Tubs, wine coolers, outdoor rooms among popular upgrades

Getting a tax refund this year? Whether building or remodeling, having a few extra dollars means the chance to splurge on something special. It may be the upgrade you always regretted not adding in the last house, or a little touch of luxury that will bump your favorite room into the realm of spectacular. Even if the builder or contractor doesn’t have a standard list of options, most will work with homeowners to add whatever special features they can conjure out of their imaginations or the latest Pinterest page.

Not all upgrades need to be budget-busters. A few well-selected options here and there can personalize an otherwise cookie-cutter design and make your house stand out from the others on the block. And no matter what the price range, there’s usually a way to go just one bit better.

If the house is in the starter-home range of $180,000 to $240,000, one of the first things buyers want to upgrade is the flooring, said Trevor Shonkwiler, president of Waters Edge Group builders.

“They want to go from carpets in the living areas to hardwoods everywhere,” he said. “There’s an aesthetic look about wood that people really like. It’s also extremely durable; its longevity is greater than carpet, and it’s better for re-sale value, too.”

Tile is another upgrade that many buyers will pay more for, said Rob Smith of Keller Williams Realty Intown. “It’s extremely versatile. These days, tiles come in selections like paint colors. Fifteen years ago, we only had tumbled marble and 4-by-4 squares; today, there is an insane number of choices. People are getting creative and putting more tile where it wasn’t before.”

Shonkwiler’s buyers also upgrade appliances, not for their style or design but for their energy efficiency. “Insulation upgrades are a small part of it,” he said. “People want more energy-efficient furnaces and water heaters. Part of that upgrade is tied to technology, too: They want to control the thermostat, or the garage door and the lights, from their smartphone, and that requires additional wiring.”

Smith finds that many second- and third-time buyers of both new and resale properties tend to be more savvy about comfort because they know what hasn’t worked for them in the past.

“For instance, if they have allergies, they want more wood in the house,” he said. “They’ll also add humidifiers onto the HVAC systems, and they’re not that expensive: A whole-house humidifier can cost about $900.”

Technology is also on the minds of buyers building houses at Edward Andrews Homes communities around the metro area.

“It’s such a big part of everyone’s day-to-day lives now that they’re looking for charging stations, drop zones for iPads, a tech nook or tech stations where they can work from home or the children can study,” said Debbie Naftel, Edward Andrews’s director of design. “And sometimes they want them in multiple rooms. The options are extensive; they just depend on what the buyers decided to add.”

Master baths are another area where buyers are willing to splurge to create a sense of spa. In both new and remodeled homes, Naftel says buyers are adding luxury upgrades to make this room a retreat.

“That can be comfort-height toilets, taller vanities that are easier to reach, heated floors or rainhead showers,” she said. “They’re also moving to free-standing soaking tubs.”

Outdoor areas are also getting extra attention when there’s room in the budget to go beyond the four walls. “Our buyers are really embracing the outdoors by screening in porches and adding fire pits and fireplaces,” said Naftel. “They’re also putting in cooking areas that might be just a built-in grill but could also include a refrigerator and a sink.”

Since the kitchen is off the hub of the house, buyers may opt to spend a bit more to make this a highly-functional, daily-use space. They’re also willing to pad the budget a bit if it means getting a higher-grade material.

“We’re seeing that with more people upgrading to quartz countertops,” said Rob Smith. “Granite’s kinda old; marble stains deeply. But there are amazing things being done with quartz. It can even look like granite or marble, but it’s much more durable.”

Higher-end properties usually demand high-end appliances as well, said builder Stokely Weinberg of Stokesman Luxury Homes.

“Lately we’ve been getting a lot of requests for Thermador,” he said. “That line is certainly in the luxury class of appliances, which means tens of thousands of dollars for each home, but they look amazing and have performed well for our customers.”

While going all out for expensive, commercial-grade appliances may be out of the range for some homeowners, they may add one elegant touch: a wine cooler. “We’re seeing people in all price points asking for these,” said Smith. “They’re almost becoming the fifth appliance after the stove, the fridge, the microwave and the dishwasher. And if you move into the higher price ranges above $750,000, those buyers want a wine cellar.”

Buyers may also find that the larger the house, the bigger the upgrade. “For instance, homes with four bedrooms and three baths are usually marketed to a family, so with more people living there you may find an upgrade to a stove with five or six burners,” said Smith. “Or it might be an extra garage or a finished basement with a bath. If there’s room, the upgrade might be a man cave or a media room.”

Buyers working with builders at Rock Haven Homes, an Atlanta company that specializes in new million-dollar properties, are splurging on three specific items in the master bedroom area, said agent Scott Payne of Engel & Volkers.

“They have a lot of interest in custom-designed closets, so much so that they might spend $10,000 to $20,000 on them,” said Payne. “They’re adding show racks, jewelry drawers, all kinds of extras.”

Just outside the upscale closet, buyers also want a morning kitchen, usually with a sink and coffeemaker. In the baths, they’re opting for free-standing tub that could add $2,500 to the tab. “It’s definitely more expensive to add that, but people really like the look and feel of that kind of tub,” said Payne. “And it doesn’t take up much more room than a standard bath.”