In an era when many home buyers are looking for the bigger and better house, many builders are loading up their model homes with the latest and trendiest options available.

Model homes are no longer just sample homes to give buyers a taste of what they may want to buy. Instead, they are key marketing tools carefully designed to entice would-be buyers to create their dream house by buying more options. The days of sales managers simply showing a home buyer a list of the options are virtually over. Now, everything from the type of roof and house facade to the window styles and shape of the bathroom sink have become options displayed in the model home.

"In the past, we used to let the consumer know what options were available rather than show them," said John Adams, marketing services manager in Virginia for Ryan Homes. "Now, we want to show them what they could have. We want to take them from 'imagine this' to 'let me show you this.' "

Home builders said the more they show in their model home, the more likely a person might be to buy their house over someone else's. Buyers may be shopping more carefully and comparing standard features with options from house to house in hopes of getting the best possible deal. But in the end, most home buyers are paying the price to get the most in their new house.

Home buyers are typically paying between $1,500 and $25,000 for options, or "upgrades," such as additional fireplaces, microwave ovens, sun rooms, ceiling fans and decks, according to the estimates of some home builders. While the range and prices of options vary from house to house, the more expensive the house, the greater number of options a buyer can add onto the basic home, builders said.

"People are opting for as much as they can," said Susan Collier, vice president of marketing for Long Signature Homes. "If they're buying one of the larger homes and selling their existing house, often they'll come back to us after they've sold their house and will get as many options as they can. But many times it's too late for us to make some of the changes."

Appliances, fixtures, floor covering and many other items in model homes are covered with stickers indicating whether they are standard or optional features. But what may be a standard feature in one home may not be in another. Microwaves are standard features in some cases, but offered as options in many homes because many buyers may already have one, builders said. Bathtubs for two are becoming standard features in some homes, but to add the whirlpool jets could cost between $1,500 and $3,000.

Many model homes have finished basements with paneled walls and carpeting, but buyers almost always only get a basement in the raw unless they want to pay to finish it. The price tag on finishing a basement is usually between $3,000 and $5,000, and in some cases that excludes at least $700 to install roughed-in plumbing.

In many homes, fireplaces are now becoming commonplace in the family room, which some architects and builders said is beginning to replace the living room and den as the place for home entertainment. More builders are linking the family rooms to the kitchens.

Traditionally, fireplaces have been in living rooms. Now, however, many buyers want one in the family room. But the buyer can count on paying an additional $2,000 to $5,500 for a fireplace no matter where it is installed.

At Winchester Homes' 56-unit Silver Crest project near Shady Grove, its "Exeter" model has a sun room ($10,000) with a fireplace ($4,200) and ceiling fan ($675) and skylights ($495). If a person wants a deck, the cost ranges from $495 for a 120-square-foot deck to $2,850 for a 240-square-foot deck. The base price of the house is $278,000, but on average, buyers pay $15,000 for options, Winchester said.

Collier of Long Signature said that the larger the basic house a person is buying, the more options he is likely to purchase. On average, a person buying one of the firm's condominiums adds about $1,500 in options, usually by upgrading the carpet and padding underneath it.

At its town houses, buyers add between $7,000 and $11,000 in options and at its detached homes, buyers spend between $20,000 and $50,000 extra, she said.

"Sales managers in the upper-end spend a lot more time going over over the options," Collier said.

"And once a person has decided to buy one of our single-family homes, we invite them out to a design center at our headquarters where they can look at all of the options in one place away from the model home."

The amount buyers are spending on options depends greatly on location, Collier and other builders said. The number of options is also tied to the base price of the house, which certainly varies in the Washington area where the average price of a new home is about $148,200.

"In Great Falls or Fairfax Station, it's not unusual for someone to spend $50,000" extra, she said. "But at our project at Westridge {in Prince William County} or Sully Station {in Fairfax}, someone might spend $20,000."

A sample of the prices of options offered by Long Signature shows that a deck costs $2,200, a loft $10,000, a finished recreation room with fireplace $6,000, and a sun room $24,000, Collier said. Jets in the whirlpool tub cost $1,550, oak stairs are $2,000 and a brick stoop or similar changes in the front of the house or garage cost between $2,200 and $5,800.

What some home buyers don't realize is that the type of roof, the style of the facade of the house and hardwood floors installed in rooms other than the foyer are now options in most new homes. Builders said one of reasons more options are available is in part because of an effort to allow buyers to make their home reflect as much of their own life style as possible.

"People are getting into personalizing their homes," said Adams of Ryan Homes. "They're getting things they very much want in a home. Some are buying a little less house and adding more to it."

Lou Logan, sales manager for Stanley Halle's Cypress Glenn project in Laurel Lakes, said buyers like to have a hand in choosing the options that will make their house different than their neighbor's. Skylights, hardwood floors, fireplaces and decks are all options that Halle offers.

"A builder doesn't have to offer {options} because people might already have their own ideas of how they want to do things," he said. In some cases, buyers might feel they can save money by finishing the basement or having a deck installed using their own contractors, he said.

But Adams of Ryan Homes said buyers are still very conscious about how much they spend, and that's what dictates how far they'll go with the options.

"There's a lot of competition between builders who are providing a lot of good houses," he said.

"People want more house for the money they're spending."