How To: Sleuth an Open House

Traditional real estate wisdom dictates that you should never buy the nicest house on the block. Calibrate potential return on your improvement projects by ensuring that your house is one of the best in the area but still in sync with local preferences. Tour open houses to keep an eye on neighborhood norms.

Original Staircase Spindles. Photo: Shutterstock

Renovate or restore? In some neighborhoods, the default is to showcase vintage features. In others, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Take your cues accordingly and tweak your own plans to capture at least a bit of the prevailing sentiment. For instance, if you intend to rip out an old kitchen, choose new cabinets that reflect the original style, if your neighbors are all about being historically correct. Likewise, if most neighbors demolish without pity but you prefer to restore, consider options with a more contemporary feel.

Brands. Realty agents sometimes use brand names as a proxy for quality. Toto trumps Kohler, which trumps American Standard; Viking trumps GE, which trumps Kenmore. If this is the case in your area, track which brands signal quality. Installing even a few appliances or fixtures from the ‘right’ brands gives you bragging rights.

• Energy efficiency. Tight windows, new doors, and efficient heating and cooling systems translate to low monthly utility bills, easing the cost of homeownership. How are these features showcased at open houses in your neck of the woods?

Under-Stairs Storage. Photo: Freshome

Storage. Especially in old house renovations, storage is often sacrificed for living space. How important are walk-in closets and customized pantries to buyers in your area? Keep an eye out for clever storage solutions that you could adopt.

Outdoor amenities. Outdoor space is rarely included in return-on-investment calculations, because it’s considered more of a lifestyle amenity than a core house function. If you are considering extensive yard upgrades, whether a full-fledged outdoor kitchen or a children’s play area, scout the appeal of backyard amenities for local buyers. It could be that leaving in a play structure would enhance the appeal of your house in a family-oriented neighborhood more than replacing it with a macho grilling center.

For more on buying and selling homes, consider:

Buy for Your Buyer
See Your House Through Appraisal Goggles
How To: (Really) Win a Bidding War