Here's what the experts say to look for in a home design software package:

  • Web updates. Packages that access a website for updates ensure that furniture and textile selections are stylish and current.
  • Check system requirements. The most comprehensive programs need close to 4GB of free hard disk space and 512MB of RAM, as software gets more complex. Reviewers stress that the faster your computer, the less time you'll spend waiting for 3D components to process. Home design software is usually a system hog, so it's going to work better on a newer, faster computer.
  • Look for a variety of 2D and 3D options. Almost all home design programs include a 3D-walkthrough feature, and the best offer at least three different viewing angles, including virtual walkthroughs. Reviewers like split screens that allow you to make a change in a 2D plan and simultaneously see the result in 3D.
  • Materials lists and estimating tools. These allow you to see how much your ideas will cost, as well as what you'll need to buy. The Punch! and Better Homes and Gardens titles in ConsumerSearch Fast Answers have an estimator utility.
  • A guarantee. Many packages let you get your money back if you're unhappy with the results, and with top packages going for $100 and more, that's a big plus.
  • Be aware of the software's limits. Because there are so many variables, such as load-bearing beams, the finished product often needs tweaking, counsels The Wall Street Journal. Reviews say you should not expect this level of software to be able to produce a plan that's deliverable to your contractor. The best homeowner application is for experimentation and playing with ideas -- not producing an executable plan. Reviews do say that home design software is a good tool for communicating with an architect, however.
  • Look at various software options. About.com guide Coral Nafie says that there isn't any one perfect software package that can handle every project. She suggests looking at various options, including free online software.

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