I was visiting some show homes with one of my daughters a short time ago as she has entered the market for a home. Like any 20 something, she is inexperienced in the process, but having grown up around the real estate business, she is more aware than most first time buyers. That being said, it was interesting to watch the NEW home process through her eyes and reality. What became clear quickly is how unprepared buyers are to evaluate the “value” of the new home they are viewing, and how poor builders are at presenting their product. Of course, there are show homes and sales staff, but I noticed a great deal of confusion in articulating clearly what exactly you get IN and ON your new home. In the industry they are called “specifications”, and, you need to pay attention to them properly to understand what you are getting in your home. (It’s likely not exactly what you are seeing in the show home.)

Builders create show homes to achieve certain things. First to merchandise and showcase their product. Second to exhibit their craftsmanship and attention to detail. Third, to let you imagine yourself in the home. And, fourth to provide an idea of what you get for your money. People, being “visual” (and generally not very good listeners) tend to believe what they see. However, since the show home is designed as a marketing showcase it likely includes “UPGRADES”, which you don’t get unless you pay for them. In an average show home, even at the entry level, that number can be in the thousands. So when you are looking at the base price of a new home you need to know what base “specification” is included to make sure you understand what you’re getting. Here is where it gets tricky. Some builders provide excellent “specification” handouts for their base specifications and some provide very poor ones. Be aware! It is your responsibility to understand what you’re buying. Once the contract is signed, your new home’s contents are for the most part fixed, except for “expensive” changes if you want to make those later. I was shocked that the builder we were visiting did not even offer a spec sheet. To me this was very, very suspect. Especially when working with inexperienced buyers. My daughter and I were left to our own devices to visit the show home and try to decipher what was an upgrade, and what was not, based on some talking points the Area Manager gave us. BRUTAL. Now really, do you think we could understand what was included in the price? My advice – if the builder won’t give you a good listing of what’s standard in their homes, turn abruptly and walk out. If you don’t understand what’s going into your home how can you possibly evaluate the price value. The fact is you can’t, and chances are there could be a problem with what you finally see your new home.
So when shopping for a home, particularly when building, make sure early in the process you understand what is in your price. Specifications apply to construction materials and features from thickness of basement walls and floors, width of sidewalks and driveway, to the finishes, components, décor and programs that give your home style and your purchase convenience. A good specification sheet addresses exterior construction and interior construction materials, finishes and fixtures and often builder programs to help you through the process. Most builders only provide complete “specification packages” once you sign a sales agreement, but good builders always provide a reasonable specification handout on your first visit. In fact, that handout is important as it allows good builders to differentiate themselves and gives credence to their pricing. So understand the basic specifications you get for a standard price and what you will need to add as upgrades, to get the look of that amazing show home or show suite. It is a detailed question that must be asked and should be clearly explained to avoid unpleasant “misunderstandings” after the sales contract has been signed.