What Home Buyers Get Wrong

Six months on in the new crib, I’m ready to educate my brother who is allegedly studying design. This is for him, but I’ve been posting so infrequently of late, feel free to eavesdrop. Bro, just send a check for whatever you think my insights are worth.

Home buyers focus too narrowly on total square feet, too often thinking the bigger the better. We moved to a slightly smaller home, but it feels larger because we regularly use much more of the total area. In other words, there’s no wasted space. And even though there’s less total square footage, the kitchen is quite a bit larger. The beauty of the kitchen layout is you can open every drawer and the dishwasher and the refrigerator and still have two-three feet all around. No more sucking everything in when moving the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer. In fact, now there’s nothing stopping me from packing on an extra 40-50 lbs this winter.

Our new master bathroom is about 60% the size of our former one. And it’s perfect. That other 40% was wasted space for the purpose of what, a slightly higher sales price? The new one has just enough room to do everything comfortably, and when it comes time to clean, it’s a breeze because damn near everything is in reach.

Homebuyers don’t realize small things make a big difference. Especially when combined together. Case in point, dimmable lights. Mercy me, how did I live in an on-off world all those years? There’s nothing like entering the bathroom at 5:30a, flipping the switch, and being met by a faint pre-dawn-like light. Same when preparing to retire at night. There’s nothing like brushing one’s teeth under a faint post-sunset-like glimmer. Every light should be dimmable.

Another lesson. You can’t put a value on genuine quiet, and on natural beauty, and on the edifying result of the two combined.

Another lesson. You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs. Long time readers of the humble blog will know I value community. Is sacrificing some community worth the return in quiet, natural beauty, peace? Stay tuned, time will tell.

What else do home buyers get wrong?


9 thoughts on “What Home Buyers Get Wrong

  1. You say nothing about a guest room. How does hospitality fit into this new configuration? If that’s the view from the back porch, perhaps a small hammock will be sufficient.

  2. “You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs.”

    Very interesting comment – I’ve never thought of it that way – Our house is a bastion of genuine quiet and natural beauty and I, for one, never considered I was making a trade-off of “sacrificing some community”. It doesn’t seem like a trade-off to me – sitting out back with the sound of the patio fountain lightly splashing water, a large fire in the fire pit, among the trees, flora and fauna is absolute nirvana for us. Even though we live in a residential neighborhood, while sitting in our back yard we cannot see another house. Between all the trees, multiple, extensive wrap-around flower gardens and the various birds and other animals the concept of “community” never even crosses our minds. Most common comment between the two of us – “How sweet is this? Sitting here in our little ‘piece of heaven’ and the entire rest of the world is OUT THERE doing whatever they’re doing.” Reply – “You sure got that right!” If one treasures “genuine quiet and natural beauty” over most everything else in the world there isn’t a feeling of having made a trade-off at all. Just a different outlook on life I guess.

    To your brother “who is allegedly studying design” – Go with your (or your client’s) heart in designing a home and my experience tells me there will be no sense of trade-offs being made at all. But I’m the first to admit, I’m a pretty “weird duck” when it comes to my outlook on life, community and a multitude of other things.

    • It’s great how much you enjoy your spot. And also how Karen and you provide enough community for one another. L and I enjoy each other’s company a lot, but individually and as a couple we’re enriched by a wider circle of friends. We’re making some new friends in the more sparsely populated countryside, but there’s something to be said for longevity of friendship and the familiarity that comes with a shared past.

      In fact, L and I sometimes imagine urban life. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we live in a condo in a Specific Northwest city (or British Columbia depending upon how the election turns out). We would really dig ditching a car and walking and biking to stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. That’s another trade-off of living in nature, being more car dependent.

      Of course, I have a lot of friends who’d say I could ride my bike now if I got a different job or wasn’t such a wuss, and they’d be right on both accounts.

  3. I don’t think homebuyers get it wrong — it depends on here people are in their stage of life. When people have families the square footage of the home is one of the most important considerations along with location. Then when their children leave the nest the size of the home doesn’t matter as much and other considerations such as those you point out take priority– is that not what you did?

    • I grant you that point, people have different priorities at different stages of their lives, but I didn’t summarize my thinking. Regardless of buyers’ different priorities, real estate always uses “price per square foot” as its overarching metric. And that is a fundamental flaw in valuing real estate because qualitatively, hardly any two square feet are the same. Even quantitatively when the quality of the materials varies very much. For example, in the PNW, the value of a square foot goes way up in my book when it’s washed in natural light. Square footage that’s associated with high ceilings; ample, sun exposed windows; and quality materials; is worth a premium. Yes, smart realtors know how to make adjustments to the basic formula of square footage x average price per square footage, but more homeowners should be doing that independent of the real estate industrial complex. Threw that in for a little sizzle. My other point is that total square footage is a flawed metric even when adjusting for stage of life/changing priorities because it doesn’t account for good and bad layouts. I’d prefer purchasing a 2,000 sq ft home that we use 80% than a 3,000 sq ft home that we use 50% of with any regularity. If you’re not sure why, ask your neighbor up the hill to help you with the math. Over and out.


  4. Sounds like your argument is against realtors. I agree homebuyers focus on cost and square footage in their initial search, but they then apply secondary filters to find the right home for them with focus on floor plan, community, and other aspects in their decision. In the end you haven’t convinced me of your premise.

  5. Not really anti-realtor, anti-average square foot as real estate’s default pricing mechanism. Buyers have to be smarter, but according to you they already are, so as Roseanne Roseannadanna said. . .

  6. I’m a very visual person, so I’ve always put a high value on a beautiful view from the living areas of the house. I’ve always managed that so far. A water view is most desirable, for me. But green fields, mountains and sky are close second!

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