Practice envisioning a home’s potential #667

#667 in a series of true experiences in real estate

Dear buyers, here is something you can do for yourself. Teach yourself to see better.

You can save money (it is possible to make money, too) if you can see in a house what others have missed.

Most buyers are looking for the perfect house – a house clean and shiny, stylish, pretty. Such houses often sell quickly and for the highest price. Frequently, several buyers want to buy the same one.

If you’re slow or cannot pay more, you’ll be dealing with the houses that are left. Not every seller knows how to make his house look fine. Many people are not visual. They lack color and design sense. They don’t have the time or ability to fix their houses, may not even see what could be done.

If you can see what the sellers did not, your choices will be ever so much broader. This can simply mean learning to look beyond all the things inside a full house. This is the art of visually subtracting, and here is how: Stand quietly and look. Imagine each room empty. Think about the light in the room. Pretend the windows are bare. What is the floor like? The walls and the window and the door casings? What if this room were painted softest yellow?

You get the idea, but you’ll need to practice. It’s so easy to glide through houses – go right on through without thinking, be overcome by the contents, by unattractive details. What I’m urging you to do is to actively look, think, sort out.

Have you gone to see houses that the agent described as “not a drive-by”? There is something about the outside that turns people away. For some reason the seller hasn’t fixed it. He doesn’t have the money or the time, he doesn’t see the problem, or – and this is a possibility – it can’t easily be fixed.

But it might be. You may be able to fix it. That’s what I want you to consider.

If you find yourself peering through your car windshield at the outside of an open house, then driving quickly away, try this. Stop, get out of the car, go inside. Actively think about the spaces, condition, size and price. If all of these are okay (or close enough), go back outside and walk across the street. Look at the front of the house again. Ask yourself what is wrong. Think about what could make it better.

Is the architecture really wonky? Does the whole facade need to be replaced with something else? Or are there possibilities here? Let your imagination go.

What if there were a lovely tree in front, trailing vines on the porch? What if an arbor were added above the front door? Or a fence built near the sidewalk?

I’ve seen ugly little houses transformed with false fronts made of lattice painted white. The result is clean, crisp lines with a forever-in-style feel. Would such a thing work on this house?

Sometimes houses have been mucked up by remodeling. Someone has installed a large aluminum slider window in a most prominent spot? Think. Windows can be replaced. That unattractive window in the living room can be wooden again, can be divided in any pattern, the parts can swing open.

You’re going to need to get prices for your ideas. You may want to get design advice too. These can be had. All I want to do is make you more aware, get you to think while you look instead of floating through houses waiting for the one that captures you entirely.

There are so many elements to consider when choosing a house to buy. Your brain will be very busy considering them all. But if you will try to add the ability to see what can fairly easily be removed and what can be added, you will have a fantastic advantage over other buyers.

I do not want to talk you into taking on something major here. Few people should buy a house that is sliding down a hill, and maybe you do not want to do over a kitchen either. I am talking about houses that have been personalized by their owners – owners whose taste is not yours – owners who didn’t rent a storage space for half their things, who maybe didn’t paint or clean or mow. Some of these houses are really good houses.

So prep yourself. Look at home magazines. Start thinking about the kinds of things that can be done to a house. Some are big and expensive, but many are not. You may not know, for instance, never having had occasion to learn this, that hardwood floor people can work miracles.

It is perfectly possible, and not terribly expensive, to remove a stained section of wood flooring and replace it so it looks exactly as it should. Or, in fact, to add a wood floor where one does not now exist.

Even replacing that short bearing wall between the kitchen and breakfast room is not too bad. The contractor will put in a beam to support the weight. You will have to contend with patching the plaster and providing for flooring where the wall once stood, but these are not impossible.

When you do see those “model homes,” notice what makes them so appealing. What exactly has been done? Chances are that much of what you are finding so pleasing is one or all of these: clean, spare and white.

Can you provide these in another house without going crazy in the process? Is the other house located where you’d really like to be? Is it cheaper?

You can win big by seeing better.

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