NEW HOMES: The Shrewd Homebuying Guide
Deceptions of Model Homes
The first thing I'll say about a builder's model home is that it
is probably not the best plan for you. Model homes are beautiful examples
of marketing. They're intended to entice you to purchase. They appeal
to emotion and cause unsuspecting purchasers to fall in love with
their ploys and overlook their shortcomings. Builders and designers
select models for their appeal, not for practicality. While a furnished
model may be beautifully decorated and may give you a warm and cozy
feeling, be sure to look at other plans too. You may find that a different
plan better suits your family's needs. If the builder has other plans
under construction, walk through them, regardless of the stage of
construction. Try to get a feel for the layout, the flow of the plan
and the size of the rooms. Visualize your furniture in place.
That's one of the problems with model homes. You see their furniture
in it, not yours. And yours may not work. Measure. Check it out. I've
known some builders who deliberately put smaller than normal pieces
of furniture in their models just to create an illusion of spaciousness.
You should also be aware that the average home constructed will not
look as good as the model. Regardless of how vehemently builders disagree,
model homes get special attention during construction and receive
frequent maintenance to keep them looking great. Even those builders
who don't knowingly use different standards for their models will
still get special consideration from the subcontractors who work on
Subs know when they're working on a model home and do their best work
because they understand that appealing models generate future business.
Be aware of the builder's use of "decorator extras." Builders
often add a number of features (extra trim, appliance upgrades, vaulted
ceilings, decorator colors, wallpaper, flooring upgrades, ceiling
fans, etc.) to enhance the appearance of what might otherwise be a
plain and unappealing home. Although such extras may be listed in
the brochure and may be pointed out by the sales personnel, the use
of such features gives an unfair advantage to the appearance of model
It's often difficult to visualize the home without the upgrades,
so ask the builder if there is a similar or like plan under construction
that you can use for comparison. Touring a home without all the upgrades
will give you a better picture of what you may actually be buying.
It's also a great idea to drive the neighborhood and look for occupied
versions of the model. You may be able to return and speak to someone
who already lives in the model plan and find out what they think of
both the plan and the builder, and, if you're lucky, they'll invite
Be careful, though, of adding too many "decorator extras"
to your home. You'll sometimes pay a premium-such extras generally
carry a much higher margin of profit than the home, itself-and unless
you have no concern for the additional costs, these features should
be considered for their added value. However, if there are some upgrades
that you simply must have, there are a couple of ways you may be able
to get them at a reduced cost. The first and most direct way is to
negotiate the price with the builder. Since extras carry a higher
margin, there is some room for bargaining. Depending upon the item,
you could be able to get a reduction in price of 30% or more.
It may also be possible to add some of the features yourself, either
during construction or after closing. Compare the prices quoted with
those offered by local building supply stores. You could save hundreds
of dollars or more by comparison shopping. Furthermore, some of the
on-site workers may be eager to work after hours installing ceiling
fans, garage door openers, landscape extras, or other such extras.
You'll need the builder's permission, of course, to do any work prior
to closing, and you must be willing to risk losing your money for
extras installed should you not consummate the sale. My general recommendation
would be to avoid doing anything prior to closing that costs more
than a couple of hundred dollars.