Bed, Baths, or Be Gone
“I owned a one-bedroom condo in a downtown Chicago high-rise and realized right away that I needed a second bedroom and another bath,” says Fred Carmean, a Realtor at the Illinois independent real estate brokerage firm
@properties. “Now I’m in a place with space to live, work, and entertain.” The takeaway for house hunters: Buy a place that can grow with you. Someone who’s single, say, can always use an extra bedroom as an office or media room until a partner and family come along.
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The desire to buy low and sell high isn’t purely the province of flippers. “I wanted a great place to live, but rather than buy in a higher-priced, newly constructed building, I looked for one priced lower that could be improved to increase market value,” Carmean explains. “I know the market, so I know the improvements I’ve made will enhance value.” Err on the side of conservative, classic renovations for the best return on home improvement investment.
Owning a house ought to mean the freedom to do your own thing without worrying what the neighbors will see—or think! So when Ann Peterson of Ann Peterson Realty Services in Rochester, Michigan, was looking for a home of her own, among her main criteria was a lot with half an acre or more, landscaped with mature trees. “Privacy is paramount,” Peterson says. “A family should be able to enjoy their home and yard without feeling trapped or observed.”
Wide-Open Indoor Spaces
A number of realty pros showed a preference for open plans. Fortunately for those who want to live without walls, new construction and renovations have embraced the concept in a big way. Google Trends shows a steady uptick in open plans, especially open kitchens, and in 2016 Houzz.com featured more than 600,000 photos of open-plan spaces. While some designers and architects are tired of the trend, open plans do seem to suit the way most families live today, allowing for greater sociability, more interaction, and a feeling of spaciousness (a plus for smaller homes).
Let There Be Light
Natural light is one thing Megan Ryan, a real estate agent at MKT Properties for Keller Williams in Evanston, Illinois, can’t live without. “I look to see if there are plenty of windows, and check to ensure they’re operable,” says Ryan, who is currently house-hunting herself. “I'm not hung up on appliances or finishes; that all can be changed. But the light has to be right!” To ensure maximum illumination, consider a house’s exposures and views, and revisit a place you’re thinking of buying at different times of day.
Let There Be Love
“I’m very conscious of how a home has been cared for by the seller,” says Ryan. “Has it been loved, enjoyed, and maintained? While there will always be a few structural fixes needed, it’s important that there’s been regular upkeep or replacement on mechanicals and big-ticket items like the roof or tuck pointing.” Ryan, who dreams of owning a 1920s-era house with crown molding and a grand staircase, adds: “The resale value of a home with all-new mechanicals can be valued at $20K to $50K more than a home needing major repair.” The lesson for buyers: Ask about this, and find out if paperwork like manuals or warrantees is available. The moral for sellers: Don’t let your place go to pot!
Ins and Outs
“We have the most glorious weather on the planet, so joining indoor and outdoor living spaces was my must,” says Maria Demme, a broker whose company, Ideal Properties, is part of the Southern California boutique agency Pantanella & Partners. Of course, when shopping for a house, you may have to think outside the box—literally—as Demme did. “Originally, my house had a side door but no back door, which really impeded access to the backyard,” she says. “So I turned a back window into a door. The window already had a header so it was a simple project.” Demme knew she’d made a smart decision when she threw her housewarming. “The party flowed beautifully from the house to the yard,” she says.
“We spend so much time in our cars in Los Angeles, so high on my list was to live in an area where I wouldn’t have to drive everywhere,” says Demme. “I wanted to be able to park my car when I got home from work and then bike or walk to shops, restaurants, and parks.” As more people seek to decrease their carbon footprint, the value of a neighborhood with stores, services, and activities nearby increases.
Drama in the Details
“I’m all about quirky charm and unique features,” says Jill Meilus, a real estate broker with the Corcoran Group in New York City. Though ready to downsize when her daughter moved out on her own, she refused to forgo special touches. “A built-in bookcase with decorative metalwork sold me on my current place,” she says. And she’s not alone. Meilus recently sold two apartments for “startlingly” high prices because “the sellers unearthed and restored original details like exposed brick and wooden beams in the ceiling that made the apartments so much more valuable.”
Country in the City
Who can blame urbanites like Meilus for wanting to escape the hustle and bustle at the end of the day? “I gave up a view in favor of an apartment in the back of the building because it’s so much quieter,” Meilus says. “I can pretend I’m in a cottage in the country.” She adds that choosing a more laid-back neighborhood also goes a long way toward achieving serenity in the city.
The Natural Look
Fake and fussy doesn’t cut it for Ashley Copeland, a Realtor with Brown Harris Stevens in Palm Beach. “I prefer clean-lined architecture, high ceilings, and floor-to-ceiling windows,” says Copeland, who has a townhouse in Florida and is building a house in Montana. The owner of a decorating business before she switched to real estate, Copeland is highly attuned to materials and favors wood floors and interesting stone for her interiors.
“A space for everyone, and everyone in their space!” could be Copeland’s motto. For her, this means a master suite on the opposite side of the house from secondary bedrooms, as well as his-and-her master baths and his-and-her closets, “with ‘her’ closet extra large!” she says. “I also like having two outdoor entertaining areas, one around the pool, and one off either the dining room or the master bedroom. It just gives you more options.”
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