Opting to Upgrade

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Buying a new home is an exciting time, but the decisions are endless. Aligning yourself with the best options and upgrades experts in the field will not only make you more valuable to your clients, it will increase your bottom line and boost your reputation for quality service.

Buying a new home is an exciting time, but the decisions are endless. Aligning yourself with the best options and upgrades experts in the field will not only make you more valuable to your clients, it will increase your bottom line and boost your reputation for quality service.

Once the papers are signed and construction starts, clients begin the nail-biting process of selecting interior finishes. The list seems endless: cabinets and countertops for kitchen and bath, appliances, electrical and low voltage, HVAC, security, hardwood, tile, natural stone and carpeting. Fortunately, there are professionals out there ready to lead your clients through the selection process.

“For example, if red oak is standard in the living, dining room and kitchen for a home, some upgraded items might be maple, cherry and walnut wood species. Another upgrade in the wood category might be to have an optional stain applied to the wood, an optional finish of the wood (semi-gloss or matte) or to install the wood on the diagonal,” says Janet Gross, an options and upgrades specialist for Explore Your Options, a company that works with developers across both Florida and Illinois.

“You can see the complexity of this line of work in this one example. That is why it is really important to have a professional performing the task of options and upgrades. There are so many details to cover and construction is relying on your information in order to build the home correctly.”

The best thing an agent can do for his client is turn them over to the options and upgrades expert with confidence. “The broker needs to trust the developer and the development team and communicate that positively to the buyer,” Gross says, advising that the agent allow the client to meet with the selections coordinator alone.

A nice compromise—should the buyer want to bring the broker—is to have the buyer meet with the broker at the design center separately from the coordinator, offers Gross. “This way the buyer and broker can freely talk and then get back to the [coordinator] with any changes.”

On average, buyers spend 5 to 7 percent of the base purchase price on options and upgrades, says Gross. For example, if the buyer is buying a condo for $400,000, they will spend around $20,000 for upgrades.

“This number can fluctuate depending on the level of standard features in the home and if the home is going to be for personal use or investment,” adds Gross. “It is a great idea to inform the buyers of this up front when they are talking with mortgage lenders so they can build the upgrade amount into their mortgage.”

So what are some of these “must haves” that put new homeowners in such a conundrum? For starters, there are the kitchen features, the area of the home that tends to get the most attention, says award winning interior designer Steven G., president and owner of Interiors by Steven G., the largest interior design firm in South Florida, according to the South Florida Business Journal. In particular, high-end appliances are a big draw today. But do these items mean more value for a home?

Steven G. claims that most buyers are not concerned with added value. “The real question is whether the buyer is that concerned with the resale down the road,” he says. “I believe many clients are not concerned with resale,” and are more interested in creating a home to their personal specifications and tastes.

Among the hot items today’s clients are considering are kitchen cabinets in rich cherry or maple, commercial appliances, including multiple dishwashers and ovens, and custom tile backsplashes, especially mosaic. Not so popular these days are the full height granite backsplashes in the kitchen that match the countertop stone and white kitchen cabinets.

Bathrooms are another attention-heavy area when it comes to options and upgrades. People are opting for larger showers with steam units in the master baths (steam showers are an oft requested feature). Some don’t even want a tub in their master bath at all, as big whirlpool tubs have declined in popularity.

However, it is recommended that homeowners include at least one bathtub in the home for resale value and sunken tubs are making a comeback. Hardware finishes in satin nickel and wrought iron are popular, but the old bright brass faucets are out these days. And because color can be such an emotional item, buyers should make these choices carefully. Varying colors, even in the same room, is a favorite technique today, as are all the red shades and vapors like seafoam greens and blues. And chocolate brown remains a hot color, whereas heavy traditional and faux finishes are on the way out.

Also at the top of the list are items that appeal to the techie buyer, such as the iPod docking station and the Sony Wall Station—a DVD player built into the wall adjacent to a plasma television. Media rooms, surround sound and house-wide speaker systems remain popular.

Smart house systems are another must-have. “The smart house systems appeal to buyers because they’re able to control the whole house through that system,” says Sildy Cervera, director of sales for Related Cervera Realty Services.

Summer kitchens are also a big wow factor, she adds, as well as wider terraces. “The terraces are becoming part of the inside space by making them 11 feet deep as opposed to four or six feet,” Cervera says. “That really makes them a liveable space.”

And now it seems that designer kitchens and outdoor kitchens aren’t enough. Increasingly, buyers are requesting “midnight kitchens.” Located in master bedrooms, these typically include a refrigerated drawer, a freezer drawer and a cabinet with microwave and storage space for those late night snacks.

Many design centers package options and upgrades, which not only makes selection easier for some buyers, it also helps to bring down the cost. Often, buyers are invited to open houses and meetings with the design coordinator.

The initial focus is usually on cabinets and flooring and although some clients come in with a strong sense of what they want, others require much more input from the experts.

“In my opinion, an agent shouldn’t help (the client); an agent should help them find a professional in selecting the options and upgrades,” says Steven G. “If there is a qualified designer that has been in the industry for many years, the designer or architect is more knowledgeable.”

But the agent isn’t entirely out of the picture when it comes to options and upgrades. Agents can help buyers understand their needs and what is important to them for the lifestyle they lead. For example, having kids and animals can play into the colors and features buyers select for their home.

Some realtors prefer to stick by their client’s side during the selection process to keep the process from becoming too overwhelming. Other agents simply help prepare their clients by discussing how the things that they plan to move into the home, such as furniture, artwork and window treatments, can affect the choices they make for options and upgrades. Agents should remind clients to keep those color schemes and finishes in mind when selecting items for the new home.

It’s also smart to keep the client’s budget in mind so that you can help them get the biggest bang for their buck. Designers usually advise buyers to concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms for spending their options and upgrades dollars.

However extreme your clients choose to go in personalizing their new home, remember that they will be the ones living with the choices they make. If you have done your level best to guide them through the process and connected them with other professionals to help them through the selection, everyone should be satisfied with the final result.


Sildy Cervera
Related Cervera Realty Services

Steven G.
Interiors by Steven G.

Janet Gross
Explore Your Options

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