrals as your safe choice and you won’t feel guilty for a fleeting love of plaid or paisley.

timeless design wallpaper

Textured wallpaper adds character in a classic way. Image: Soledad Builders

Texture over pattern

One of the simplest ways to ensure your home ages gracefully is to decorate with texture rather than pattern. Patterns are one of the quickest elements to go in and out of style. Palm print might be huge this year, but next year it will be something else entirely. Instead of, say, plastering your wall with palm wallpaper, it’s better to opt for a rich textured paper instead. Texture adds just as much personality and depth as print, but it’s much less prone to trendiness. A jute wallpaper is just as breezy as palm print, and you won’t have to change it when something else becomes popular.

timeless design natural materials

Natural materials age better than synthetics. Image: Building Ideas

Durable materials

Architectural design is only part of the equation for a timeless exterior. The materials you use can definitely factor into how your home ages. The rule of thumb is to use durable, natural materials for a timeless home. Vinyl or aluminum may be cheaper, but materials like wood, brick and stone are higher quality. You may find it’s better to design and build a smaller home with durable materials than a larger one using less expensive materials. The first will always look current and the second can cycle in and out of style – and cost money to maintain and repair.

Think about all the trends your mom used to decorate. They seem hopelessly outdated today, right? Designing and building a custom home means taking every component into consideration. Choosing finishes, fixtures and elements that are simple and classic will always serve you well. Skip the flash-in-a-pan design and you’ll have a home with timeless design that looks fresh and classic – no matter its age.

The post Aging Gracefully: Timeless Design for a Classic Home appeared first on