Will you avoid move-in surprises, like paying more for “must-haves” that you don’t love as much as you expected to?
Home buyers–especially first-timers–who have not experienced the reality of the home-design features and household systems that are on their “must have” list, may be at a disadvantage while searching for their dream home. For instance:
• Originally, “must have” stainless steel appliances drove many homeowners crazy since the surfaces showed every fingerprint and grease smudge. What if you pay more to get stainless only to find out something else is now the “in” kitchen look in that area?
• “Must-have” expensive granite counter tops look fabulous at open houses and in model homes. In reality, messy, spilling daily living means unsightly staining and regular maintenance sealing, not merely a wipe-down with a damp cloth.
How many of the “must haves” on your home-buying wish list have you already experienced and how many items will be new to you? Some of the things that may become concerns for buyers after move-in may seem less important or even insignificant before they live in the home.
Even the most sought-after wishes like open-concept design can disappoint:
• If you are a project lover (quilter, entrepreneur, model maker…) who wants to leave your latest and unfinished creation undisturbed when you’re interrupted, open-concept design may lead to your project corner being labeled “an unsightly mess.”
• Parents who count on uninterrupted lines of sight making it easier to keep their small children out of trouble may find they’re still not close enough for safety. The relative location of the dining area, play zone, screen area, and other distinct open-concept zones to the kitchen island will determine whether simultaneously multitasking meal preparation and child rearing is practical. Also, the larger the living space, the larger the toy mess. What specific open-design layout will your family find most useful?
• Excerpt from my earlier RT article: “If the ‘must have’ list for your new home, recreational property, or office includes hardwood flooring, large windows, high ceilings, open-concept design, and lots of marble and granite, you may be shopping for trouble…sound-wise, that is. These sought-after, high-end features can add up to noisy, distracting spaces. They look great, but are hard on the ear and, therefore, on conversation, hearing, relaxation, and sleep.…The trend to ‘must have’ sound spaces in our homes–theaters, media rooms, music practice space, gyms, studios–requires professional attention beyond interior design…”
Even what unquestionably seems a benefit worth paying for can be a let down in real life or may add costs in unexpected ways. For example:
• A resale home with a new furnace sounds like value plus, but if the old duct system did not distribute heat evenly and efficiently, replacing only the furnace may not result in a comfortable, draft-free home. Find out exactly what was modernized. Make sure your home inspection includes a competent HVAC evaluation of the heating and cooling delivery systems.
• All the reasons you love large windows and the open, airy, natural-light spaces they create are valid and that’s why you’re willing to pay more for a house or condominium that has them, but…and the “but” may be a big one:
• If the windows and window-walls are poor quality or poorly-insulated, windows–which are really just big holes in the wall–can be drafty or make rooms hard to heat. On the other extreme, over-heating during sunny days and in summer can make the living space very uncomfortable and boost AC costs.
• If the view from the window includes being overlooked by other houses, pedestrians, or buses and traffic, homeowners can feel they are living in a fish bowl–on display for all to see. This means, perhaps unexpectedly, window coverings become a necessity. Large windows may require automated or programmable open/close systems which are expensive. In many of the new large-window homes in my highly-urban neighborhood, the blinds seem to always be down, which means less natural light and less of that sought-after airy feeling.
• If you’re buying from plans with “architect renderings” of surroundings, trust your eyes over an artistic interpretation. Go to the location and look across the street and at neighboring buildings to see for yourself what you’ll be looking at and who’ll be looking at you. Take pictures so you can ask the sales team which views will be yours.
To avoid unpleasant move-in surprises, here’s four typical buyer expectations to check out before you make an offer:
#1. Off-site parking is often not considered until the first house-warming guests come to visit. Check out local parking regulations and availability of parking permits. My block has no street parking before 10am and there are no more on-street parking permits available.
#2. Where’s south? If you’re ready to pay more for a large backyard and/or a pool, a south-facing backyard may be key. If you’re an avid gardener, a south-facing front yard may be your preference. Or, if either passive solar heating or summertime over-heating are on your mind, where the sun strikes will matter. At the same time, evaluate large window placement and views for the best interior benefits.
#3. Are you planning to pay more for a location? Perhaps one near a preferred school or shopping mall? Check to make sure the school is accepting new enrollment and has maintained its high scholastic standard. Explore the mall to see how it’s exposed to the current trend toward store closings.
#4. If your wish is a quiet, residential location, be sure a hi-rise development, housing subdivision, or municipal project is not planned for your immediate area. Construction of a large project can go on for years.
What might unpleasantly surprise you about your new home–house or condominium unit–once you move in?
Regrets and “if only I’d…” recriminations are expensive and annoying to live with. Ask your real estate professional a lot of questions and get confirming documented proof about anything essential about your “must have” items so you avoid move-in disappointment. Some details may even belong in the offer.