Features to Look For
You will want to look for features such as architectural details, window style, kitchen plan, basement, garage, bathrooms, and so forth. Some features add to the enjoyment of the home, others add to its resale value, and some add to both. And of course, there are some features that are negative qualities to some buyers and positive to others.
To buy wisely, you must know what to look for. If you plan to stay in a home for a long time — twenty or so years — then you are likely to consider comfort paramount. But most of those who buy intending to move within five to seven years make investment potential their first priority.
Once you establish your priorities, the next step is to recognize which features will add resale value and which will detract from it, as well as which features will add to your living comfort and which will cause inconvenience. This is an art and not a science, so it is impossible to give an exact list of good and bad features. Every buyer and every situation is unique. It is possible, however, to give you a general idea of the most common homebuyer and homeowner responses to the most (and least) desirable features.
A stone-and-glass California-style contemporary may be just your style, but it will be difficult to resell if it is located in a neighborhood of clapboard Cape Cods. Usually, style positively affects investment potential when it harmonizes with the area, and it negatively affects investment potential when the style is jarring to look at. If resale value and speed are unimportant to you, you can feel free to choose the unusual or offbeat. If investment appreciation and resale are essential to your purchase, stick with the prevailing styles in a particular area.
Brick houses are considered desirable all across the country. Wood is also acceptable everywhere, although it is somewhat less desirable in areas where termites are abundant.
Vinyl or aluminum siding over a wood frame may or may not add to resale value, but it will probably save you maintenance time and money. However — and this is an important point — vinyl or aluminum siding over a house that's in a historic district is considered an abomination. Usually, such siding is prohibited in those neighborhoods, but some houses may have been covered before the designation.
Stucco is an attractive and widely used material throughout the South, with good buyer acceptance. In the North, however, stucco houses can be hard to sell because their unjointed surfaces are subject to cracking from the changeable weather. Stone and granite facades, on the other hand, have expansion space and rarely cause problems. They are usually attractive, too, which is a selling plus.
Oversized garages are the second-most desired feature in a home (central air conditioning comes in first). Would you pay more for a house with an oversized garage? Nearly 60 percent of buyers would, according to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors®.
The attached two-car garage is preferred by buyers everywhere. Usually, a garage located to the side of a house brings the best buyer response. If it is eight or ten feet wider than the size needed for two cars; that is even better. That additional space can be used to store the lawn mower, garden equipment, bicycles, and other gear.
Garages located under the house are less desirable. Many owners complain about drafts in the rooms above and about higher heating and cooling costs. And many object to the fact that getting into the house means climbing a flight of stairs. Think about unloading a car full of groceries from the garage to the kitchen, and you will understand why that complaint is common. Consider, too, the number of cars in your family. Is there room to park all of them? Will the parking spots be convenient to all of the residents of the house?
Detached garages are unpopular in the North because no one wants to shovel through a foot of snow to get to the car, and carports do not offer a penny extra in offering price. In the South, however, carports are acceptable for the family car, and detached garages are just fine.
Blacktop or concrete driveways are most preferred and add to resale speed and value as well as to owner convenience. Crushed bluestone is acceptable, especially in tract developments where blacktopping the driveway is not included in the price of the house. Gravel driveways, however, are usually a resale and convenience minus. They are muddy in wet weather and dusty in dry. They are also more difficult to clear in the winter and require time each spring to pick the stray stones from the lawn near the driveway.
The large turnaround area of a circular driveway certainly adds to owner convenience, not to mention safety, but rarely affects selling price. A particularly long or steep driveway may not significantly affect resale value, but it will usually increase the length of time needed to sell the property.
Is a view — the mountains, the ocean, or perhaps the city lights — valuable? Views are one of those features that turn property appraisal from a job to an art. No one can be certain exactly what a given buyer might be willing to pay for a view until that buyer makes an offer. Sometimes a house with a view sells quickly — the view was valuable. But sometimes a house-and-view package stays on the market until the owners reduce the price to a level comparable to other houses of approximately the same size — the view was not valuable.
View doesn't have to mean something on the distant horizon — sweeping mountain landscapes, or ocean or lake views. Your windows may look out on beauty close at hand. What is a stream or a pond worth? A forest that will always remain natural? The beauty of what you are buying is a known quality, but the investment potential will always be something of a question. Therefore, always try to buy property with unusual landscape features as though it were an ordinary lot. If you should fall in love with a house with a view, try to buy it without paying for the view. Ask your real-estate agent to do a comparable market analysis to see what nearby homes are selling for, and make your first offer at a price slightly below the market value for a similar house with no view. If the sellers hold firm on their price, however, you will then have to decide exactly how much that view is worth to you.
If you are looking for homes in the marshlands or waterfront property, you should ask about flood insurance. Sometimes, the cost is high. This makes a big difference in your annual insurance.
Which way is east? The answer will affect your heating bill and maybe even your disposition. Which rooms will have morning light? Which will bask in the afternoon sun? Are there rooms that will remain dark most of the day? The way the home sets on the lot is most important, says Faye Brock, CENTURY 21 Brock & Associates broker/owner. She says if you have a nice home, but every time you step onto your deck/patio/sunroom you see something undesirable, this can affect your ability to resell. Also, make sure the house directly across from your front door is appealing.
Any place to sit or eat outdoors is almost always a plus for both comfort and resale.
The value of a pool will depend on the climate where you're house hunting. Many buyers in the North do not want the work involved in maintaining an in-ground pool that can be used only a few weeks a year. However, in the South a pool is a plus. In any region, buyers with small children might be concerned about safety issues around a pool.
Also on the wanted list among buyers: play areas and fences.
Self-insulating windows and sliding glass doors are often considered such positive features they are specifically mentioned by brand name in advertisements. However, some homeowners claim that old-fashioned storm windows are better at keeping out the elements.
In some very cold areas, or on the northern exposure of some houses, owners have installed conventional storm windows over self-insulating windows, and most buyers consider the installation a positive feature.
In the North, houses with neither self-insulating windows nor storm windows lose points with buyers. In the warm climate of the South, though, screen windows without the extra storm protection are acceptable. Southern oceanfront properties often feature hurricane shutters to protect both the window glass and the interior of the house or apartment. They are a plus for buyers, but they do not raise the property's value.
A nice front entry is, well, nice. Many owners, after the first few weeks in a new house, begin using the back door almost exclusively. Still, that front entranceway is an important factor in the salability of a house. It is, after all, a potential buyer's first impression, and first impressions are hard to dispel.
Back entranceways do not have much effect on salability, but they certainly play an important role in owners' enjoyment and comfort, especially if there are children or pets in the household. The ideal back door opens into a mud room, a back hallway, or cubicle where there is space to hang coats, remove wet boots, or wipe dirty paws. In the best-planned houses, this back hall is adjacent to or combined with the laundry room, which saves carrying the dirty clothes, rugs, and rags very far.
Back doors that open directly into the kitchen can be bothersome because of the increased traffic and clutter they generate, but they are preferable to family room back doors, especially if a patio or outside eating area is serviced by the door. Sliding glass doors are popular and will not hurt resale.
What is the number-one feature buyers want?
Central air conditioning is the number one preferred feature in a home, according to the National Association of Realtors'® 2007 Profile of Buyers Home Feature Preferences.
Most homebuyers have eat-in kitchens on their list of must-haves. In contrast, long, narrow, galley-style kitchens are least popular and will often keep a house on the market a long time.
Center islands are positives, as are sinks (especially double sinks) under a window. Counter space is important (granite counters are a perk for many), and gourmet cooks often look for a minimum of four unbroken feet of work space. Plenty of cabinet space is always mentioned in a sales pitch.
And what of the old-fashioned kitchen, in the older, perhaps very old, home? Sellers are advised not to spend the time and money renovating an old kitchen in search of a buyer. Buyers generally can expect to spend that money themselves if they want an updated kitchen.
Many buyers forget to look for a broom closet, and many houses do not have one. Ask yourself where mops, buckets, brooms, and the vacuum cleaner will be kept. Some substitutes for the broom closet are the back-hall coat closet, the laundry room, the garage, and the pantry.
The days of a desirable one-bath house are long over. Today's sellers, it seems, must offer, if not two full baths (or two and a half baths), then at least one bath and a half-bath or powder room. Bathrooms with outside windows are far more appealing to buyers than interior baths with vent fans — but better an extra bathroom in the interior than none at all.
Walk-in shower stalls are preferable to shower-over-tub arrangements, but most people want at least one bathtub in the house. Bathroom vanities are becoming a must in today's new homes. Double sinks are a plus, too, as are full-wall mirrors behind the sink/vanity.
There are never enough of them. Large bedroom closets are a selling point and a better-living feature. A walk-in closet in the master bedroom is on most buyers' must-have lists. But while going through homes, look for these closet features, too:
A foyer or front-hall closet where you can hang guests' coats
A linen closet (ideally, one closet — perhaps in a hallway — for sheets and blankets and another in the bathroom for towels)
A broom or utility closet, preferably near the kitchen
A back-door closet or at least some place to hang family coats and store boots and the like
Sure, everyone would like a large bedroom — three large ones in a three-bedroom house and four large ones in a four-bedroom house. Unfortunately, generously sized rooms seem to rank on the luxury level when it comes to home construction, and it is rare to find more than one large bedroom per house. If some of the bedrooms are small, look at least for good wall space for furniture arrangement and easy access to a bathroom. Master bedrooms tend to be the most important for many buyers (plus the perks of a walk-in-closet and separate showers in the master bath).
Attic additions or Cape Cod–style bedrooms with sloping ceilings and dormer windows are not buyer favorites, but they do rank higher in appeal than basement bedrooms, which no one seems to want.
Today, family rooms are more important than living rooms, and sometimes larger. In the South and West, family rooms are combined with kitchen and eating areas into great rooms most buyers seem to like. In contrast, basement family rooms are out of style and almost a detriment to a sale. In the North, family room fireplaces are a major plus.
Paneling is still popular, but some homeowners prefer conventional wall-board that can be painted or papered. Others choose slats (actual boards cut thin for application to walls with bonding cement), artificial brick, or even vinyl panels. More important than any of those things is a room with enough room for furniture.
There are no negatives to this feature. Fireplaces are popular with buyers even if they never light a fire, using the hearth simply as a decorative focal point in a room. But if you are buying a home with a fireplace, it is always recommended to get it inspected by a professional specializing in this area.
In a house without a family room, the living room should be as large as possible. In houses with family rooms, most buyers are more concerned with the location of the living room than with its size. They prefer the living room to be formal and out of the path of day-to-day traffic. Living-room fireplaces are fine, but they rarely bring a penny more in offering price.
Articles have been written over the last few years along the theme of “Whither the Dining Room?” Some folks do want a formal dining room, but others think just an eat-in kitchen is fine. They may turn a part of the dining room into formal dining when the occasion calls for it, but keep the rest of the space as a sort of secondary living room, with books and easy chairs and lamps. When company arrives, out comes the folding dining table, around which are placed chairs from that room, with more added from other living spaces, if needed.
If there is a formal dining room, it should have a direct doorway to the kitchen and another to the foyer or the living room. If it is separated from the kitchen by stairs or a hallway, as is often found in rehabilitated brownstones, for example, some buyers will turn away from the house.
A growing trend across the country is converting a room to a home entertainment room designed with space for a home theater — a place for everything from a great television and stereo system to game consoles and home computer systems.
The old-fashioned attic, with real stairs, is certainly the most useful kind of home storage space. Such a space often comes only with an older home. Today's modern attics are far less accessible. Pull-down stairs in a hallway are acceptable to most buyers, and they do provide a means of getting to the holiday decorations each year. Less appealing to buyers, and downright inconvenient to homeowners, is attic access through a trap door in the ceiling of a bedroom closet.
Where they are commonly found (primarily in the North), basements are high on a buyer's demand list and high on the homeowner's convenience list. Above all, they should be dry; good lighting is an added plus. Also very desirable is a direct exit from the basement to the outdoors.
In homes without basements, a utility room for the furnace, water heater, air conditioner, and so forth is usually located on a lower level or in a back corner.
In poking around basements, you'll want to know about heat. You can't always get gas heat, which might be your first choice because of its low maintenance requirements. Oil heat requires periodic delivery to your home. Electric is the most expensive heating style, although it, too, is low maintenance. Beware of heat pumps in the North, which don't seem to provide quite enough warmth for residents in that part of the country. Heat pumps are fine in the warmer South, though.
When going through homes for sale, you may get caught up in admiring other people's furnishings. That is understandable. But once you are at the point of actually choosing your future home, try to evaluate it in terms of what will work for you and not the current owner.
When it comes to radiators versus forced air, the disadvantage of radiators or baseboard heat is that you'll need a separate system if you want central air conditioning one day. However, heat is moister with circulating hot water, which is better for those with allergies. With forced air, you can use the same duct for heat and air conditioning, and you'll have either quickly — within five minutes of flipping a switch. Radiators take longer to heat up a room.
A washer and dryer hookup in the basement is better than no facilities at all, but it will not help a resale. And you, the owner, will not enjoy carrying the laundry up and down the cellar stairs. The most requested laundry facility is a separate room near the kitchen. If that area is large enough to accommodate an ironing board or a sewing machine, it becomes a major selling point for the house.
Laundry facilities in the kitchen behind sliding or folding doors do not seem to hurt resale value, but most homeowners don't like having dirty laundry in the kitchen on wash day.
Interest in exercise rooms and in-law suites is increasing, as trends show a declining interest in traditional rooms such as dens, dining rooms, and living rooms.
Deterrents to consider include: noise (traffic, aircraft, train tracks, congested shopping areas, or even being situated near a high school parking lot); smells (nearby dump, chemical plant, chicken packing plant, etc.); and square footage — not just for you, but for your future resale. Remember, you don't have to compromise or settle for something you really don't want.