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A well-chosen home makes a great sanctuary

February 14, 2009

Call it a refuge, a haven, or a sanctuary. By whatever name, a private home has long been considered a place to escape - the proverbial castle that provides protection from the stresses and strains of the outside world.

In an era of economic turbulence, homeownership becomes all the more important as a stabilizing factor in people's lives, says Kay West, a real estate broker and former president of the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), a professional group.

The bad news, of course, is that more Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure. But in the midst of such misfortune, the irony is that "the current real estate environment is rich with great deals for people with stable jobs and good credit," West says.

Many of those intending to purchase a property in this market are searching for a homey place where they can enjoy their discretionary time, as opposed to going out as much, says Mark Nash, a real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."

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But what should you look for when shopping for the ultimate cocoon? Here are suggestions for home shoppers:

o Look for surroundings that feel calming to you.

"Some people are most comfortable cocooning in a tight-knit community where the neighbors get together often and nurture each other. Others want the anonymity of isolation and are most at peace in a wooded area where neighbors keep their distance," West says.

One theme that covers nearly all home buyers is that they appreciate quiet. To find a calm setting, you needn't limit yourself solely to properties located on a dead-end street or a cul-de-sac. But you'll want to avoid roads used by commuters as cut-through routes.

West suggests you visit your target community during a weekday morning or afternoon rush-hour period and listen for the noise levels generated by the traffic.

o Try to find an oversized kitchen.

For most people, the heart of a satisfying floor plan is the kitchen. And as busy couples and families spend more time together cooking, the size of the kitchen becomes more of an issue.

Although gourmet kitchens remain popular with home buyers, you don't need a professional stove or a Sub-Zero refrigerator to create a well-functioning cooking zone in your sanctuary. But it helps to have extra space.

To obtain a sizeable kitchen without blowing the family budget, you might consider trading off a formal dining room in the house you select, says Eric Tyson, co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies."

o Find a property suited to home entertainment.

Although many giant-sized houses built within the last 10 years have home theaters complete with professional quality audio and video equipment, cinema-style seating and popcorn machines, this feature is less popular than many proponents had expected, says Tyson.

"Most bedrooms, even master bedrooms, aren't big enough for comfortably viewing a big TV. You need more floor space than that," he adds.

Tyson says that people intent on acquiring a home sanctuary where they can enjoy home entertainment on comfortable sofas should consider a place with a large family room or a great room.

o Hunt for a home with a spare bedroom for use as an exercise area.

"To save money, a lot of people are trading off their gym memberships in favor of working out at home. I'm very happy with the elliptical machine I bought last year. Over time, you get a much bigger payback for the money you spend on exercise equipment than on gym dues," Nash says.

Although a spare bedroom usually works poorly as a home entertainment area, it can function well as an exercise room.

"When eventually you sell the property you buy this year, you'll probably enjoy a better resale price if it has an extra bedroom that the new owners could use as a hobby area or a home office," he says.

o Look for fine interior finishing.

"For people who want to cocoon, think of beautiful millwork. Even in a small house, it adds great warmth," Nash says.

He cites crown moldings, six-inch base moldings and raised panel doors as among the most popular elements of interior architecture. French doors also make rooms more livable, as do fireplaces.

"Visual appeal is incredibly important in any house. The place you buy doesn't have to be a large or cost a fortune to make it a great escape from all the worldly cares and concerns we face nowadays," Nash says.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.

Copyright 2009 Ellen James Martin

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