Whenever you begin the process of looking at homes, there are five factors to consider upon visiting any property for sale:
- Square footage and layout
- Condition and renovation
- The intangibles
If you imagine a Libra scale with balancing trays, like those held by the image of a Greek deity on a courthouse or a law firm logo, then you know that as one tray is weighed down, the other automatically goes up, like a seesaw. For house hunting purposes, imagine there are five of these trays – if one factor gets significantly better, like a home’s new renovation, the price will get worse (more expensive) for the buyer, if the three others remain set.
The first four of these factors are relatively obvious and most people can quickly judge a property based on price, location, size and condition. But that fifth one, a special quality like a sprawling view, high ceilings, historical pedigree or outstanding architectural charm, for example, can be the dark-horse feature to make a buyer pull the trigger and make an offer. This intangible wow factor can make a house a home, and every buyer values it differently.
[Read: The Guide to Buying a Home.]
Let the Intangible Factor Find You
Last year, a young woman who works as a management consultant was interested in buying a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. She had a set budget, a basic location she wanted – closer to her sister and near the entrance to the subway she uses to commute – her size requirements were easy to meet and she didn’t have the bandwidth for any major renovation, apart from a fresh coat of paint and updating the closets.
With an explanation of the five factors, the buyer said she wasn't concerned about a wow factor. She explained at the time: "I don’t want to pay more for a big view or sacrifice something like location for a fancier building.” Working for a big-name firm, she is on the road four nights per week and felt that anything beyond checking her most basic wish list boxes was superfluous.
Looking at apartments, she stayed true to what she said. She was unfazed by one gorgeous, south-facing view from the 31st floor of a high-rise. She scoffed at the idea of paying even a penny more for a building with concierge services. She made it clear that she preferred to be closer to the subway versus having a tony Park Avenue address. But when she walked into the apartment she now calls home, in a building that had at once been a department store, she looked up at the double-height ceilings.
“I get it,” she said. “For me, these ceilings are the big intangible. This is a major 'wow.' This apartment is the one.”
Everyone searching for a new home prioritizes the five factors differently, and of course the first four are generally the most important. People will pay more for a home that’s beautifully renovated or expect a discount if the home is in an inconvenient location. But that fifth factor, the wow that makes a house a home, should not be overlooked.
When the Intangible Doesn't Wow You
Unfortunately, the intangibles are not always as exciting. Just as a small or strange layout – think about a bathroom right off the dining room, for example – or the need for a gut-job can negatively affect a home’s ability to find the right buyer, so too can an obvious handicap. Handicaps might include the living room’s dark view of a brick wall, a high-rise noisily ascending right outside the bedroom windows to eventually block light and views, strangely high monthly carrying costs due to community mismanagement or the widely spread news of a gruesome murder on the property. If that fifth factor, the intangible, is a handicap instead of a wow, most likely the price must reflect this. The buyer will want a deal to overcome these issues.
For the high-ceilings buyer, she didn't think that anything would make her say “wow,” but the height of the ceilings made the rooms seem bigger, the light seem brighter and her smile seem happier. For her, this intangible tipped the five-tray scale just a bit. In the end, she was willing to pay more for architectural details that elevated this property from house to home.
Corrected on March 12, 2019: A previous version of this story failed to include "price" in the list of factors homebuyers should consider.