Model Homes

Part of the process for many who are moving is looking at model homes. Pristine, beautifully decorated, and chock full of pricey upgrades to entice buyers. And some tricks that deceive the un-trained eye!

While we’re pretty sure we want to buy an existing home, we decided to give the models a look. The neighborhood we’re moving to is offering new phases with some new builders that weren’t there in the beginning. Some were lovely, but we found most to be awkward layouts or too small, and all are much pricier than previous builders. Another big issue we have with them is the style. The “older” parts of the neighborhood consist of more traditional and colorful homes. The new ones are brick and stone, like nearly every other subdivision in our area. Oh, and apparently, the rebounding home sales are causing construction costs to go up.

Anyhow, I’d like to talk about some of the tricks designers of model homes use to appeal to buyers. What works, and what doesn’t? How do these design concepts apply to homeowners?

First of all, I have noticed that most model homes are neutral, with a touch of current trends. They may have this year’s popular color as an accent, but the rest of the colors are almost always neutral earthtones, unless they’re selling in an area that appeals to a particular type of taste. A downtown loft might be more modern, for example. Color really sets the mood. Bedroom walls are often either dark soothing colors that invoke a feeling of nightime, or a soft, relaxing pastel. Kitchens and bathrooms are usually more vibrant and cheerful colors. Living rooms often combine both. Dining rooms are almost always elegant and somewhat formal.

Furniture in model homes is limited to the very basics, with some accessories carefully displayed. You’ll often see fake food in the kitchen and on the dining room table. Sometimes fake beer and popcorn in media or game rooms. Closets often have a few sparsely placed hangers and boxes, and maybe a bathrobe and a pair of slippers. And the beds… There are special short-sized beds that some designers use in model homes to create the illusion of a bigger space.

The main themes in model homes are relaxation, enjoyment, and some luxury. Living in general is on display. The designers are trying to encourage you to envision yourself sitting at that dining table, or slipping on that robe after a spa-like bubble bath. Why? If you can imagine yourself enjoying the home to the fullest, you’re more likely to spend money to make it happen. But why the minimal furnishings? One- to make it look bigger, and 2- to reduce the visual clutter that will distract you from those thoughts of living in the home.

When touring model homes, it’s very easy to fall in love with the top-of-the-line upgraded finishes and sales pitches. We encountered a tough one- a sweet, semi-retired grandmother! Boy, she’s the kind of sweet lady that would make you buy a million dollar home even if you could never afford to leave it. And she wasn’t the slighest bit pushy, just friendly. I do have to say, here company’s floorplans were the best, just out of our comfort zone. Anyhow, I was going somewhere with that and got distracted. Model homes are usually very good at making you want to move in now. If you’re going to build, or are trying to decide between building and buying a pre-existing home, there are some things to consider. And yes, there are lists to make!

Did we already cover a needs and wants list for house hunting? If not, you’ll want to make those 2 lits and carry them each. A friend created a rating system that she used when she and her husband toured homes. They ranked the layout, location, cost, etc. based on their needs and desires and then compared scores. This is a very smart, business-like approach to a normally emotional process. So many people buy homes because of a feeling, not photos or scores. That may not always be the best thing to do. If and when that feeling wears off, you’re in a house that might not suit your needs. When looking at homes, always make notes and consider what your must-haves are, and what other things you’d like. You should have a good idea of the space you need- the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garage spaces, and square footage. How much space do you need? Here’s an even bigger question: How much space are you willing to pay for? When you think of it that way, you may realize you don’t need that media room or extra living room as much as you thought. You should also know how big of a lot you’d like and what your comfortable budget is. This is not necessarily what you’re qualified to purchase. Carry your lists if you’re easily drawn-in by salespeople. If they begin to push, you can pull out your pre-made list and simply check off what the house has and see what it lacks in minutes. This will help you make a better decision and show the salesperson that you know what you want, you’re not waiting to be sold what they want to sell. Also, it is important to consider when you want to move. If you’re building, it will take 3-6 months for the home to be completed. You’ll need to have living arrangements for that time period, and a back-up plan in case you sell your home earlier or later than you’d like to. Ask your Realtor for the average days on the market of recently sold homes in your area to get a ballpark idea of how long your home will take.

Another easy temptation during home builder model tours is getting cought up in upgrades. A real estate teacher once explained that every upgrade option becomes part of the home’s price, so you’re probably financing that upgrade for 15-30 years unless you pay for it up front. Will that ultra-plush carpet be there that long? What about those latest trend coutnertops? Do you really want to finance those? It’s good to keep in mind that a lot of those upgrades can be done later, for a similar price, and you won’t be financing them for as long, if at all. The upgrades that are worth getting are those that will require extensive work. A balcony would require major construction and expense, when it might only be $4,000 to add on from the builder. Same with a fireplace. The layout is the important thing. Is the kitchen where you want it? How about the bedrooms? Does the space make sense and fit the way you use your living space on a daily basis? You’ll need to consider your lifestyle. Do you carry laundry up and down stairs? Maybe a laundry room on the second floor would be a good idea. Do you need to supervise children while cooking? You probably want an open concept floorplan with the kitchen window overlooking the yard. Do you have or plan to have young children? Then it is probably a good idea to have the bedrooms all on the same floor. A trickier one- do you like to garden? If yes, what plants do you like to grow and where? If you like shade-loving plants that thrive in moist conditions on your front porch, you probablly won’t want a home that gets full sun all day long in that area. Look beyond the pretty; pretty can be added to any home. Besides, due to competition, many builders have started adding popular upgrades without increasing the base price.

Of course, if you haven’t done so, you need to start researching neighborhoods, too. Look at crime stats on the city’s website. Search for sex-offenders on sites like or the national registry. Is there an HOA and do you want to live in an HOA? Look up utility companies and rates. Search for forums where current residents might discuss what they like or don’t like, though take their gripes with a grain of salt, most are just venting. I’ve noticed that “hoodlum kids destroying the neighborhood” are often much more innocent ones causing minor mischief, as most kids do from time to time. Definitely drive through the area and spend time there during several different times- day, night, weekends. If you have kids, let the kids play on the playgrounds and see if they make friends easily. Get them excited about living there, so that they’re not as upset about leaving your current home. Let them pick something out for their new room, like a blanket or paint color, to personalize their space. And of course, remind them that all of their stuff will be moved, too. Moving can be tough for kids. 

Rating each aspect of the home will help you stay focused on the objective. If a builder’s floor plan doesn’t work for you, move on. If they charge for each and every little change, move on. If you do decide to build, have an honest conversation with the salesperson before signing anything. Tell them exactly what you want! Spell it out and make it clear which items on your list are deal-breakers. Up-front communication will reduce dissappointments later. Again, if they can’t work with you and build the home you want, walk away. Spec builders won’t stray much from their pre-designed plans. Some will make minor adjustements, some won’t change a thing. You may need to look into a custom builder if there aren’t any plans that meet your needs. Ask for recommendations and review BBB profiles, and hire an inspector to work with you throughout to check up on the builder’s work. These people are building your future home! Your sanctuary, your safe place. You need to make sure they’re going to do a good job.

Of course, buying a home that’s already standing is a good option. It can cost less, if there is still building in the neighborhood. Sellers will have to compete with builders, so they’ll lower their prices. Who would buy a “used” home when they can get a new one, customized to their liking, for the same price? Hire inspectors to check up on the structural integrity and look for signs of damage or safety issues, and negotiate with the seller to have these fixed. You can always customize an existing home, too.