Things We Omitted in our Second Production Home

When we purchased our first builder grade home, we took all that we could get! Meaning, builder grade mirrors in all of the bathrooms (think – rectangle glass with no frame); cookie-cutter cabinetry hardware; “boob” lights; round doorhandles; basic baseboards and trim, etc.

By the time we purchased our second Production Home, we knew better than to just take what was being offered. Sure, certain things we agreed to pay the inflated upgrade cost because it was easier to have the builder install them (i.e.: we upgraded the baseboards, the door handles (which included matching door hinges and stoppers), etc.) but other things we simply asked to leave it blank and we handled on our own afterwards.

Now – full disclosure – unlike with a custom builder, you don’t save any costs by omitting what a production builder includes. At least with our Production builders, they just scratched our items off the list but didn’t provide any credits for doing so. Even so, below is a list of items we omitted in our second home so as to allow us the opportunity to put our own touch in the house afterwards.

Mirrors

Mirrors are probably the number 1 thing that will give away whether something is custom or builder grade. Production Builders are notorious for using rectangular frameless mirrors in every bathroom. What’s more, they install the mirrors before painting – so if you decide to change it out later, you basically have to first paint the whole wall. There are some great DIYs that can be done to builder grade mirrors (i.e.: to add trim) to make them look more expensive but given the number of affordable options that you can get at pretty much any home store, we chose to omit all of the mirrors in our second home and just installed our own. It made a huge difference!

Cabinetry Hardware

Omitting the builder grade cabinetry hardware was another no-brainer for us. Finding something we liked and mastering the art of installing the hardware ourselves (had to make sure everything was level and aligned before drilling any holes!) took some time but when I look back at the kitchen handles in our first home versus what we purchased on our own for our second home, I think this is definitely one of those items that you do not want to compromise on and that is worth omitting if your builder doesn’t offer exactly what you are looking for.

Another reason to potentially forego builder grade cabinetry hardware is because, at least in our case, our builder charged an upgrade fee to mix different hardware (i.e.: pulls on drawers and knobs on doors). So not only did they not have exactly what we wanted, they would have charged us more just to install different hardware (despite the fact that there’s no additional labour involved…).

Bathroom Accessories

Toilet paper holders and bath towel rods are another area where one can easily tell what is “builder grade” and what is custom. Sturdy accessories (as opposed to the cheap plastic-made-to-look-like-chrome accessories seen in builder grade bathrooms) are a great and inexpensive way to add a more personal touch to even the most builder basic of bathrooms. And, as an added bonus, you get to pick where you want to place your accessories!

All in all, I am not one to simply pay for something and not use it. I think that is why, in our first home, I let the builder install everything that was included. I thought it was irresponsible to simply forego something I was paying for (since the builder wasn’t offering a credit) just to then go out and spend more money on a higher end version of essentially the same thing… However, having lived with the above builder grade finishes in our first home and then seen the value added from doing our own thing in our second home, I genuinely believe that these are items that come at a relatively inexpensive additional cost but that offer a lot of value to your space.

What is a Production Home?

Production Homes are what I call houses that are built by developer/builders. The ones who build large-scale shoebox developments – the big names that come to mind in Ottawa, ON are Mattamy, Minto, Tartan, Urbandale, etc. Some refer to them as Community Developers, Builder-Grade Homes, Track Homes, Cookie-Cutter or Construction Builders… Essentially, a developer will take a large piece of land, divide it into dozens (if not more) individual lots and build a community of houses which can include a mixture of single, semi- and town (or row) houses. In order to make the project feasible, the developer will usually have a set number of models/floorplans for you to choose from and there is very little flexibility with making structural changes to those plans.

Pros of buying a Production Home:

There are many good reasons to buy a Production Home – I should know, we’ve bought two in the last decade.

For starters, when you buy a Production Home, the builder will usually require a deposit (often it is less than $50,000.00CDN) which you can pay over a period of months; thereafter, unlike when you’re building a custom home, you have very little additional costs until the home is actually complete and you arrange for a mortgage to finalize the transaction.

Time is also a big reason people are attracted to Production Homes. Generally, by the time you choose your lot, plan and pay the deposit, there is anywhere from a 6-12 month waiting period where you get to see your house being built. For many, this allows you time to save and prepare.

Finally (although there are many other reasons to like Production Homes), knowing that you have a set number of floorplans to choose from makes the initial design stage very easy. You don’t have to worry about number or size of windows, price per square footage, wall locations, etc. because those things are generally pre-determined and cannot be altered. For those that do not want to be bothered with the nitty-gritty details, Production Homes are the way to go.

Cons of buying a Production Home:

In my opinion, the biggest turn off for a Production Home is sharing your street and community with dozens (if not hundreds) of other houses. It sometimes really does feel as though the houses are built one on top of the other. By way of example, two regular Production Homes will usually be separated by maybe 8 feet of distance – enough that you can walk through the side of your house but not quite enough that you aren’t able to see what your neighbour is having for dinner or watching on television… The size and congestion within the community also spills onto the streets, especially during the Canadian winters when street parking becomes nearly impossible due to the already tight space on the roads and the growing snowbanks.

My second pet peeve with Production Homes is the inability to change almost anything structural within the house and the finishes on the outside of the house. If you’ve ever driven in these communities, you know that the exterior of all houses – regardless of the floorplan or model chosen – usually all look alike : a specific type of brick/stone mixed with vinyl siding on the front of the house and then the three other sides of the house are usually vinyl siding or an aesthetically similar look to vinyl siding. While you can somewhat pick the ratio of brick to siding (normally there will be a number of exterior elevations available for each model), the color scheme and materials used is the same for all houses within that community.

Cost can be another deterrent with a Production Home. While the ability to only have to pay a deposit (that is often less than 10% of the purchase price) is very appealing – especially when we were first time homebuyers – the flip side of this convenience is the fact that Production Home builders will generally charge a huge up-charge for any upgrades (i.e.: app. $350 per potlight). In our experience, it meant that we would usually choose a base finish that was included in the price (such as a pedestal sink in the powder room or basic plumbing fixtures), with the intention of changing it and making it our own later. So we effectively paid for things that we intended to throw out at a later date – not very cost efficient when you look at it that way.

Debunking the most common Production Homes myth:

Too many times, I’ve been told not to got with a specific builder/developer because they have a bad reputation and a history of shady work. Don’t be fooled by this!

One of the many ways that Production Home builders/developers are able to keep their costs down and actually make money in these projects is to subcontract the majority of the actual build to other contractors. The reality is, in Ottawa anyway, it doesn’t matter if you choose Mattamy, Tartan, Minto or any other of those big developers because, chances are, they are all using the same or similar subcontractors to do the work. You may end up with a wall that is crooked or poorly installed tile or a host of other problems that are not actually a reflection of the developer that you choose but, rather, the trades that have done the work.

For example, our first home was a semi-detached built by Tartan Homes. In general, we did not have any issues with house – it was built and functioned as we expected. Our neighbours, who had a similar model, spent months making appointments with Tartan after they closed to rectify issues in their home. Our second home was a single family house built by Mattamy Homes – I kid you not, we were the only house in our entire Mattamy community that had our siding fall on all 4 sides of the house at least 5 times! We spent the better part of our first two years in the house contacting Mattamy to have them do the repairs.

The fact is, my lack of problems in our Tartan home and my siding nightmare in our Mattamy home is not a reflection of either developer per se – it is simply luck of the draw.

My best piece of advice when choosing a Production Home builder is to focus on all other things (cost, location, model, design, etc.) and not dwell too much on the “word of mouth” reputation that they may have.