Hans Wydler and Steve Wydler co-lead the Wydler Brothers real estate team in Bethesda and McLean and are authors of “Inside the Sell: Top Agents Reveal Unspoken Secrets and Dangers of Buying and Selling Your Home.” Tomorrow they will share other ideas on maximizing home value.
Home buyers can be a fickle bunch. What was cool and trendy yesterday — popcorn ceilings, Formica countertops, paneling and avocado green bathroom fixtures — can seem hideous today.
That being said, it seems that certain homes survive the test of time and hold their relative value better regardless of the market conditions. How do they do it? What are the features of a home that seem to transcend trends?
Here are some key elements that create lasting value in a home:
• Flow: This describes how the home is laid out. You know bad flow when you see it.
To have good flow, there needs to be a logical way for people to get from room to room. Do rooms connect or are they dead-ends? Are the rooms where you would expect them? For example, the entrance from the garage shouldn’t come in to your dining room (believe us, we’ve seen it).
• Layout: Intricately connected with flow is layout. Layout refers to how each room/space is designed. A home with a good layout anticipates how a space will be used and furnished.
Probably the best example is the family room. Family rooms can be tricky because they often have two focal points — a fireplace and a TV. If the layout suggests that there is only one place for a couch but the location of that couch will block a natural passageway or block the line of sight to the fireplace (or TV), then the layout has a problem.
Other layout questions to consider are: Do the bedrooms have a natural bed wall? Are there good lines of sight? When you walk in the front door, does the entrance feel inviting? Is there a beautiful view to the rear yard, or other rooms that succeed in drawing you into the home?
• Light: Buyers prefer bright, happy homes. An essential element is whether the home has good natural light. Are windows small or lacking or are there obstructions from the sun making its way into the house?
Where natural light is lacking, interior lighting can compensate. The home’s orientation plays a big part in how light or dark it feels. Typically, families tend to live in the rear of the home where the kitchen and family living spaces are situated.
If these spaces are exposed to the south or west, they will be brighter (at least in the afternoon) than if they had a northern exposure. Homes feel good when the light follows the rhythm of its occupants within the house.
• Flexibility: How families live and occupy space changes over time, and future families that may move into a home may have very different needs than the current owners. Homes that have flexible floor plans tend to preserve value better.
For example, some families prefer kitchens that open to a family room. Other families prefer to “hide the mess” and want kitchens separated from the entertaining spaces. A home that has a floor plan that accommodates either scenario will better stand the test of time.
Similarly, a main floor den with a full bath is wonderful swing space as it can always double as a guest room. The same den without the bath is just a den. Some families prefer laundry on the bedroom level. Some prefer it on the main or basement level. A home plumbed for laundry facilities in more than one location is a great selling feature.
• Quality finishes, neutral colors: Homes with high-end finishes inside and out hold their value better than ones with cheap materials. For example, hardwood floors can always be sanded and re-stained a different color. Wall-to-wall carpeting is less desirable.
Real wood cabinets are better than particle board. Wood doors with quality hardware (for example, door knobs, hinges, locks, etc.) are better than hollow doors with flimsy hardware. Natural or synthetic stone counter tops with crisp, neutral colors hold value better than cheaper alternatives.
Bold and trendy colors are just that. They come and go with time. How many avocado green bathrooms do we have to see before folks figure this one out?
• Future-proof: Incorporating technology into the home instantly dates the home. Folks who are trying to be “cutting edge” are usually the worst offenders. For example, in the late 1980s, high-end home builders installed “Nutone” stereo/intercom systems throughout. Today, these systems scream 1980s and “need updating.”
More recently, builders installed iPod docking stations. Same problem. There are many wireless home systems on the market. Take advantage of these systems. Sonos, for example, is a great wireless option for multi-zone sound, and it doesn’t require any special equipment in the walls.
• Simple systems: Systems that are billed as a “one stop solution” to managing your home never help the home hold value. We have sold homes where the owners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on these home automation systems.
Technology changes so quickly that any technology built into the walls of a home is essentially worthless to the new homeowner. Light switches have been around for 100+ years and they work just fine. If you want something special, install a dimmer switch. Mood setting controls on your iPad?…Bad idea.
• Proportionality: A home needs to be well proportioned. That is, if you have an eight-bedroom house, your living spaces should be sized accordingly.
We saw one such house a few years ago, with more than 10,000 square feet, eight bedrooms and a formal yet undersized dining room that could barely fit 10 people. Needless to say, it sat on the market for a long time.
On the other end of the spectrum, we recently saw a custom-built home with only two bedrooms, but huge entertaining spaces. It was perfect for the previous owner, but no one else wanted it. The smaller the home, the more important it is to use every finished square foot intelligently and proportionally.
• Relationship to lot/neighborhood and curb appeal: Like proportionality, a home must fit into the neighborhood, and be appropriately sized for the lot. If the home is the largest home on the street, the smaller less expensive homes will serve as a tether on its value.
If a home takes up the entire lot to the point where the yard is compromised or no longer functional (think “battleship in a bathtub”), it will also have trouble holding value.
Also it goes without saying that a home with attractive curb appeal can make up for shortfalls in other areas.