One of the great perks of buying a pre-construction condo is getting to choose the finishes you want for your new home. The day you move in, there’s no need for renovations: everything is the way you want it.
However, customizing your condo can be a confusing and frustrating task. With so many options to choose from, it can get overwhelming very fast.
This article will help you simplify the decision-making process and help you determine which upgrades to invest in.
Two Types of Condo Upgrades
Before going any further, we’ll start by differentiating the two types of upgrades:
- Structural upgrades are features that are built into the structure of the condo (ie parking unit, walls). These are permanent and cannot be changed at a later time.
- Cosmetic upgrades are features are built onto the structure (ie flooring, tiles, paint, cabinets, countertops). These are customizable at any time after the condo is built.
Choosing Structural Upgrades
At the time of signing your sales agreement, there will already be upgrade options to choose from. Specifically, you’ll need to consider if you want a storage locker and parking spot.
Should I Get a Storage Locker?
In our guide to buying pre-construction condos, we recommend always purchasing the storage locker. It adds a small amount to your mortgage and helps with the resale of your condo.
Storage locker upgrades are also practical. Many condo developments ban the storage of bulky items on balconies. This can get tricky for those who own winter tires.
What About Parking Spots?
For parking, this is a financial decision based on your budget. We recommend you get one if you can afford it. In dense urban areas, street parking is becoming a limited option. Many cities are starting to limit street parking to push citizens to use mass transit.
If you’re buying in the downtown core of a city or in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, you may be faced with a tough choice. You may have to buy a slightly smaller condo in favor of a parking spot if your budget is limited.
Condos with parking units are also easier to resell years down the road. However, parking units don’t gain as much value over time as your condo will.
Choosing the Right Electrical Upgrades
At the time of signing your pre-construction purchase agreement, you may be asked what electrical upgrades you want prior to the concrete being poured.
In concrete constructions, the electrical boxes and conduits need to be placed before the pour. Unlike wood constructions, they can’t be added later (unless you’re ok with the conduit and box showing).
Get Ceiling Light Boxes Whenever Possible
In most pre-construction developments, ceiling light fixtures in every room aren’t part of in the standard condo price! Light fixtures are always present in bathrooms and kitchens but are usually upgrades in bedrooms and living rooms.
Consider the options offered to you and how you intend to use each room.
For living rooms ask yourself the following questions: Do you need extra lighting? Do you want a ceiling fan? Do you like reading a book on the couch? Will a lamp be enough?
In general, electrical ceiling light boxes add little resale value in bedrooms and living rooms. However, they cost so little that you may want to invest in getting them installed if you think you’ll need them.
Kitchen Light Upgrade Considerations
In kitchens, under-mount cabinet lights are great upgrades that will not only provide functionality but also increase the resale value of your home.
If your developer offers the possibility to install more electrical outlets, we suggest you add them. While these won’t add much to the resale value, extra outlets means more options for kitchen tools and appliances when cooking.
An upgrade that adds incredible resale value to your condo are pot lights installed (if it’s an option). For the same reasons as electrical conduits, once the concrete slab is poured, there is no way to add them in.
A well-lit kitchen is practical but also presents better to future buyers.
Wiring For Smart Technologies
An increasingly popular trend in condo developments is the integration of smart technologies.
Upgrades like smart thermometers can save you heating and cooling expenses in the long run. Other options may include the wiring for speakers in every room.
At the moment, the verdict is still out whether wiring for smart technologies translates to better resale value. However, at SimpleCondoAdvice.com, we estimate that the proliferation of smart technologies and AI in our day-to-day lives will eventually seep into the real estate market.
Depending on your budget and how much they cost, we suggesting opting for them. This advice holds as long as you don’t sacrifice other critical upgrades in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Choosing Cosmetic Upgrades That Add Value
Cosmetic upgrades fall into two categories: functional and investor-friendly. Sounds confusing? Let us explain:
- Functional upgrades are features that will make life in your condo more enjoyable but add little or no value at resale years down the road
- Investor-friendly upgrades are features that are proven to increase the resale value of the unit (ie the granite counter tops, soaker tub, walk-in shower)
In most cases, both aren’t mutually exclusive. Some finishes will make your life in the condo more enjoyable as well as add resale value.
Now consider this:
The real estate industry standard is that every dollar invested in bathrooms or kitchens is doubled during resale – if it’s tasteful of course. So if you’re choosing between upgrading the floors or the kitchen/bathroom, always choose the latter.
The Condo Upgrade Decision Tree
Most real estate experts agree that you should plan for 10-20% of the sale price of the condo in cosmetic upgrades.
That said, those buying their first pre-construction condo likely won’t be able to upgrade every option. That’s fine since most cosmetic condo upgrades can be done years down the road.
But how do you choose?
If you’re a first-time condo buyer, we created the following decision tree to guide you in your upgrades:
Choosing Condo Flooring Upgrades
Flooring upgrades are always difficult for pre-construction condo buyers to choose. This is partially because of old industry standards suggesting hardwood floors increase the value of a property.
However, anyone that grew up with these types of floors knows that they scratch, dent and shift. Hardwood floors also take beating when kids or dogs are in the mix.
Here’s our take on the subject:
Yes it’s true, most resale condo units fetch a higher price if they have hardwood floors. They look and feel better and are generally more desirable.
On the other hand, the condo won’t resell for more if the floors need to be replaced by a future buyer.
When it comes to upgrading your flooring, consider your lifestyle first. If you plan on having kids and pets, go with laminate flooring. These don’t scratch easily and will look new many years down the road. Just make sure the thickness is above 10mm, preferably 12mm.
If you don’t plan on having kids or pets, then go with hardwood floors.
If your goal is to live in the unit for a year or two and then rent it out, we suggest you go with laminate flooring. You won’t get much more rent out of hardwood floors unless you’re buying a really high end unit. Renters are also less gentle with the flooring than you would be and wear will accumulate quicker.
Best Kitchen Upgrades for Condos
The first thing that comes to mind in kitchen upgrades is the counter top material.
Both granite and quartz counter tops add resale value to a condo.
However, the color and pattern must be tasteful and desirable to future buyers. While that fiery red quartz might look cool for you, a future resale buyer might not be fond of it.
A prospective buyer will see that and weigh the cost of replacing it. That buyer’s realtor will then negotiate your price down to reflect that expense.
We’re not saying go with a fully neutral beige counter top. Just something tasteful.
Should You Upgrade to Quartz or Granite For a Condo Kitchen?
When it comes to quartz vs granite, this depends on the overall style of the condo and your taste. In most markets granite goes for more, however in recent years that old industry standard is slowly fading away. Both are great options but there are differences you should know:
- Quartz counter tops are engineered materials. They are a blend of quartz stones (90-93%) and resin (7-10%). Quartz isn’t a porous material so it’s unlikely to stain. There is also no sealing material: quartz is maintenance-free.
- Granite counter tops are natural materials. They are slabs cut from a quarry. The advantage of granite is visual range: you can get amazing natural streaks and patterns. However, over time, the finish (seal) wears down which can lead to staining.
Bear in mind that the pros and cons of each aren’t as drastic as proponents of each make them out to be. Most buyers who maintain decent cleaning practices and who use cutting boards won’t wear out their granite in their lifetime. Kids are the wildcard. They sometimes forget that cutting board, or leave a nice ring of grape juice under their glass.
Counter Top Upgrades That Aren’t Ideal For Condos
As for other materials such a wood or laminate, these don’t add resale value. When it comes to counter tops, always upgrade to either quartz or granite.
How to Choose Kitchen Cabinet Upgrades (if any)
The next big choice is cabinets. After the counter tops, these are the next biggest visual draws in a kitchen. Most developers will offer a palette of colors that complement counter top choices. These are often put together by professional designers. We encourage buyers to follow the developer’s recommendations when it comes to matching the cabinet to the counter tops.
If you’re unsure of the combination, stick with the following golden rule: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Simple, kitchens that are clean and elegant present better to prospective clients.
When it comes to buying pre-construction condos, developers usually don’t charge more for changing the cabinets.
However, if you’re faced with the choice of a costly upgrade, put your money into the kitchen counters, faucets and appliances. Don’t upgrade unless sticking to the basic cabinets will make a buyer will want to replace them.
Should You Pay More For Better Condo Kitchen Appliances?
The final worthwhile upgrade for kitchens is appliances. Bear in mind that premium appliances are often over sized. This means that they won’t fit with your cabinetry and counter tops if you decide to upgrade later.
For the fridge, it’s worth paying more for under mount freezers. As for ovens, stay away from the old element heaters and go with smooth tops or inductions. If the option for a gas top is available, these are the trend and add significant resale value.
Best Bathroom Upgrades for Condos
Like the rest of your condo, the first consideration for upgrades in the bathroom is the floor. Marble and granite have the highest resale value. At the very least, a clean and tasteful ceramic should be installed.
Features like his and hers sinks, walk-in showers and soaker tubs also contribute to better resale prices.
When it comes to fixtures like faucets and shower heads, upgrading is often worth it. However, don’t go overboard.
A resale buyer will be able to tell between standard finish and an upgrade, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. Stick with upgrades that will stand the test of time.
A lot of readers ask if paying for the rainfall shower is worth the investment. Most developers don’t charge much to fit that in so it’s a worthwhile upgrade. Just make sure you have the standard shower head also present.
Bathrooms are generally small rooms. When a resale buyer comes in, everything is within eye shot.
For this reason, we recommend going with the full gamut of upgrades. Stay away from light fixture upgrades if your budget is tight. You can always install better ones later.
Preparing for the Condo Finishes Selection Appointment
In most pre-construction purchases, you’ll be asked to select your finishes and upgrade during an appointment a few weeks after you’ve made your first deposit.
This is done for several reasons.
First, it’ll be designers helping you make your choices. Not the sales staff.
Second, in hot markets like Toronto, the first day a development posts units for sale can be hectic. Because upgrade selection is something so personal and time consuming, it’s easier for the developer and sales team to book that activity for later.
Prior to your appointment, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the finishes offered by your developer. You can do this by visiting the developer’s website. However, because finishes are visual and tactile experiences, we recommend you return to the sales center and get a ‘feel’ for the options in person.
Take your time to browse through the options that will be available to you. Remember to take pictures with your phone of the options you like the most.
Until the date of your finishes appointment, it’s also a great idea to stay current by visiting apartment and condo design blogs like Houzz.com and ApartmentTherapy.com
Wrapping This Up
Choosing upgrades that increase the resale value of a pre-construction condo is both an art and a science. As a general rule, prioritize upgrading the kitchen and bathroom. Remember that your upgrades need to be tasteful and appealing to future buyers.