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.” Yesterday, they began the first of their two-part series on maximizing your home’s value.
A home’s design should feel stylistically consistent throughout. Buyers have a hard time when there is dissonance.
Consistency doesn’t mean that every room should have the same finishes or materials. Rather, it means that there should be a general congruency throughout the home.
For example, a grand Colonial home with formal living spaces filled with period antiques, Oriental carpets and formal portraits would have a hard time holding its value if the kitchen were remodeled with a European contemporary design.
Here are some key elements that create lasting value in a home:
• Kitchen layout: Kitchen brands come and go, but the basics of good kitchen design do not change over time. A cook needs easy access to the stove, refrigerator and sink.
The main cooking area should not be a major traffic corridor for the house. Homes that check these boxes tend to fare better in resale as well.
• Finished basements: If the home has a finished basement, then the more natural light the better. Walk-outs are preferable to walk-ups and walk-ups are preferable to buried basements. What the basement lacks in natural light should be compensated with interior lighting.
A finished basement should not feel cramped. Most buyers prefer a big open recreation room which gives them flexibility in how it will be used.
• Attention to detail: Buyers always appreciate attention to detail. Small oversights in attention to detail often lead buyers to think that larger mistakes were made when the house was built.
Are the light switches and power outlets in the right place? Are the handles in the shower sited properly so you can turn the shower on without getting inside, or do you have to reach to the far wall to turn on the water? Do all the doors swing open to their full extent without banging into something?
• Exterior care: Landscaping can either enhance or detract from a home’s value, depending on both the aesthetics, as well as the structural intelligence of the design.
While the aesthetic impact is straight forward, the structural intelligence is not always apparent. For example, are large trees too close to the home (creating potential structural issues with the foundation) or overhanging the roof (dropping leaves and debris on the home)? Have boxwoods grown so large in front of the house that they block natural light through windows or touch the house so that they trap moisture against the foundation? Is there a positive grade around the perimeter of the home that naturally sheds water away from the house?
• Maintenance and upkeep: Nothing can eviscerate a home’s intrinsic value faster than poor (or no) maintenance. Gutters need to be cleaned, HVAC systems serviced, roofs and flashing needs to be monitored, trim needs to be primed and painted.
Even novice home buyers have an innate sense of which homes have been poorly maintained. It is easier to sell Grandma’s vintage 1960s home that has been perfectly preserved than a three-year old luxury home that has had deferred maintenance.
Agents and buyers often use the phrase “good bones” to describe a home that has a good structure, well maintained but needs updating.
• Location: Location is such an obvious function of value that we almost neglected to include it. It is also such a meaty topic that we could write a whole article about it. In the interest of brevity, here is a checklist of things to look for in a home’s location, followed by a checklist of things to avoid:
- Walkability and bikeability
- Close to employment centers
- Close to transportation routes
- Access to public transportation
- Proximity to restaurants, shopping and parks
- Sought-after school district
- Backs to parkland/green space
- Flat or sloping lot
Things to avoid:
- Busy street
- Challenged topography (e.g., severely sloping lots)
- Homes with wildly disparate values
No home checks all the boxes and there is no magic combination of elements that can guarantee lasting value.
Having said that, the more of these timeless elements a home possesses, the more likely that home will preserve its value over time.
A good rule of thumb is that if the home connects with you emotionally, then, chances are, it will connect with future buyers.