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5 Builder Upgrades I Love 9 Years Later

Are you building a new home and trying to figure out which builder upgrades to skip and which to go for? Or what upgrades are worth the money?

Supervising 4 spec new construction home builds, I’ve struggled with this question every time. Luckily, by the time I got to my 4th and current house I knew what builder upgrades were worth the money.

Upgrades are a big part of how the builders earn extra profit, so you do have to consider them carefully. Plus they always feature all of them in the model home that you swoon over, so they are hard to resist!

After 9 years of living with my upgrade decisions, I can now share the ones I still love and were worth the investment. 

Builder Upgrades in New Construction Defined

New construction builders all have a pretty typical list of common upgrades they offer. The list is usually long and many come with a pretty hefty price tag!

The areas most everyone will tell you it is worth spending the money to upgrade:

  1. Kitchen cabinets (taller, slide out drawers)
  2. Better quality floors
  3. Higher grade counters and tile
  4. Moulding and trim
  5. Larger shower and/or tub
  6. Electrical / Data packages 
  7. Closet shelving packages

Why most of these upgrades are best to invest in during construction, is that they are hard to add or change once the home is complete.

In addition, these types of upgrades help improve your home’s value for resale.

What upgrades I am suggesting you avoid (especially in your mortgage):

  1. Better landscaping
  2. All brick in a neighborhood where that isn’t common
  3. Light fixtures
  4. Window treatments/blinds
  5. Painting more than one or two colors
  6. Appliances

First of all, shrubs, bushes, and trees the builder will add a steep up charge versus what you can buy on your own later. Guess what? Much of it will likely die because right when you move in you don’t have time to water.

Adding brick to all sides, in a neighborhood that only has it on the facade or consists primarily of siding homes. The neighborhood sales comps that you will be competing against during resale will be lower. You will never recover the expense.

Post contains hand selected products, with affiliate marketing links throughout {full disclosure here} 
One all brick house in a sea of siding

Luckily, with SO many affordable light fixture options online you can avoid this upgrade. Go with the basic package and change them out when you move into the house.

Most builders don’t include blinds in new construction. Source your own to save money and have them installed right after closing or put up paper blinds temporarily

Paint and painting rooms is free if you do the labor! If the builder only offers one color or maybe two, do that! Don’t pay the up charge for additional colors.

Finally, you don’t want to be paying for appliances for 30 years. Try to negotiate those into the home price or source your own!

5 Builder Upgrades I Still Love

After making mistakes in my previous 3 homes, I feel like this house has been my best design yet! You never get everything you want, but I sure have been happy with the upgrades in this house.

It still works for me and my family 9 years later. All that has been needed are tweaks to keep up with decorating trends.

Here are my favorite “money well spent” builder upgrades that I still love!

1) Larger Kitchen Island

Yes, everyone will give you the same advice to do what you can to upgrade the kitchen, but my advice may be a bit different. STUDY YOUR LAYOUT. See if the space is laid out the way you want it. 

My mom gets credit for this suggestion. She saw the kitchen island was placed very far from the sink and at first suggested I move it in one foot.


At the same time, I realized I had space to extend the island out toward the family room and add a little width too!

This floor plan is VERY open and there wasn’t a place for a traditional kitchen table. So instead, I paid a little extra to have the builder make an island that seats 5!


This is my kitchen table and the hub of the kitchen! I LOVE the large island and how much serving and prep space it provides.

At the time, granite was THE popular countertop option and I have since updated it to quartz and love it even more! Read about my new quartz counters here. 

The light fixtures have since been updated, but I did buy my own at the time I moved in and the builder installed them for me.

Almost always they will accommodate this request, since it’s part of the construction and built into the cost of the home. 


All that I had to pay for was extra granite and a few extra panels, which at the time was only $650!

The wine rack and beverage center were already included with the island, but I’d suggest adding those as well if you you like to entertain or host during the holidays. 


You can see I have a nice distance for working between my sink and island, but if it would have been out another foot it would have been too far.

This was a great exercise in using space more efficiently! In the end, the kitchen island makes the kitchen and I love the larger size which is now the trend. 

Shop the Kitchen

The builder LOVED how it turned out and now offer the “Tracey” island as an option in the model 🙂

2) Adding Counter Space

Ok, my mom has an interior design degree and this was her idea too! She’s been a great teacher. Originally this space was a tall bank of cabinets.


She thought it would look more interesting to create a “Butler’s pantry” in this corner of the kitchen. It’s the perfect space for serving during parties.


Usually I set it up as a dessert or appetizer station. Just recently I added a glass jar pantry, which looks even better!

The cost was minimal because the cabinets were already included and I just needed to buy a little extra tile and granite. 

3) Better Backsplash Tile

Included in the builder tile package for the kitchen, was a LOT of brown and beige tile. It was before white tile was in. 

All I can say was it was really boring and really dark. I wanted a bright white kitchen, in my new home. 

louis bar stools kitchen island white quartz counters


Instead of using what I was offered, I sourced and purchased my own beveled white tile that they installed.

The builder will typically have a tile allowance that you can use to off-set the cost of the better tile. Basically, I just paid for my own upgrade that they didn’t offer. 

The tile STILL looks current and I am so glad I haven’t had to go through the expense to change it. 

4) Upgraded Crown Moulding

Something that my particular builder did extremely well is build out 5 piece DEEP crown moulding. I remember at the time I was worried about the expense, but it doesn’t just make the room it makes the HOUSE!

Moulding, trim and mill work adds charm and character to move the house away from builder quality to more of a custom look.


It defines the space and gives more architectural detail to the rooms. To accent the deep crown, I’ve painted several of my ceilings a color and love the look!



Before & After Photo Home Tour with PAINT COLORS

End of Summer Home Tour with PAINT COLORS!

The number one question I get is “what color is that please?” Please refer to the two posts linked for all of the details!

4) Engineered Wood (not laminate) Raised Sub-Floor Over Concrete Slab

Wow! This was the best option that my builder offered as an upgrade to me for FREE! I built the house in 2009 during the depressed economy, so there weren’t many people building or buying.

My builder wanted to try out a new type of wood flooring brand/system and I went for it! Later I found out it was a $3000 upgrade I was provided for free.

Pottery-barn-finn-rug-and academy-blue-console-looking-into-powder-room

Why do I love this flooring upgrade? After walking on my neighbor’s standard laminate floors attached to the concrete, they are COLD and hard on bare feet.

The #1 reason why I love my raised floors is they are WARM! Plus they give a bit and are much easier on my back.

Having the engineered planks off of the concrete allows air to circulate which keeps the flooring warmer and more flexible. It’s such a nice benefit and I’m glad I said yes to this flooring upgrade. 

Would I spend the money for this update – YES!

5) Wainscoting / Paneling Up the Stairwell

When I moved into this house, my son was 10 and played football. Knowing we were going to have some rough and tumble boys in an out of the house was a big consideration for this upgrade.

Wanting to protect the drywall with a durable structure and finish, I sprung for wainscoting going up the stairs to the 2nd floor.


This has been the best looking upgrade too! It gives so much character to the foyer, which is the first area people see when they enter my home. 

Shop the Foyer


It’s protected the walls and the wainscoting is painted with a semi-gloss, which is more durable and easier to clean. The walls survived 8 years of boys, football equipment, and luggage being dragged up and down the stairs!

Next on my list of makeovers is to paint the risers of the stairs. I regret choosing to stain them because the look is too dark and dominant compared to the rest of my home.

Additional Upgrades to Consider

Those are the big ticket upgrades, but there were some smaller ones worth mentioning too!

  1. Electrical switches to turn off lights across the room or in two locations.
  2. Additional exterior outlet locations 
  3. 2nd hose spigot (one at the front and one in the back)
  4. Pull out cabinet drawers for pots/pans.
  5. Extra cabinetry in the laundry room
  6. Utility sink in the garage (it’s worked better for me there due to all of my paint projects!)

My best advice in general is to REALLY observe how you use your home and what you wish you could change.

That will help you choose more wisely in building your next home!

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Love Your Builder Upgrades

My hope is this got the wheels turning if you are thinking about buying new construction, want to make some updates in your own home, or are planning your dream custom home. 

  • Always consider if you want to be paying 30 years of interest on an upgrade. 
  • If you sell your home, will you get your money back or improve your home’s value with this upgrade?

These are good measures for making the final expense decision. Sometimes the expense is for your own pleasure and that’s ok too!

Happy daydreaming about your next project or build 🙂

As my FREE GIFT to you, with email sign-up a detailed paint sheen project guide! 

You will know the right sheen for every project…


Until next time…

Porch Daydreamer


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