Don't think of it as someone trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Think of it more as you get what you pay for. Just like when you shop for a car, furniture, or a quality suit and pair of shoes, at first glance, those items don't always look that different from the top-of-the-line versions. But after careful examination, there are big differences.
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With new construction, there are many degrees of quality based on affordability. You need to know what your priorities are: square footage or quality? Do you prefer a bigger house or a better-built but smaller home, or a quality home on a small lot?
Builders have mastered how to build for less by minimizing steel reinforcements, which are very expensive and required to support wide spans in a modern open floor plan with few supporting walls. It all starts with an architectural plan that provides adequate wood support.
Another way to save money is on windows and doors. Solid wood double-hung, sliding or crank windows are more expensive than vinyl, aluminum or synthetic finish framed windows. Bifold or pocket sliding doors are far more expensive than typical sliding glass doors, or French-style hinged or sliding doors.
Another way builders can cut costs is reducing wood finishes and intricate custom carpentry. Examples are tongue and groove vaulted ceiling finishes, crown moldings, fancy custom fireplace mantles, intricate custom cabinetry and closet build-outs. Cabinetry cost can vary tremendously, from prefabricated cabinetry to custom, to imported Italian lacquer-finished cabinetry. Material can range from pressed wood to paint-grade wood, to expensive AAA-grade select wood with an expensive hand-rubbed stain and hand-brushed finishes.
Cabinetry hardware and assembly come in many grades of quality. For an interior finish, wood is always more expensive than a veneer over a low-grade raw wood. But also consider exterior finishes. Consider one house with mostly a rough plaster exterior versus a home with either a custom Italian smooth hand-troweled finish or a Cape Cod home, with lots of wood siding, crown molding and Corbels. Even more specifically, shiplap is a more economical product and application but is less rich-looking than solid-fitting, custom-cut planks, which is what you might see on an East Coast authentic Hamptons-style home.
Hardwood floors, both solid and engineered, can be of many qualities and varieties, from manufactured plank to solid oak, from imitation wood to wood over-manufactured pressboard. Electrical is far more expensive in conduit than Romex material, which is also acceptable by code. Is the plumbing copper or PVC, which is a reliable hard plastic? Needless to say, the copper will last longer but is much more expensive, and rarely visible.
Fireplaces add to cost as well. Most cities no longer allow wood-burning masonry fireplaces. But know that a true masonry wood-burning fireplace is far more expensive than a prefabricated gas fireplace.
A little research on plumbing fixtures including bathtubs, sinks and toilets make the price and quality differences very clear.
Light fixtures, hardware, faucets, showerheads, spigots and drains come in many qualities as well. Learn to differentiate between the standard and the high-quality products. Not only do the look different but their durability and life expectancy are also different.
Staircases and rails can be made from simple wood, custom wrought iron or as a steel-reinforced floating system. Of course, a steel-reinforced floating stair system is expensive. If you are building a home from scratch, you will need to decide where your priorities lie. Staying on budget is always the biggest challenge. If you are purchasing a prebuilt home, have a knowledgeable consultant explain the quality of construction and where weakness might cause potential problems in the future.
Never sacrifice on weatherproofing or drainage. These two areas need to be perfect. Crawl areas and foundations must be dry and sustainable. Always have them checked to make sure they are dry and airtight. Or call a reliable inspector to do a complete environmental check for moisture, mold, chemicals, plastics, etc.
Ron Wynn has been among the top 100 agents in America for over 10 years, as noted on REAL Trends/Wall Street Journal. Ron has represented over 2,200 sales totaling over $1.5 billion in sales volume in his 30-plus-year career as a real estate broker in California.
He is a noted speaker, trainer, advisor and writer affiliated with Compass, and previously affiliated with Coldwell Banker for 20 years. He also provides weekly coaching articles for over 3,000 real estate agents worldwide and online.