Builder-Grade Things Not Worth Updating

Published: about 3 hours ago

It’s natural to want to make a new home feel like yours. And when you buy an older home that needs a good deal of work, there are compelling reasons to make updates. If the home is newer? There may be nothing technically wrong with anything, but that doesn’t make the urge any less real.

So, the question becomes: how do you know what’s worth it to update? This means “worth it” in terms of the investment for resale value, but also whether the work is worth the reward of getting to enjoy it while you live there. 

A couple of experts outline what homeowners don’t need to bother updating. Hudson Santana is an investment property specialist with Santana Properties and co-founder of North America Development, and Michael Downey has led hundreds of buyers through the design selection process throughout his 20 years of new construction sales experience.

The starting point for a lot of renovation conversations is replacing anything builder grade. That term gets thrown around a lot as a catch-all for cheap or ugly. (Boob lights, anyone?) But what does it actually mean? 

“There’s a standard set of finishes for each facet of the house,” Downey explains. In order to be competitive on price, he says, builders will typically start with “pretty basic finishes on the interior of the home that are included in the base price.” Those finishes may be things like laminate countertops instead of granite or quartz, and sheet vinyl flooring in wet areas instead of a ceramic.

The truth is, he explains, builder-grade appliances and features are fully functional. Though they may not be the most stylish option, they’re “completely fine.”

But fine doesn’t necessarily mean you want to see laminate countertops every day. When you’re evaluating what to keep or scrap, the logical starting point is the kitchen and bath, Santana says. So, what stays and what goes?

“What I would keep for sure in the kitchen is the cabinets,” Santana said. Why cabinets? “Mainly because of the amount of work and hassle it would take to replace those,” he says, ”but also because there are many things that you can do to really accent kitchen cabinets.” Hardware and paint can go a long way.

“What I would encourage people to replace if they wanted to upgrade things,” he said, “is a really nice countertop.” With a great counter, he added, “the cabinets become less relevant.”

A counter is a relatively painless upgrade as well, Downey says. “That is one of the easiest aftermarket projects ever… The guys come in one day, they use some lasers to measure, they leave, you continue to use your kitchen and then they come back and in one afternoon the job is completely done.”

Appliances besides the stove

“The other piece that I would strongly encourage people to to spend more money on is the stove, the range,” Santana said. “That’s usually a focal point in a kitchen… [but] not all builders will put a real nice stove there.”

A beautiful stove will change the focus of your kitchen, he says. “You don’t have the same effect when you change a dishwasher or your fridge,” so those are items to keep. (Pro tip: You can sell your perfectly fine builder grade stove and recoup some of the expense!) The backsplash is another place to upgrade and make your own, Santana says, for a relatively small investment.

If you don’t love the bathroom, there are small things you can do that keep you from having to tackle a major project, Santana says. Ripping out tile could cost thousands and thousands of dollars, he notes. So instead of replacing flooring, consider the paint color, maybe with an accent wall and even a nice picture to take focus off the floor. Replacing the mirror or medicine cabinet is also relatively inexpensive and can create a big impact. Finally, updating from an acrylic builder-grade shower door to a glass enclosure gets Santana’s thumbs up.

At the end of the day, though, what you choose to update or not is a personal choice. You can pore over cost vs. value reports all day, but it comes down to what you want. How much renovation headache are you OK living with? And what matters most—not to an anonymous potential future buyer—but to you?

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