When you buy a brand new home, you will most likely make your decision based on the builder's plans or model homes, or a combination of the two.

This requires careful thought and attention. It can be challenging to visualize what your home will look like when built, or imagine what it will be like to live in. It's also important to understand what is included with your purchase and what's not, down to the smallest detail.

Experienced salespeople believe there are two keys to successful home buying from plans and models.

First and foremost, deal with a professional new home builder—someone who has a solid reputation and professional sales staff who will work closely with you throughout the buying process. Secondly, don't rush. Take time to consider all aspects of your purchase, and ask lots of questions. The more information you have, the easier it is to eliminate uncertainties.

Construction Quality

Look closely at the overall quality of builders' model homes, from design and construction to finishing touches. While the home may be only one of many designs offered by the builder, it is a clear indication of the quality you can expect when you buy from the company.

Ask for a list of specifications, so you can find out what construction materials, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and finishing materials the builder is using. Check who the manufacturers are—with familiar brand names, you know you will get lasting satisfaction and a product warranty.

Floor Plans

Most new home builders offer a range of styles, floor plans, size and price. Bringing your “need and want list” to the sales office helps the salesperson to zero in on the home that would be most suitable for you.

When you find a plan or model you like, imagine living in it. How will it work for your family's daily routine? Would it be suitable for any special activities you enjoy? Adaptable to future needs? Would you want to modify the layout? Often builders can reconfigure interior spaces.

Room size can be difficult to judge. Rooms that look adequate on paper may be too cramped once your furniture is in. Sometimes, windows, doors, a fireplace and traffic paths limit furniture placement, even in a large space. If you are buying from plans, use a model home for comparison to get a sense of space and flow, or use the sales office to get a gauge on dimensions. Know the measurements of your furniture so you can determine more easily if a room is the right size. Alternatively, use cut-outs, scaled to size, to test the placement of your furniture on a printed house plan. You may also want to draw the traffic pattern through the home to see if there are any awkward spaces.

Increasingly, new home builders are turning to computer graphics to help purchasers to visualize what they are buying—for instance, 3D floor plans and computer-generated drawings using a manufacturer’s “real” products. A virtual show home can be available 24/7, and with cinematic renderings, the builder can create a fluid presentation of the home, with voice-over and special effect

Features and Finishes

Most companies have a great selection of features and finishes so purchasers can personalize their homes. There is a lot of variation in builders’ offerings, so be sure to ask what’s included in the price of the standard model, and what’s available at extra cost. That way, you can better estimate the final cost of a home and compare it realistically with other homes.

Most builders dress up their model homes in order to demonstrate a range of options available to buyers, so don’t assume that what you see is what you get. Upgrades are usually indicated in the model, but if in doubt, ask for clarification. Also ask the salesperson to show you the standard inclusions.

The Lot

Take a look at the lot plan for your home and visit the lot in person. Look at the intended location of the home and the area immediately around it. Will you get the sun where and when you want it? What about privacy and outdoor noise? Protection from the elements? Room to pile snow in the winter? Discuss any concerns with the salesperson, including options for changing the house plan to take full advantage of the lot.

The Contract

The contract, or purchase agreement, is your opportunity to verify your purchase. It should include a detailed description of your home, including features and finishes, and spell out whether they are standard or upgrades, and any additional costs. Before you sign, you and your builder will review the contract together. This ensures that both parties agree to exactly the same thing.