How to choose pre-move upgrades on a new house

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

One of the most exciting parts of buying a brand-new home is picking out the cabinets, flooring, fixtures and finishes to make it your own. Going into a designer showroom is like being a kid in a candy shop, and there’s a lot to choose from.

Homebuyers need to keep in mind, however, that it all comes with a price tag, and the model home that made them fall in love with the development features thousands of dollars’ worth of upgrades. The standard or "included" version of a home can look much different.

How do you create the home of your dreams without breaking the bank? You will need to decide what’s worth spending money on and what can wait. To do that, consider how long you’re planning on staying in the home. If it’s a starter home that you’re planning on selling in a few years, get only the upgrades with a good resale value.

Before you talk to designers, create a priority list — and have a budget. Most homebuyers spend an average of 12 percent of the cost of a home on upgrades. Be sure to ask if upgrades can be included in the mortgage.

Although it’s a nice aim to have everything perfect by the time you move into that new home, it’s rarely practical. Many cosmetic things can be done later and probably for less money, but be sure to check the home warranty: You won’t want to make changes that will void the builder’s warranty.

Make the upgrades for which waiting would not only cost more money, but also a cause lot of headaches — things such as cabinetry, countertops and electrical.

If you’re buying a two-story home, the stairs often set the tone in the entryway. Many standard homes will come with carpeted stairs that have plywood underneath, so if you plan on having hardwood floors, now is the time to add hardwood stairs.

Also, add any electrical connections you think you will need. This includes lighting, outlets, built-in speakers and alarm systems. You won’t want anyone tearing into the walls of your new home. This is also true for insulation. Getting the highest R-value available will save money in heating and air conditioning in the long run.

Don’t get caught up in the glam and glitz of selecting upgraded lamps, hardware range hoods or even paint colors. These things can be easily replaced and you’ll have more choices than the builder can offer. If the backsplash is a budget-buster, consider leaving it out for now so it can be easily added later.

The most important thing is to do your homework. Come with a list and have a pretty good idea of your top wish-list items, as well as a must-haves list. Then, try your best to stick to it. While fulfilling that wish list is often the most fun part of buying a new home, budget differences and identifying needs versus wants can also cause their fair share of headaches. Don’t be afraid to add the items you feel are necessary, and realize that every $1,000 in options added to the price of the home often results in $6 to $8 more per month in a mortgage. Instead of spending your cash on hand, including it in your mortgage can give you more flexibility and a slightly larger tax write-off later.