Remodelers are used to working on houses that are five or more years old. But how about a house that is five days old? Designer Richard Forbes says on one job, he was taking measurements of the new-home kitchen before the settlement. "The homeowners did not want the builder to know -- they were nice about it. I'm measuring while they are hanging the cabinets," says the owner of Absolute Kitchens in McLean, Va. "I told the crew I was measuring for paint."
That client originally asked Forbes to replace her countertops. "I gave her advice on quality, and it turned into a full-blown kitchen," Forbes recalls. The original kitchen had a tiny, 2-by-4-foot island that was out of proportion in the large space. Forbes also designed and installed a custom mantle for the adjacent sitting area to match the cabinets.
"We've taken brand new houses and changed just about everything in them before the buyers occupied the homes, including kitchen cabinets, countertops, appliances, tile backsplashes, decorative hoods, and lighting," says Scott McCollum. The president of McCollum Associates, Dallas, estimates these new-home jobs make up about 10% of his projects. If he includes houses that are only a few years old, the figure increases to 15%.
McCollum recently completed a $400,000 remodeling job on a new house that included an addition, installing limestone mantles, removing a wall to create a large living room, replacing all the lighting fixtures and hardware, and adding 2,000 square feet of hardwood flooring. His crews also transformed the kitchen by applying a new finish on the cabinetry and replacing the countertops and hardware.
On other new house jobs, McCollum has replaced an existing kitchen island with a furniture-look piece and added wood appliques and fancier moldings. He says home buyers make concessions on quality for location or price, often knowing they will remodel within the first few months or years of living in the house.
Forbes says some developer-built houses have kitchens with low-quality appliances and materials. "It takes time to notice the finish is fading or peeling, drawers are sticking, drawer hinges failing, glide mechanisms not operating properly," he says. He is surprised that even large, custom-built houses have poor-quality cabinetry. The designer says there are some things homeowners are willing to accept, but a badly designed kitchen should not be one of them. "I used to blame builders for putting in that level of product, but the blame falls on the consumer. If you buy it, you've justified it," Forbes says.
In McCollum's competitive area, many custom builders have had to cut back on product to compete on a price per square foot basis, and therefore even million-dollar homes don't have all the amenities that homeowners want. "A lot of customers want all hardwood floors. None of the builders offer that," he says. "They don't go that extra mile."