Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Looking Beyond the Paint: Tips for House Hunting

As the gray Seattle winter days drag on and weekends are spent at home, my remote seems to frequently find its way to HGTV. I must admit that I could watch Property Virgins, House Hunters and Bank for your Buck for hours. It's interesting and educational to see property values across the country, and see many houses without feeling guilty about popping into open houses when you are not buying anything (sorry Realtor friends...we designers have a tendency to do this!)

As is inevitable with all reality TV, I at times find myself yelling at the people on the shows about the comments they are making, and, well, how truly "virginal" they are about property. I know this isn't fair, as I work in the field and my husband works in the financial side of real estate, so it's something we think about and discuss a lot. So, I have to remind myself that for some people, this is just a place to live, and some things that seem silly to me right truly be important to them. But, there are some things that are more important to look for than others, and make a big impression even though they may be a tiny cost. This also applies to someone selling a house that wants to make an impact on buyers.

  • Know what you can change, and what you cannot. You cannot change: the location, the neighbors, your budget. You can change: pretty much anything else within your budget, the building and zoning codes, Home Owner's Association guidelines, and the laws of gravity. 
  • Closets: Storage space makes a big impression on buyers, especially the master closet. It seems that wire shelves and rods are universally despised. Hangers are not made for them, so they are difficult to deal with and not very attractive. Buyers always make a negative comment when they see wire shelves, and even though it may not be a deal breaker, this does add to the overall impression of a home. Wood shelves and metal rods are good; a closet system (like one from Ikea or California Closets) is better. This goes for both buyers and sellers: inconvenient or unattractive storage is a relatively easy fix on either end.  
  • Carpet can change...and should. I would never voluntarily specify wall to wall carpet for any building unless a client specifically requests it, because of its ability to hold on to every piece of dirt and dust, not to mention liquid. But if you prefer carpet, don't feel bad about changing it out when you move to a new place, especially if the previous owners had pets. It's relatively inexpensive and there are many green options available. 
  • Paint, trim, crown molding, and baseboards can cover a multitude of sins. 
  • Noise will never go away. "Location, location, location" is not just about proximity to good things, but proximity to bad things: traffic noise, noisy neighbors, etc. Highway noise can usually be heard up to a mile away. I would recommend visiting a potential new home at at least two different times, during the day and in the evening, to gauge any potential noise issues. If you are buying a condo, have your Realtor go into any nearby stairwells, trash areas, or even neighboring units to make noises, slam the trash lid, etc.  
  •  While noise is hard to block out, privacy can be built. If you are patient, with trees, or with shrubs, bamboo, or a built feature if code allows. For interior privacy, of course standard window treatments can be used, but a window can be replaced with opaque or decorative glass, a non Feng-Shui friendly entry (one that is too direct and open, therefore allowing bad energy to sneak in) can be obscured with a folding screen (which can also be used to divide rooms). 
  • Aisle Shop before you House Shop: Before you go house hunting, cruise the aisles at your local home improvement store.  Become familiar with the costs of different finishes, fixtures, and materials in order to educate yourself about how much things really cost. And be realistic about what you are willing to do yourself or how much you are willing to pay someone else to do it; contractors profit & overhead can run anywhere from 10-20% of the job cost.
As a seller, it is important to know what things buyers will remember, however illogical or adjustable those things may be. As a buyer, it's important to look at things with a practical eye and not be turned off to a home in a perfect location by something you can change.

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