Whether you are house hunting in the suburbs or searching for an apartment in the city, there is an endless supply of information to take in and evaluate before you decide to submit an offer. This includes the listing’s history on the market, information on the property’s physical condition, the lifestyle of the surrounding neighborhood, outlook and strength of the local marketplace, and so much more.
Too often, this information overload can distract a buyer from her primary and most important objectives.
It’s common for even the most focused shoppers to get distracted and forget their main priorities. Unless you’re looking for a fixer-upper, most people want something that is move-in ready, or needs minimal, cosmetic touch-ups like a fresh paint job or updating fixtures.
These buyers often pay too much attention to appearances and secondary issues. Instead, they should be prioritizing some of the less obvious aspects — particularly those that could have a significant financial impact and play a larger role in their purchasing decision.
Here’s what homebuyers should ignore on an in-person home tour:
— Staging and decor.
— Paint color and other design details.
— The kitchen at face value.
— Sound systems over how sound carries.
— Pricey upgrades.
Staging and Decor
There is a reason beautifully staged homes are likely to sell more quickly and successfully than those that are unfurnished or outdated. Staging can effectively highlight a property’s best features and, at the same time, cover up its shortcomings.
A stunning coffee table, a romantic canopied bed, impactful wall art and gorgeous window treatments give a home personality and help buyers imagine themselves in the space. Yet, many buyers become so enamored with the spectacle of staging that they forget that it doesn’t come with the property. What they’re buying is the empty space, which may not be as large as the clever staging made it appear, once their own furniture is in.
To see past this, focus on the property’s “bones” and don’t get distracted by the window dressings. You should take note of what you like about the property design — the square footage, the floor plan layout, the ceiling height, the views — but don’t get sidetracked by the decor as it deflects from the property’s real features, both good and bad.
[Read: 5 Reasons You’re Still Renting]
Paint Color and Other Design Details
While many people overvalue tasteful interior decor, the reverse is also true: Homebuyers often become obsessed with things like wall coverings, floors and millwork that feel outdated.
Instead of ruling out a home because of the owner’s preferences and tastes, do your best to envision it as a blank canvas and focus on the home’s physical condition. Even the savviest buyers can become fixated on an unattractive wall unit or paint color, instead of seeing the potential of an easy fix like a fresh coat of paint or refinished floor that can make a huge improvement.
Pay attention to the condition of the walls, millwork, cabinets and even the floors. If they appear to be in decent shape, these are features you can simply and affordably update to your personal aesthetic.
Hint: To check the condition of the floors, go to the corner and see if there is any space between the baseboard and the wood. If there is, it means the floor has been refinished multiple times and may not be able to withstand another sanding job. It is far more costly to realize that the perfectly bleached wood floors you love have been sanded and stained so many times that they can’t be redone only after you purchase the home and begin to renovate.
The Kitchen at Face Value
Buyers are often attracted to a brand-new kitchen with gleaming, top-of the-line appliances. While this is certainly a selling point, many assume that a magazine-worthy kitchen is high-end, functional and expensive without giving it much more thought. They see the marble and stainless-steel appliances, and the “dream kitchen” box is metaphorically checked.
But if you’re passionate about cooking, your needs for a kitchen will go far beyond brand-name appliances and new equipment. Instead of being preoccupied by the aesthetics and labels — which can easily be updated or improved — focus on functionality and quality.
Ask these important questions:
— Will you be able to add a second oven or additional appliances that might push you over electrical capacity? Start with the electricity and take a look at the circuit breaker plan.
— How big is the oven on the inside? Will it fit a 10-pound turkey?
— Are the drawers and cabinets made well? Open and close the drawers to check for quality construction.
— Is the sink where it should be in relation to the stove, following the golden triangle design rule of thumb?
— Are the drawers deep enough to hold pots and pans?
— Are the counters a good height for you, and is there enough counter space?
If you’re an avid chef, make sure the kitchen is equipped to your needs and is actually as high-end as it looks before overvaluing the prior owner or developer’s renovation.
Sound Systems Over How Sound Carries
A lot of people notice a smart home system, built-in speakers, surround sound and other audiovisual home entertainment upgrades. That’s fine, but the noise you should be more concerned about is what comes from outside the home, or how sound travels inside. Are the windows new and double-paned? Is the street you’re on quiet and residential, or is it on a busy avenue or intersection? Are the doors and walls thin and cheaply built, or of good quality to contain noises from room to room?
Real estate brokers and their marketing departments spend a considerable amount of time and effort carefully curating property descriptions loaded with specific details, brand names and perceived improvements to impress even the most discerning buyer. Calacatta marble and 8-inch oak plank floors are lovely, but just like a book, you can’t judge a home by its professionally designed cover.
Often, these high-end touches distract buyers from the decidedly unattractive things they should really be finding out about the property — like the age and quality of the home’s major systems, or when the condenser, roof or boiler were last updated. There are houses where the marble and wood were beautifully maintained, but the major systems neglected that actually keep them running. Cost-cutting measures had been made “behind-the-scenes” purposely, or it was out of sight, out of mind.
Thoroughly research the true costs of maintaining internal systems, and pay just as close attention to their upkeep as you do to the visible renovations. It is far more upsetting and frustrating to find out after the fact that you have to pay to replace these big-ticket items, than knowing from the get-go that you need new kitchen counters — which is something you likely factored into your offer price.
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