Your Model Home Tour Checklist

By Sarah Kinbar Ristorcelli

Model home visits can be overwhelming - luckily, we have some tips that will make the search for your new home a total breeze!

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You’ve made the decision. The time has come. You're going to do it. You're going to buy a brand-new house! So...now what?

One of the first things you'll likely do is visit several model homes. Model homes are an excellent way to gauge how well a home or builder will meet your dream home needs. But it's not as simple as waltzing into the next open house.

You need to go in with a plan.

Model homes are tricked out to impress buyers and sell more homes. It's so easy to walk in and get starry-eyed by what you see that you forget to think about how well the home will work for you and your lifestyle.

To help you avoid that snafu we've assembled a checklist of tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your model home visits.

To-Do's Before Your Visit

1. Identify Locations.

Your very first consideration should be general location. How far are you willing to commute? What kinds of transportation options do you need? Do you prefer to be closer to the city center or farther out? Are schools important to you? How safe is the community? This will help narrow down locations in which to begin your search. Jeff Benach, co-principal of Chicago-based Lexington Homes, agrees: “Visiting the surrounding community is some of the legwork that should be done before visiting a builder's model center. I always recommend [home shoppers] check neighborhood crime stats, walking scores and closeness to public transportation.

2. Identify Home Styles.

Do you have a preferred home style or are you open to anything? If you have strong likes or dislikes, make a note of them so you can avoid wasting your time on new home communities that don't fit your style.

3. Establish a Budget.

You definitely want to have a number in mind when you visit a model home. There's nothing worse than falling in love with a design only to realize that it's out of your price range. Meet with a mortgage lender before you visit a builder so you know what you can afford. Armed with this data, you can ask more relevant questions of the builder, such as what the base price of the home is and what add-ons or options will cost.

4. Create a Needs and Wants List.

You wouldn't start car shopping without a basic list of your must-haves or an idea of the type of car you want, would you? Home shopping is no different. Instead of rushing out to see what's out there and then deciding what you like or don't like, create a needs and wants list. This list should identify what you need in a home and what you want. Needs are your must-haves; a home without them is a deal-breaker. Wants are "nice to have, but I could live without it" items. A need may be an attached two-car garage or good schools. A want might be a finished basement or guest suite. It's up to you to decide what's important to you but think about these things before you visit a model home so you can be certain they are included in the homes/communities you visit.

Tips for Touring

1. Ignore Décor.

Model homes are designed to wow you. That means they may sport upgrades and options that aren't included in the base model price. These homes may also showcase designer furniture and color schemes that just aren't you. Be sure to keep an open mind about the design features you see; ask what is standard vs. what's an upgrade. Don't get hung up on color schemes or how the model home is decorated. Instead, pay attention to the layout, spacing and amenities, and imagine yourself living in the space. “I always prepare my clients … I encourage them to look past the professionally placed furniture and accessories and imagine their belongings, their furniture within the space,” explains Holly Holmquest Thompson of Houston Luxury Realty.

2. Examine Craftsmanship.

Touring a model home gives you a chance to examine how well it is constructed and the quality of the materials. Look at small details like how well the molding is placed, how cabinets hang (straight and flush, preferably!) and whether there are blemishes, dents, or dings in the materials themselves. Is the floor level and straight? How do the finishes feel? Jennifer LaPoint of Realty Executives in Orlando, Florida, has this advice: “Ask to see an unfurnished, undecorated home with the same floor plan as the model home. That is truly eye-opening, because then you see what you are really getting.”

3. Ask Away!

Touring a model home is your chance to ask the builder all of your questions. They expect this, so if you have any questions about the process or specifics about the home you're looking at, don't hold back. You'll want to know what comes standard on the home and which features are upgrades.

4. Take Pictures and Handouts.

If you have plans to visit a lot of model homes, ask if you can take pictures. This can help you keep track of specific homes/communities, but it can also be used to pull together a collection of features you absolutely love. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a community that offers everything you want! You'll also want to walk out with handouts that include the standard list of features so you can compare them to other model homes and communities.

5. Limit Your Visits.

Don’t try to cram visits to 10 models homes into one day. You'll lose focus and the homes will all start to run together. Michael Schaffer of Reason Real Estate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, limits his clients to touring just two communities a day for this exact reason: “At the end of the day, your memories of each community and model will be fresh and uncluttered, so that you can reflect and process your thoughts and feelings about each. If you must take more tours in a day, plan a break after every two communities to collect your thoughts as you rest and recharge with a meal or snack.”

6. Above All, Have Fun!

Touring model homes should be fun and exciting. If you ever get to the point where it's a drag, take a break. Go grab lunch, plan to pick up touring on a different day or ask yourself if you've already seen everything you need to see and are ready to make a decision.

In the meantime, get a leg up on your “Before Your Visit” to-do’s by exploring home ideas and options at HomLuv!

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Sarah Kinbar Ristorcelli is a writer and former magazine editor with a focus on the way people experience designed spaces. Her stories for national and local publications feature the innovations in technology, materials, and design that shape the way we live.

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