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How Production Builders help with Home Renovation - La Jolla, San Diego

If you're currently building or planning to build a house with a production builder, I'm happy you're here! Get ready and comfortable because this is a detailed post full of information. We'll cover what upgrades look like with a production builder, what to upgrade with them, what to upgrade on your own, and how to enter your Design Center meetings confidently to make great decisions.

Make sure to read our follow-up post after the renovation for the things that worked well (almost everything) and the one thing that REALLY DIDN'T (spoiler - it's about the floors).

We are in the process of building a home for ourselves and are working with a local production builder.

There are clear advantages to building a home with a production builder versus going fully custom. Production builds are usually faster, less expensive, and you don’t have the stress of choosing all of the selections from the endless options available in the market. The downside of not having endless options is, of course, that you have limited options. You're working only with the builder’s pre-approved selections.

They have streamlined the process to be efficient and profitable (for them), but there are also ways to make it work for you too. Once you’ve chosen your builder, you will quickly be asked to make every single design decision for your home, inside and out, in a period of about 2 weeks.


Cabinetry. Custom cabinets cost a lot, and for good reason. Quality cabinets designed and laid out well can really impact your day-to-day life and how you use your space, especially in the kitchen. I could talk about this all day but, small upgrades in your cabinets will please you for years to come, when things are right where you need them. They are also not easy to change or add to after your build is done. Places to spend here:

  • Extend your cabinets up to the ceiling. Your new build likely has tall ceilings, 10’ in many cases, and the standard cabinets are typically 8’ tall. That 2’ of sad empty space, long filled by baskets of dusty ivy, are an eyesore and a missed opportunity for extra storage. Spend a bit here to extend those cabinets to the ceiling.

  • Add glass fronts and interior lighting to some of your cabinets to display pretty things. This will make your home look more custom and make the whole room look taller.

  • Organization. Spice pull outs, drawers instead of cabinets with doors, built-in trash and recycle bins, vertical cookie sheet storage. All of these things will help you make the most efficient use of the space possible. Check out this post for my 10 favorite kitchen cabinet customizations.

Flooring in the Kitchen. If you’re going to want wood floors through your main living areas, know this: the builder will often charge you $20-$40 per square foot to upgrade from tile/carpet to wood flooring. This math is TERRIBLE for the buyer. If you’ve been around here awhile you know that engineered wood flooring can easily be purchased and installed for about $10-12 per square foot. That is a HUGE profit that they are making on these floors. So why have the builder do them at all? Order of operations. If you have them provide flooring in the kitchen, they will lay the floor first, and then set the cabinets on top. If you have them install the standard tile, they will put the cabinets down directly on your slab and then tile up to them.

Doors. Both interior doors and exterior doors are best done with your builder. In our case to upgrade from the standard interior door to the fancier one we liked was only $495 for the entire house. If you were to replace each door later, each will cost you about $250. Simple math.


Lighting. OH MAN. Guys, this is a big one. Builder markups on light fixtures are huge.

Take the basic fixtures that the builders offer you and select your own lighting to update later, either right away, over time, or only in select areas.

Cabinet hardware. The standard options are limited and expensive, and cabinet hardware adds so much personality to a space. Purchase these on your own and either install them yourself or have a handyman add them for you.

Flooring. I mentioned wood floors in the kitchen above, but I’ll fill you in on the rest of our plan here. We did pay to upgrade the flooring in the kitchen to engineered wood, and we are doing carpet everywhere else. In the living room, downstairs bedrooms, and study.


Appliances. Most new builds these days come with a decent quality stainless steel appliance package. For most people, this is FINE. I just happen to have my heart set on these Café Appliances and I’m willing to spend a bit to get them (hey, we all have our things). I’m having the builder provide the built-in range top, since it directly impacts the sizing of the cabinets that go below it.

The cost for the builder to provide them was nearly as high as the cost to buy them on my own, so I will re-sell the standard appliances and someone in my life will get the deal of the century on some un-used perfectly awesome appliances. That will help offset the cost of purchasing them on my own and I’ll come out ahead of where I would be if I had the builder purchase them.

Tile. There is no polite way to say this – builder basic tile is generally ugly. It’s 12x12, it’s textured, it’s peachy-beige, looks dirty all the time, and it’s straight out of 1991.

But demolishing and replacing tile can be messy and time-consuming. You may decide to avoid the hassle and select to have the builder do all of your tile. Or you might get selective.

Here’s how to decide:

  • If you have cabinets with legs - we upgraded the floor tile in our Powder and Master baths because the vanities in these rooms have legs. To demolish and replace the tile we would either have to chisel the builder basic tile out, or remove the vanities and re-install them. It would cost much more to do this after the fact, so we’re doing it with the builder.

  • If they have what you want for a decent price – I found a basic subway tile from the Design Center that I liked for our Guest bath and Kids bath. The cost to upgrade each tub surround was actually a bit less than what it would have cost to get the builder basic tile and have it replaced with something similar. Lower cost + lower hassle = no brainer.

  • If they don’t have what you want – I have a vision for what I want the boys’ bathroom floor and the kitchen backsplash to be, and the builder doesn’t offer it. Simple as that. I’ll take the basic 12x12 and change it out later to get just what I want.

  • If the cost of what you want is a trillion dollars – I wanted an accent wall tile in our master shower. Nothing crazy, and the tile itself wasn’t too expensive, but it was a “Custom” to use 2 different tiles in one space. The cost to do this was super high, about double what it would cost on my own. Hard pass.

Countertops. We have engineered quartz countertops in our kitchen now, and I can’t imagine life without them due to my love of wine and marinara sauce and my small children.

The cost to do this with the builder was higher than what we typically spend with our usual countertop vendors and it wasn’t 100% the pattern I liked (nor can you see a full slab; only a small sample). The cost to do it on my own will be about 1/3 less.

The plan is to replace the builder basic counters in the Kitchen and Master after we close. BUT I did go ahead and choose something I could live from the base-level selections with for awhile just in case.

For the other bathrooms, that seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I selected a simple white cultured marble (that looks like quartz but isn’t as stain-resistant) for those spaces and just upgraded to a thicker edge for a very small fee. You may be TOTALLY fine with the countertops your builder is offering, so this is entirely a personal call.

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