Try these tips to zero in on the house you want

January 17, 2009

Homes. Homes. Homes. Many neighborhoods are now packed with properties available for sale. Obviously, many homeowners are facing foreclosure or must sell due to a job loss. But other wannabe sellers - anxious to move on with their lives - are simply tired of waiting for an economic rebound before liquidating their largest asset.

Here are tips for those planning to purchase in an inventory-saturated market:

Pre-screen on the basis of square footage.

Granted, McMansions are currently less popular than before, just as large SUVs have lost a lot of their luster. But that's not to say that square footage shouldn't be a factor in choosing a home.

Though it's surprising to clients, Rygiol says it's not uncommon to find that a small home could cost significantly more per square foot than a mid-sized property in the same neighborhood. And over time, the mid-sized home should be worth more.

"If for any reason the square footage isn't shown on the listing in the Multiple Listing Service, ask your agent to pre-screen the place and take measurements for you," he says.


Consider bathroom count when deciding which homes to visit.

Once it was common for several family members to share the same bathroom. It was customary to wait your turn to take your daily shower or bath.

But as Rygiol points out, the current ideal is for every member of the family to have his or her own bathroom.

Of course, homes in older communities are likely to have fewer bathrooms than those in recently built subdivisions. But whether you've targeted an older community or a newer one, Rygiol says it's wise to favor homes with more bathrooms, especially "his and her" bathrooms off the master suite.

Locate homes within the context of their neighborhood.

A useful online tool for placing homes within their neighborhood context is Google Maps, which uses satellite imagery to pinpoint the location of properties simply by typing in an address.

"This way you can quickly see if a house is located on a busy, cross-through street versus a dead-end avenue or a quiet cul-de-sac. You can also tell, for example, how close a property is to a 'big box' retailer," Davis says.

Look for a place with "good bones."

Most architects are well-aware of the hidden value contained in a house that is well-designed, structurally sound and has energy-efficient systems - such as superior heating and energy units. They say such a property has "good bones."

Discerning buyers, working with attentive agents, can readily cull through available properties to identify the ones with "good bones," Davis says. These properties usually give the buyer more for their money than do homes that are superficially appealing but have fundamental issues.

"It's not expensive to repaint the interior of a property or even to replace worn carpeting in one room or another. But the owners of homes with serious issues - like structural flaws - might need to spend large sums of money to rectify these problems," Davis says.

In a market where buyers have the upper hand because there is an abundance of homes on the market, purchasers may be able to acquire a rock bottom price on a place with "good bones" whose sole problems are very superficial, he says.

Think through your lifestyle needs when comparing floor plans.

When touring homes, Davis suggests you trust your instincts about how a place feels to you after you've first entered the front door.

"A good floor plan gives the visitor a feeling of harmony. The rooms and major features are all in proportion. For example, window sizes are in proportion to overall floor space - neither too small nor too big," Davis says.

You should also think carefully about the layout of any home you're visiting, he says, because a floor plan can be influential in helping shape your lifestyle.

For instance, an empty-nest couple who often stages dinner parties will likely want a formal dining room that's well-positioned within their home. But a family with young children will probably place much more of a premium on a large family room that adjoins a country-sized kitchen.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at

Copyright 2008 Ellen James Martin

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