|Building a Woodstock with Toll Brothers||
Last Thursday, August 16, I had my structured wiring and security meeting with CSS. Toll subcontracts those things to CSS, so I met with CSS directly, and Toll will roll the final amount into my mortgage, and charge me a 20% down payment just like they do for all options.
I had seen the "menu" of options and their prices, so I knew walking in that their options were 3 - 7 times over priced before I even walked in. I'm a technical person, and I've pulled cable through finished houses before, so I know what the cost per foot of Cat 5 cable is, etc. I told the representative that, and he at least shot straight with me from that moment on.
Standard, the house comes with 2 Cat 5 drops, (Cat 5 can be used as either phone or data), 3 coax drops, all of the exterior doors contact sensored, 1 keypad, a siren and 1 motion detector. I had priced out 3 additional Cat 5 runs, 2 short HDMI and 2 long HDMI runs, an extra keypad in the master bedroom (in case I forgot to set the alarm before going up to bed) and a 5.1 pre-wire only in the basement. I was hoping that since I have no need for coax drops that I could exchange them for the 3 Cat 5 runs that I want. (Every tv now comes with HDMI standard, so there's no use for coax. Coax is only used from the cable source, to the cable box, and the cable box will be in the basement, so literally, those 3 coax drops are a waste) Even though the Cat 5 and the coax drops are b oth priced the same at a ridiculous $175 per, the guy said that due to their contract with Toll, he couldn't let me exchange them. Even though I don't see a difference since Toll would be paying them the exact same amount either way, apparently Toll figures that if something goes wrong and they have to sell your house to someone else, they want their standard of 2 Cat 5 and 3 coax to be in place.
So, that's $525 that I spent on Cat 5 runs, that in my opinion, should'be been swapped for the default coax runs, thus free. I had been considering having all of my first floor and basement windows contact sensored ($850), and getting a monitored smoke detector ($195) and I would've done it without hesitation (despite the fact that those prices are still rape) if I had that $525 to apply towards it. The representative gave me a week to consider if I wanted this to be my final order. I'm leaning more towards adding the monitored smoke detector since it doesn't add to my monthly monitoring cost and will help with my home owner's insurance. The windows being contact sensored, well, did I mention the houses are really close together, like 15 feet close? I'm thinking on the bright side, the houses being that close together is a deterrent to burglars. Who knows though, I'm still weighing my options.
On July 27, I finalized my selections, except for the bar and low-voltage (lighting placement, hdmi and ethernet cable runs, etc). At that time, I gave Toll another check for 20% of the cost of the interior options that I had selected. I also made a few last minute(well, I had been thinking about them over the previous week) changes. I decided to go for a much grayer master bathroom tile and listello, and changed from "lady's choice" (a tannish/off-white color) carpet to "thunder" (a light gray that is still standard level) in the bedrooms. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of the new tile and listello , but here's a picture from the internet. It's "Gray Stone" in the in the "Castle De Verre" series of DaTile. I like the stark contrast that the white toilet and tub will make, and I won't be blinded in the mornings by light reflecting off of light colored tile.
Overall, I found the costs of the interior options to be a lot more reasonable than the structural options. I did decide not to buy a refrigerator through the builder. I found that I could get a matching refrigerator for $500 - $700 cheaper, even after delivery costs if need be. I also didn't buy a washer and dryer from the builder. Pretty much everything else, like tile, faucets, etc, I compared to pricing online and found them to be comparable, especially if I were to pay someone to come in and install these things. I did go with the default bath accessories and lighting fixtures throughout without shopping around because they didn't have the styles I am interested in, and those things aren't hard to change out. Aside from the appliances that I mentioned, I took a pass on the closet organizers and blinds that they offered. Their selection in these areas were really limited, and over priced. I know that like the fireplace, as long a they could source it, they'd install it, so I could have chosen products outside of their selection choices, but these things are easy enough to replace after the fact.
I heard back from the project manager regarding the cost of having a bar put in the basement, instead of just the rough-in, so I made some modifications to my interior selections so that I could get the bar without completely blowing my budget.
Instead of the marble counter tops in the kitchen, I went back to the meteor gray quartz counter tops. Aside from nearly doubling the cost of the counter tops, marble stains easily and has to be sealed like granite. Quartz has all of the benefits of marble (except the look), but can't stain and doesn't need to be sealed, so I think going with the quartz was a better practical decision anyway.
I also changed the carpet and padding levels in the bedrooms upstairs from Level 3 and second upgrade level respectively to both being standard. So, instead of "spearmint" (a light gray), I chose "lady's choice", an off-white/tanish color. I chose to make this one of the things I saved on in order to get the bar because I figure in the future, I'll put hardwood in the bedrooms so why pay for upgraded flooring? I really like the look of hardwood and with two cats, it's easier to keep clean(er) Besides, Toll just upgraded their "standard level" of padding to be thicker, and the standard level of carpet gets a 3 on a scale of 5 for standing up to high traffic. I figure bedrooms (particularly since 2 of them won't be used much at least right away since they won't have beds in them) aren't exactly high traffic.
My first official appointment to go to the design center and start selecting the interior options of my house was on Friday, July 13. (Good thing I'm not superstitious). Now, I had visited the design center during their no-appointment required hours on Saturdays a few times before I signed the purchase agreement, just to make sure that Toll Brothers offered options that I would like, i.e. not all traditional and "elegant" but some minimalistic and modern things as well. Yes, they do lean a lot more on the traditional side, but they had enough "simple" things that made me feel comfortable I could design a house I'd like. The design center rep was even kind enough to give me the pricing matrix for hardwood, carpet and padding, tile and contertops so I could have an idea of what the various levels of products would cost for each room in the model of house I was contemplating purchasing. This knowledge really helped me to know what to expect and how much to budget for and because I had taken pictures and seen a lot of the products, I was able to go to this first appointment with a lot of the major components already picked out in my mind.
The design center rep was great to work with! She never pressured me to select higher priced options, and she took the time to get to know and understand my tastes and then made suggestions that were in line with them. She didn't ask me how much I wanted to spend at the start, so she never tried to "spend me up" to that number. I was so prepared from my trips beforehand, and from he no-pressure suggestions, that in the 3 hour appointment, I was able to pick out everything except carpeting, lighting fixtures and tile for one of the bathrooms. We agreed that I could come back the next day (a Saturday, so technically it was during no-appointment required hours) to make those selections.
The next day I came back, and selected the tile and carpet. They didn't really have any light fixtures that would fit my style, so I decided to go with the standard ones, especially since light fixtures are easy to change out after the house is done. I also decided to change the listello (the decorative bar of tiles that go around a tub/shower) from a blue one, to a black/grey/white one. The rest of that bathroom is white subway tile with java cabinets and grey speckled cultured marble counter top, so I decided to stick with the monochromatic theme of the bathroom, even though blue is my favorite color. Also, since I was below the amount I had budgeted for myself, I went with marble counter tops in the kitchen, instead of the quartz I had selected before.
I felt so confident in my choices, that I told the design rep to cancel my second appointment on July 20, and that I'd just come back to finalize the paperwork on July 27. I've included pictures below. The lighting really makes everything look browner than it really is. I'm sure the pictures of the stuff actually installed will be much better, but you can get an idea from these of what I was going for.
The kitchen backsplash will be white subway tile, the cabinets are the dark java against the tile. The counter tops are the marlbe, and the cabinet hardware is also shown. The wood flooring will be through out the first floow and in the loft, and the tile shown is the powder room floor with the toilet and pedestal sink color swatch laying on it.
The basement carpet is on the left, and the bedrooms carpet is on the right - they are both grays, not browns. The basement bathroom is on the left, followed by the guest bathroom followed by the hall bathroom followed by the master bathroom. You can't tell from this picture,but the master bathroom cabinets are a Merlot wine color instead of the dark java found through out the rest of the house.
One of the important factors that impacted my decision to build with Toll was how willing they were to customize their floor plans. Surprisingly, what they charged me to make the customizations that I requested were very reasonable. I honestly didn't expect to be able to afford to do as much customization as I did, especially if $1,500 to paint the garage (one of the options I did NOT select) was any indicator.
The project manager decides on the spot how much to charge for each customization after it's been laid out in detail. Since you're dealing with a human, and not the corporate office, there's some room to negotiate, but not much. Here are the customizations that I got, and their costs.
Second Level Laundry and 3rd Bedroom opened up to be a Loft - $500
None of the floor plans offered in my community included a second level laundry room. Even though I don't have kids, I don't want to haul my laundry up and down stairs. The third bedroom upstairs had a closet that I suggested we make accessible from the hall, and turn that into the laundry room (really, just big enough to hold a standard sized washer and dryer sitting side by side). Taking away that closet of course wouldn't let that room stay classified as a "bedroom", and adding another closet would make the bedroom tiny. Instead, I suggested that the laundry center be moved to the wall shared with the next bedroom, and make the space a loft. There's already the window that would've been the bedroom window, and it's right when you come up stairs so it has an open and roomy feel. It's about an 9' x 16' area that is outside of the laundry closet, which will be two doors that open outwards. I plan to put a TV and some nifty benches or seats and make like a lunge feel.
I asked about this customization when I was considering the quick delivery house, and the same project manager was going to charge me 1k, and that was before I had the idea to turn the bedroom into a loft. I guess the extra $500 was because they would have had to undo some of the framing just to turn the closet to be accessible from the hall. If I had asked for the loft, which would've meant taking away two walls completely, and constructing the laundry closet on another wall, it probably would've been more. It definitely paid off for me to forego the quick delivery house.
Non Standard Fireplace - the cost of the fireplace
Toll Brothers includes a fire place in the family room in the base price of the house. Their fireplaces are rather traditional in style, and I'm trying to go for a more modern look. When I asked about having a custom fireplace installed, they told me that as long as their procurement department could get it, they'd install it. I ended up sourcing a Rave fireplace, from Heatilator. It's a linear fireplace, so rectangular instead of square, and its flame burns in a line among stones instead of in a random pattern over logs. (See the pdf file below for pictures) They charged me the actual price of the fireplace. I'm having it installed opposite of the kitchen in the family room, so on the side of the house instead of the standard location, which is the back of the house. Unfortunately, I didn't get any sort of credit for the cost of the standard fireplace that the Rave fireplace is being installed in lieu of. In fact, Toll doesn't give credit for anything that they include standard. For instance, Toll includes oak stairs, and a runner in the base price of the house. I like the look of hardwood stairs, and don't want to hide the wood, so I asked to not have a runner, and I didn't get a credit for the runner either. Basically, this meant that I opted to change the fireplace because it's a major hassle to do down the road. However, I plan to do minor things after closing, or even in the future, like switching out the 6 panel doors for more modern doors, and selling the 6 panel doors. I'm not asking them to do things that I can do later with minimal labor and that I can sell to regain some of the cost back since Toll doesn't give you credit for things you don't want.
Overhang from Island for Chairs or Stools - $800
I thought that the Palladian Kitchen Addition, which turns the island 90 degrees, and make it longer because it bumps the kitchen out by about 4' automatically upgraded the island to have an overhang - it does not. That thought was based on pictures of a palladian kitchen in a quick delivery house that does have the overhang. Below is a picture of an island with an overhang in a Toll Brothers Palladian kitchen. To get the 12 inch overhang, for a Level 3 Zodiaq quratz counter top is $800. I like having seating available without having a table between the kitchen and family room (Toll calls that area the breakfast area), so I sprung for it.
Basement Bar - Still being determined.
So, the model has this gorgeous bar in the basement, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted one. I just didn't know if I would have to wait until after the house was built to have one. This customization is definitely my "splurge". I modified some of the selections from the rest of the house to make this possible. I think it's a good way to entertain a few good friends, or to have a sports party. I added the "rough-in" to the structural options and at the time wasn't sure if I was going to have Toll build the actual bar. I'm finalizing the details on this this coming Friday (Aug 10), but as of right now, it looks like I can get a bar that has standard level (Yorktowne Greenfield in roseell) cabinets, level 2 impala black granite, and a level 2 tile on the floor. (Level 1/standard tile is 6" x 6", and I didn't want it to look like a bathroom). I'm not going to have them install tile going up the front of the bar, like the model has. Instead, a friend of mine who is artistically inclined is going to make me some custom art/cutouts that we're going to light from behind. I'm also not going to have a built in wine cabinet. I don't drink wine very much. Instead, I'm having them leave that space empty so that I can install a kegerator later and have beer on tap. I'm also not buying a mini fridge from Toll, but just having them leave the space for one.
Sorry about the quality of the pictures. They were take with my cell phone.
So, there are a few rounds of option selection, the first of which is done at the time that you sign the purchase agreement. These options are mostly structural in nature. These are the options that are the most difficult to add or change after the house is built. Frankly, they're also the most expensive. You are required to give Toll a check for 20% of the cost of all the options you select. While that 20% does go towards the down payment, it's money you have to have at the time of signing, as opposed to when the house is complete.
Now, there are some options that it's pretty obvious that I could add a little later in the process, and the sales rep said that Toll is excellent about letting you add options up until the time when it would cost to undo work, or the wait time would blow the schedule. Other options, like expanded garage, are pretty much set in stone (no pun intended) within a few days of the purchase agreement because they may affect how the house sits on the lot, and the permits.
Here's a list of the structural options that I chose. I've included their system number, in case you'd like to ask about a particular option for your community. I would include the price, but I found that the price of structural options varies from community to community sometimes by thousands of dollars for the same option, even within 20 miles, and I don't want this list to set your expectations about cost.