When you’re shopping for a new home, it’s natural to favor the more aesthetically-pleasing properties. However, cosmetic features are often decorative and trendy extras. Instead, you should base your decision on the underlying features and value of the home. This includes elements like the plumbing, wiring and roof of any potential home.
“As a home buyer, it is important that you focus on value over the bells and whistles that can distract from a home’s drawback,” advises Evan Roberts, a real estate agent with Dependable Homebuyers in Baltimore, MD. “Many of these bells and whistles are inexpensive to replicate,” he says. So you shouldn’t pay more for them and you shouldn’t base your homebuying decision on them.”
You shouldn’t increase your offer based on bells and whistles. While you may like them, that doesn’t mean the next homebuyer will. “Paying for low value features will make re-selling difficult,” according to Lucas Machado, president of Florida-based House Heroes. “If you need to move unexpectedly and suddenly, prospective buyers most likely will not assign a high value to low cost features that are already worn.” As a result, he tells Freshome, you might end up selling for a loss, or you may be forced to become a landlord if the sale of your home won’t cover the remaining mortgage balance.
While you may have a list of “must-haves” for your new home, it’s important to be flexible, and consider the big picture. “It’s easy to get caught up in the smaller details,” warns J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company. “Before turning down a house because the faucets are out of date, consider which projects are quick fixes.”
Speaking of faucets, let’s start with sinks and plumbing fixtures. For example, a farmhouse (or apron-front) sink may set your heart aflutter. But are you really going to base the decision on whether to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home on a sink that costs hundreds of dollars?
Another “must have” item for some is either a pull-down or touchless faucet. However, John Blackman, a realtor at Keller Williams/Heart of Austin Homes Team, tells Freshome that you can purchase one of these sink faucets for $200 to $300.
If you’re looking at a kitchen or bathroom with outdated hardware, don’t let these cosmetic features be a deciding factor. “Updating your bathrooms and kitchens with new hardware, like door handles, switch plate covers, vent covers, cabinet knobs and pulls, towel racks and wall hooks, only require a traditional screwdriver, and the effects can really refresh a space,” says Sassano.
Crystal chandeliers are all the rage right now, followed by pendant lights. But while they’re fancy, you can choose from a dizzying array of these and other types of lights for just $100 to $200. So take the time you would spend admiring the light fixture to examine the electrical wiring behind it.
Crown molding, chair railing, and other types of millwork add architectural detail to a home, but they shouldn’t add to the price you’re willing to pay for the home. At the time of publication, one home improvement store was advertising 3 feet of crown molding for $13.97. You can even use paint to make one-piece molding look like three-piece molding. This is one example of how some cosmetic features may not be what they appear.
Here’s another example: “A lot of builders will use MDF, or medium density fiberboard, but that material doesn’t last very long,” according to Seth Argo, president of Nashville-based luxury custom home developer Focus Builders. “It’s also not as smooth as higher-quality alternatives and it doesn’t allow for staining, though you can paint it,” he adds.
“Fancy garage doors look great and add a sense of luxury, but don’t cost much,” notes Blackman. In fact, he says it’s the #1 value add component for increasing the sales price, whether it’s wood or painted to look like real wood. That’s great news for sellers, and it’s need-to-know information for buyers.
Custom kitchen cabinets
Custom kitchen cabinets in the home you’re considering may not even be custom kitchen cabinets. “You might think you’re getting custom cabinetry, but they’re really factory cabinets,” warns Argo. He says it’s standard for the majority of builders to use factory cabinets. “Some of these cabinets might look nice from a distance, but they’re actually mass-produced for cheap and then sold locally as custom cabinets.” He recommends feeling the material of the cabinet and hardware to tell the difference.
But, suppose the house has old, outdated cabinets? Sassano says that replacing them can be costly. “As long as the cabinets are in good shape, new doors, new hardware or a fresh coat of paint can make them look like new,” he adds. Again, it’s the underlying quality of a home’s features versus the style or cosmetic features you should consider.
If the house is beautifully painted, Machado warns against being swayed by it. “Although a freshly painted bright room is immediately appealing, walls may be marked up in a few months,” he says. “You can also get a brand-new coat in your choice of color at minimum cost.” He warns that wall paint degrades quickly and says it doesn’t really add significant value to the property.
“In fact, fresh paint on basement floors and walls could be masking issues below the surface,” according to Lance Marrs, principal broker at Living Room Realty in Portland Oregon. “Even with fresh paint, a good nose can sniff out potential moisture issues not clearly visible to the eye,” he explains. He recommends having your home inspector check for signs of water issues.
There are two reasons why you shouldn’t be swayed by the staging. “The staging will be gone at move-in, unless the offer is to include all the furniture and other items, which is sometimes possible, to be sure,” says Michael Hausam of The Hausam Group at Shore Capital in Irvine, CA.
He also adds that a perfectly staged home is almost impossible to evaluate objectively.
What you should look for in a home
So, what should you consider when buying a home? “Major items such as the roof, heating and cooling systems, patios, pools, electrical, and full green lawns are expensive and time-consuming to install or replace,” says Muchado. “Big ticket items add real property value and should be factored in to your decision and your offer,” he advises.
Hausman recommends evaluating and rating the home in terms of its benefits rather than cosmetic features. “Focusing on questions like ‘Can I picture myself entertaining my friends in this kitchen/backyard/living room?’ or ‘Is this home a relative bargain?’ can help you look past a particularly appealing staging job to determine if the house is really for you.” Just remember to focus on the the home itself and not the easy-to-replace cosmetic features to make sure you find the right home.
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