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Home Buying a la Carte

In the 1940s and 50s, the suburbs emerged in rows of uniform, cookie-cutter style homes as a new wave of homeowners realized their dreams, supported by the GI Bill. Instead of rolling off the assembly line as in years past, new homes have become more customized to compete in today's market. Many builders are amenable to changing or adding a construction feature to accommodate a buyer's special request. And many others offer a long list of extra amenities and luxury features, all of which can catapult the price into the upper stratosphere. It's important to think ahead, work with your builder, and make informed decisions that add value to your home without busting your budget.

Ask the homebuilder for a list of upgrades with prices so you can comparison shop among models. Remember that an upgrade to one model may be a standard feature on another. Amenities are sometimes paid for in cash instead of being included within the mortgage. In those cases, you'll probably save money buying a home equipped with the things you want as standard features instead of extras, so the cost can be financed.

Many things that were upgrades years ago are now considered standard, including skylights, garage door openers and window screens. Although most upgrades add to a home's resale value, definitely do not go on a shopping spree without considering the cost-benefit of your wish list at resale. Certain things such as fireplaces, ceiling fans, security systems, or a fenced-in yard with landscaping will probably add to your home's appeal. On the other hand, swimming pools, hot tubs and gold-plated fixtures are not likely to pay for themselves at resale. Consult with a real estate agent or appraiser, especially on the big-ticket items, to see if the particular upgrade is in demand in your region or neighborhood.

Don't be shy about asking your builder to customize your home's design and construction, within reason. For example, if you work at home, it's not unreasonable to redesign a walk-in pantry as a home office. Perhaps you would like to enclose the screened porch and add electrical outlets and heating for year-round use. Or you'd prefer the unfinished basement to be fitted with paneling, carpeting and ducts for use as a rec room. The same principle applies to upgrading the building materials. Your builder may have gotten a good deal recently on some high-grade materials. Ask what's available. The market determines your builder's attitudes. In a competitive market, no sales person is going to let a special request get in the way of a sale. Ask questions, compare prices, and don't be afraid to negotiate your best deal.

Sources used in creation of this article include the Seattle Times and Chicago Tribune.