Damn, wrote this whole long post yesterday and the stupid board freaks out…sigh…ok, let’s see if I can remember it all.
My wife and I are in our second house now. The first one was similar to what you’re doing…the design center where you pick stuff from their selection and try and put it all together, the second house we chose it all ourselves.
I’ll start with kitchen counter tops. Have an open mind about the material you’ll be using. As we were trying to decide if we should spend the money on Corrian, my cousin gave me some good advice. He said that if you put in a very expensive counter top, like granite, or corrian then you’ll never want to change it because it cost so much. Put in something less expensive like Formica, and you can change it every year. A lot depends on the quality of the work they’ll put into it. The guy that did our counter tops was wonderful…they look great and we couldn’t be happier. Formica has a ton of colors/textures to choose from…so you have a lot of flexibility. If all your builder offers is the solid colors, then it’s not going to look at nice.
Our first house didn’t give us a choice on different colors for each room…that’s more work for the builders, so they may or may not offer you that choice. What you probably can do is what we did in our second house. We chose an off-white but still neutral color as the base color for the entire house. That way we didn’t have that stark-white builders color on the walls that seems cold when we moved in. This way we don’t feel absolutely compelled to paint right away.
I see a lot of comments about cable runs. Put a lot of thought into this before you do is. How do you get your TV signal? Cable? Satellite? Do you have a DVR like TIVO? Are you planning on getting one? DirecTV DVRs for example require two signals to come into them plus a phone line to dial out…so you’d need two cables and a phone plug on each wall. Will your builder do that? Plus run them all to one central point and label them? Is that central point close enough to the outside so the cable/satellite company can get their cables to it? I ended up doing all of our video/network/phone cabling myself in the second house. I put four RG-6 cables in each room, this allows me a lot of flexibility in moving video signals around the house. For instance our daughter has a TV in her room, but the video is fed from another room where there is a DVR. So I record all her kids shows, but she can’t play them herself when she wants, only when I turn them on.
I also ran CAT5 cable to every room…sure it’s easy to set up a wireless now, but as digital entertainment files become more common and larger, it’s going to be harder pushing stuff just over wireless. While I can copy a 350mb video file with no problem over the wireless, it’s much harder to stream the video to a remote source for viewing over wireless. Keep in mind that your CAT5 cable can also carry your phone line…so you may be able to get dual use out of only running one set of cable. I ran separate, but that was just my choice.
I highly suggest that if you look for a professional company to do your video/network cabling. It’ll be much easier on you, and done a lot better.
Don’t forget about speaker wire if you’re thinking about surround sound in your living room. I also ran speaker wire to outside the back so I could have speakers for outside when we’re entertaining, or I’m just working in the yard. It’s easy to run wire when there are no walls up…after that it’s a pain.
I would advise staying away from ceramic tile floors. If carpet gets stained, you can do a lot to get it out. A tile gets cracked…not a lot of options. With two boys, dropping stuff is pretty likely.
What kind of wall finishes are offered? The first house had a fish-tail pattern in the plaster which looked nice, but would scrape you pretty bad if you rubbed against it wrong. The new house has knock-down finish which I like better. We did have the kids room finished flat, so that when they’re playing they don’t have to worry about scrapping themselves. On the same note, we had the rounded edges put on the corners, instead of the squared off ones. Easier on cords, and kids.
Do you have an attic space? If so see if you can get them to put in the pull down stairs. Even though we don’t actually have an attic space in this house, the HVAC stuff is up there and I’m unfortunately spending a lot more time up there than I’d like. A stair would be a hell of a lot easier to get up and down rather than pulling the ladder out.
I see ceiling fans mentioned a few times. If you have any sort of vaulted or cathedral ceilings, I’d highly advise you to have the builder go ahead and install the fans. I never did put on in our first house because I wasn’t standing on top of a 16 ft A-frame ladder trying to hold onto a ceiling fan. For the second house we went ahead and had the builder install them all.
Your builder may offer package options for some upgrades like a luxury master bathroom upgrade with a jetted tub and separate shower. I’m of two minds about this. We chose that option on the first house, and used the tub maybe 12 times in 5 years. But I did like the layout of the bathroom much better than the standard package had. So consider those options in light of how your family is. If you don’t have anyone that takes long baths now, then you probably won’t have in the future. It was $5k that we probably could have spent on something else.
Along those lines, try and think about everything you want, and get it in the beginning. There were a few things that my wife and I thought “Oh we’ll do that later, or we can do that ourselves”…snort…fat chance. Get it done during construction. Finding $3k to put in a tile shower afterwards can be difficult…adding $3k to a 30 mortgage isn’t that big a deal. Spend a lot of time thinking about what you want in the beginning and get it all in there. Change requests are expensive…and you’ll most likely find things during construction that you forgot about anyway…so the more you think about and plan for up front the better.
Spend time at the site when construction is happening to make sure things look right. If something isn’t going right, you need to identify it before it gets too far.