Value-engineering is a tricky operation, since it is easy to remove critically important features and amenities, which could be deal-breakers for potential buyers. However, in this market keeping prices competitive generally means rethinking design decisions made prior to the recession. Here are some ways to value-engineer your homes to cut prices down while keeping your design standards high.

1. Bring the fireplace inside. Historically the wood-burning fireplace was a brick chimney located on an outside wall extending to the roof. As the fireplace evolved into a gas or electric appliance, projecting the firebox outside the wall can only be justified if the room becomes too small by not doing so. Better yet, make the fireplace an option on smaller plans.

2. Larger pantries. In the kitchen, drywall pantries are less costly than cabinetry pantries, and larger, walk-in pantries can justify much less cabinetry. Wire shelving is far more cost-effective than cabinetry for storage of kitchen supplies.

3. Smaller porches. People love having a porch in front of their house, but if you offer two or three porch sizes—small, medium, and large—the cost of a larger porch can be optioned to reduce the base house cost.

4. Master bath options. The oversized soaking tub takes up a lot of space, and many buyers would prefer to do without it. The most common solution is to include a 42x60 tub/shower combo with a separate shower as an option, although vice versa can work as well. The extra space is a linen closet in the base design.

5. Foundation alternatives. We are seeing slab foundations creep north into traditional basement markets. By adding storage space over the garage and in attic roof trusses, storage space can be delivered more cost-effectively.

6. Straight-up walls. By minimizing foundation jogs and covering most or all of the first floor with second-floor space, the cost per square foot will be minimized. Eliminate two-story and vaulted space and minimize second-floor setbacks, except to provide interest in the elevation.

7. Option the powder room. This is aggressive cost cutting, but we are seeing this more often even in mid-price models. Use the space as a closet, and rough in the plumbing for a future installment as a home-improvement project.

8. Straight-run stairs. During the heyday housing market almost all stairs had at least one turn or angle, generally with a landing included. Straight runs are more cost-effective and can turn at the base or top of the steps with a one-step landing for interest.

9. Simplified roof systems. Try to reduce the number of roof truss profiles to two or three, and keep roof pitches reasonable for transport and assembly costs. Use bearing walls where possible to avoid large girder trusses.

10. Window count and placement. Look to competing product to see if your plans are over-windowed. Do secondary bedrooms have one or two windows? Does the master suite have two or three? Given a choice of locations, windows on the front wall/street facade will add perceived value to the plan.  

James Wentling is principal of James Wentling | Architects in Philadelphia.  

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Philadelphia, PA.