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10 Low-Cost Ways to Add Character to a Builder-Grade Home

Do you live in a builder grade or cookie-cutter home that lacks character, but are longing for that custom feel? Let’s face it. Budgets aren’t endless. While it would be nice to have thousands of dollars to upgrade or customize a space it’s not always feasible. The good news is that small changes can make a really big impact. There are certain upgrades that can make your home feel more expensive and custom, without a giant price tag.

Zach and I actually bought a builder-grade home last year. Though built in the 1990s, it still had many of the original finishes and overall just looked old and tired. As much as I would have loved it, our budget didn't allow for a huge overhaul so we made some small, low-budget changes. To be honest, I was amazed at how much these things transformed the space. Here’s how to make your home feel custom, even if you’re on a tiny budget.

Before and (almost) After - Our statement shiplap fireplace and first project in our new home. We started the same weekend we moved in...when everything was still in boxes. I never said we were smart. Still finishing up the paint in the "after" photo to say goodbye to the yellow beige.

1. Create a Feature Wall

Feature walls like this one add character to a space by creating a focal point and giving a room personality that your typical cookie-cutter homes don’t have. This feature wall can be large, or a small nook and can be created with shiplap, paint, wainscoting, board, and batten, or any other finish that makes the wall stand out.

2. Upgrade your Trim

Many builder-grade homes have pretty standard trim along the floors, windows, and doors. But take a look at those custom homes…they have trim that pops and gives the home more character. Upgrade with something as simple as a fresh coat of paint, or re-do the trim all together for a fresh, updated feel.

3. Paint the Front Door

Want to give the exterior of your home a more custom look? Paint the front door. It will freshen up the exterior with very minimal time, effort, and money. Adding a pop of color can also help add a bit of interest and character too!

4. Add A Rug to Cover Up Damaged Flooring

Want to replace the floors but don’t quite have the budget just yet? An oversized rug can hide those imperfections or unfavorable flooring surfaces at a fraction of the cost. This is obviously a temporary fix, but it can make a space feel fresh and less dated.

5. Paint Cabinets

Sure, installing brand new cabinets is the most obvious way to upgrade a kitchen or bathroom space, but that gets expensive. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint is all you need to give the space an upgraded or customized look. While white kitchen cabinets still appear to win out from a popularity perspective, navy, black and gray cabinets are becoming more popular. If you have a kitchen island, adding a contrasting or pop of color there also gives the space character.

6. Add Window Treatments

New curtains or window shades can do wonders for a space. Floor to ceiling window treatments helps the ceilings feel taller while also making a space feel cozy and warm.

7. Swap out Light Fixtures

It’s probably safe to say that if you’ve ever lived in a cookie-cutter home you’ve had a boob light or two hanging from your ceiling. Well, boob lights be gone! Swapping out cheap, cookie-cutter fixtures is an easy and quick way to really upgrade a space. Lighting is such an important part of the home and old fixtures can instantly date it. Sure, you CAN spend a lot of money here if you want, but there are also a lot of lower-cost alternatives that can really update the room.

8. Upgrade Faucets

Once again, swapping out standard or builder-grade features will instantly make a home feel more custom. If a full bathroom or kitchen remodel isn’t in the cards then something as simple as swapping out faucet fixtures can update that cookie-cutter space. The options are endless here, and again, you CAN spend a lot of money, but it’s not necessary.

Our budget master bathroom DIY: Before and After

9. Frame the Bathroom Mirrors

Do you know how expensive large mirrors are? These things can run you hundreds to thousands of dollars, especially for a customized framed mirror. So, instead how does $20 sound? That's about how much we paid to upgrade our builder-grade mirrors with custom-looking framing. The trick? Underlayment plywood with our favorite stain (or paint) and a little adhesive. See the DIY instructions here.

10. Upgrade your Door Handles

The majority of builder-grade homes come with super basic and pretty boring interior door handles. Our home was built in the late 1990s and so came with old, scratched brass knobs everywhere that instantly dated the space. One of the first things we did to upgrade our home was purchase oil rubbed bronze handles and it instantly updated the home with very minimal time, effort and money.

If we're being honest, we've personally completed every single one of these projects over the past year we've been renovating our builder-grade home...except the painting the kitchen cabinets...I'm still working on convincing Zach it's a good idea. What a difference it has made! We do have some bigger budget projects planned but with as crazy of a year as it has been and another little one on the way we're doing everything we can not to spend extra money right now. That's why we have focused on high impact but low-cost upgrades to make our home feel more like, well, home.



My name is Lindsay Walston.

I'm a healthcare provider turned real estate agent with an eye for luxurious details. Let me show you how to create (or find!) a beautiful and functional home, no matter your budget.  Want to learn more?

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