Swatches and samples surround you as you grip your floor plan firmly in hand. You're nervous but excited; this is your new home, after all, and these will be the finishing touches that make it unique to you. Except, how much "you" do you actually want to make it? Aren't you thinking of selling in a few years, anyway?
"Initially, people find choosing upgrades very daunting. They're a little bit nervous," said Liberty Developments' in-house interior designer Brent Zavitski, who helps buyers choose upgrades at Liberty projects such as Centre Park Condos. "Everyone typically has a budget, especially first-time buyers, so there are definitely some items that become priorities."
But will those upgrades that are important now continue to be so, once you live in your new home or condo? Where's the best place to invest your money? And what's going to most affect your resale value? These are all questions experts such as Zavitski say new-home and condo buyers need to consider when personalizing their houses or units; especially younger, first-time buyers who want to get the most bang for their bucks.
"First-time buyers don't have a huge budget; they have a defined amount of money to work with," said interior designer Enza Checchia of Decorenza, who has worked on sites such as San Francisco by the Bay and Triumph North. "What we usually advise them is to focus on things that enhance, but also make things more accessible and organized."
In condo suites, specifically, the standard finishes offer a great base for buyers, she said, at least from an esthetic perspective. Which is why she suggests spending money on functionality, instead. Space is often in short supply in a condo, and creating more storage is one upgrade that will not only benefit buyers themselves once they move in, but will be appealing to a prospective resale purchaser down the road. Taller upper-kitchen cabinetry, if it's available, is one way to increase a home's functionality, she said. Opting for pot-and-pan drawers is another.
In a low-rise home, finding space for a kitchen pantry can be a good idea.
"The most important area, both from a buyer and from a resale point of view, is the kitchen," Checchia said.
The designer also suggests upgrading things that will be difficult or impossible to upgrade later, but that will truly add to the form and function of your space. In a low-rise home, for example, choosing to upgrade to nine-foot ceilings is a wise option, while, in a condominium, going for an upgraded floor from the outset can be a better choice than replacing it later on, when it will only be loud and annoying for neighbours, and a hassle for you.
Another option that adds appeal to a condo: smooth ceilings. That's Jason Attard's advice, anyway. It can be pricey, he said, but compare two otherwise identical suites and the one with the smooth ceiling will invariably stand out for the eventual buyer who's shopping the resale market.
"It's an incredible upgrade," said the vice-president of sales and marketing with Aspen Ridge; buyers at the builder's VU condominium site chose their finishes at the beginning of this year. "Most buildings come with smooth ceilings in all of the wet areas -- the kitchens and bathrooms -- and, for the most part, they're stippled everywhere else. But it looks incredible when the entire suite has a smooth finish."
Extending hardwood flooring throughout the condo suite can also make a big difference for highrise dwellers, said Karen Norton, manager of Great Gulf Homes's decor centre. Many developers offer hardwood as standard in the principal rooms only, with carpet in the bedrooms. Extending hardwood flooring into the bedrooms can make the unit seem bigger and less choppy. "It makes the suite that much more open," she said.
But more important than anything, Norton said -- especially for buyers looking ahead to resale -- is to keep all of the finishes neutral. While a splashy lacquered red kitchen may fulfil your decor fantasy, it could also reduce your home or suite's chances of selling fast, once potential buyers start looking.
"Trendy kitchen colours are probably something you should stay away from, because it's going to date your unit in five years," Norton said. "You also want to try to appeal to the masses if you're going to be selling."
And when it comes time to appeal to those masses, flaunting a few upgrades is a sure way to set your suite apart from the competition. In many cases, sharp investors aim to flip their units, then start the process elsewhere. Oddly enough, it's this sort of investor who's unlikely to get any upgrades at all, said Barbara Lawlor, president of Baker Real Estate Corp. Lawlor sells suites at condominiums across Toronto, and said a few upgrades can make all the difference when it's time for resale. Meanwhile, until that day arrives, you'll be deriving all the pleasure from the upgrades.