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Is Your Home Builder-Grade?

[Updated: Sep 04, 2020 ] Feb 16, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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The less expensive it is to construct a home, the more those on the building end stand to profit. It's for this reason that many builders these days intentionally opt for the cheapest materials possible in an effort to trim their costs. That's good for them, but for you as a buyer -- not so much.

What's a builder-grade home?

A builder-grade home is one constructed from the most minimal, inexpensive materials you'll find available. The term encompasses everything from windows to doors to tile to the paint you'll see on your walls. Builder-grade materials are typically mass-produced and generally aren't customizable -- which means if you're getting a builder-grade home, you're probably getting a cookie-cutter kitchen and bathrooms.

So how do you know if your home is builder-grade? Mostly, you'll need to ask a lot of questions and do some digging. The concept of builder-grade largely comes into play when you're buying new construction. At that point, you'll generally get a detailed contract that outlines exactly what your builders are responsible for and what features, finishes, and fixtures they'll provide. If your contract doesn't offer specifics on the materials that will be used to construct your home, don't sign it till you get that information. But also, don't be surprised if everything from your sink to your sheetrock is builder-grade.

How problematic is builder-grade?

Builder-grade materials and products tend to be less durable and attractive than higher-graded materials. And for the sake of clarity, building materials are typically broken down into four grades:

  1. Builder
  2. Quality
  3. Custom
  4. Ultra-custom

Within each grade, there are also different categories, but let's stick to the basics: The higher the grade, the better the quality. So if you're getting a home that's largely builder-grade, you're getting the bottom of the barrel.

Is that a bad thing? Not totally. The lower the cost of the materials used to construct your home, the less you're likely to pay for it. But remember, as with all things in life, you get what you pay for on the homebuying front, so if you willingly buy a builder-grade property, you may find yourself sinking more money into repairs and upgrades over time than you'd care to spend.

For example, if you buy a home with builder-grade windows, you may find that they're drafty. Higher-quality windows might offer better insulation. If your kitchen comes with builder-grade cabinets, they might splinter easily or come off their hinges. Higher-quality cabinets might better withstand daily use and look more attractive. And if your home features builder-grade paint, it might chip more easily than higher-quality paint (that, and you may find that unless you're willing to pay to upgrade, your entire home will consist of that classic, obnoxiously bright builder's white).

The takeaway? Builder-grade might produce some cost savings for you as a homebuyer, but it's not necessarily the way to go. If you're building a home from the ground up, negotiate the materials used before signing a contract, and make sure they meet your standards. Otherwise, what you save up front you could easily end up spending on updates and repairs.

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