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Plan for 'Little Extras' During Construction

Second of two parts.


Not everything in your new home has to be expensive. There are several fun yet relatively inexpensive goodies that add a little pizazz. Building them into a house while it's still under construction is much easier (and also less expensive) than trying to add them on later.

How do you convince a builder to add these extras? Actually, home builders today may need very little convincing. "Customization" is the buzzword in the housing market today, with even the largest merchant builders offering buyers a myriad of options to personalize a stock plan.

A negotiating tip: Offer to supply custom items so the builder doesn't have to track them down. For example, a built-in ironing board is easy to find at local home improvement centers. Of course, for certain add-ons, you'll have to do the negotiating before the framing is finished in order to incorporate them into the home's design.

Here are some "cheap thrills":

* Built-in ironing board. Ironing probably doesn't top anyone's list of fun things to do, but it's slightly less of a hassle if you don't have to drag out and set up an ironing board. Adding a built-in ironing board for $100 to $400 is quite a space- and time-saver. Most designs have an unfinished oak cabinet that hides the ironing board. High-end models also have an electrical outlet, light and sleeve attachment. Think about where you do your ironing before choosing a location. We recommend putting your built-in board in the master bedroom closet or your laundry room.

* Laundry chute. We recommend putting a laundry chute in any two-story house where the laundry room is downtstairs. You have many options where you can locate the chute. No more lugging baskets of dirty clothes downstairs. The cost: $100.

* Motion-sensor lights. These are a neat idea to help protect against theft and to shed a little light when you come home late. For about $20, you can attach a motion sensor to your garage lights or any outdoor lights. When something (even as small as a neighborhood cat) approaches within 50 feet, the light turns on. Another nice feature: The sensor automatically turns off the light after a preset time period.

* Wiring for house-wide stereo. Here's something you can do while the walls are going up, even if you don't have all the equipment for a stereo system throughout the house. In a living room, you can wire for a home theater system. You can always hook up speakers later (keep a plan of where the wires end, so you know where they are). The cost: $30 to $70 per pair of speaker wires, depending on the distance.

* Remote-control stereo. In our office, we have a remote-control sensor and set of speakers that are connected to a stereo receiver downstairs. The remote control allows us to change stations, fiddle with the volume and even play tapes and CDs without going downstairs. Cost: $80 for the sensor and $200 for the extra speakers. Beats having to buy a separate stereo.

* Pet door. If you have a pet or expect to have one in the future, install a pet door while the walls are still going up. Framing a hole for the door is much easier then than later. Cost: $30 to $50.

* Gas log fireplaces and grills. Many people want fireplaces in their house but don't want to fuss with buying wood and cleaning up ashes. Gas log fireplaces have become increasingly popular in the last five years. They require no maintenance and need only to be switched on; some have remote controls.

* High-efficiency direct-vented fireplaces. Forget the expensive chimney; with this type, the smoke goes out the wall through what looks like a dryer vent from the outside. The cost for one of these designs is $900 to $2,500, but remember--you save by omitting the chimney. You can add a fan (to disperse the warm air from the fireplace) for $125.

* Natural-gas grill. First, you need a gas outlet wherever you want the grill. This costs about $50, usually installed by the plumber or a licensed gas contractor. Then you buy a natural-gas grill, available from your local or appliance store. Prices start at about $250 for a basic model and go up to $500.

* Master bedroom refrigerator. How many times have you been settled in bed and then decided you wanted a late-night snack? You get out of your warm bed, trudge out to the kitchen and fix yourself a plate of cookies and a glass of cold milk. But what if you had a mini-refrigerator in your bedroom? This inexpensive option costs only about $100 to $150 and can be built into a bookcase or hidden in a walk-in closet. If you have a baby taking formula or medicines that must be kept chilled, a fridge is a great solution.

* Weather station. For all those weather nuts who simply have to know the temperature, humidity, wind chill, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction and rainfall, a weather station is a great toy. Because it has several external sensors that need to be mounted on a roof, an ideal time to buy one is when the home is being built. The Wind & Weather catalog (800-922-9463) lists several models in different price ranges.


Excerpted by permission from "Your New House--The Alert Consumer's Guide to Buying and Building a Quality Home." Second Edition, by Alan and Denise Fields, 1996, Windsor Peak Press, $13.95, in bookstores, or by calling (800) 888-0385.

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