Whenever anyone begins the process of looking for a new home, size is generally one of the top considerations. Along with budget and desired location, room count and square footage are always among the top priorities of many homebuyers.
American culture teaches us to believe that bigger is usually better, but not all square feet are created equal when it comes to a home’s layout. Yes, everyone wants a home that is big enough to spread out and accommodate all the stuff we collect – and it’s not easy to dispute that more is more in terms of closet space, especially in apartment living – but just because a home has more square footage, that doesn’t make it better. After all, how much is wasted space really worth?
Homebuyers can easily get excited about seeing a home within their budget that is listed with a big square footage number, only to then be disappointed when they step foot into the space. A big home may have been priced within budget because of an awkward layout, wasted space or a major shortcoming, like terrible views or an undesirable location.
When analyzing a home’s square footage, here are a few questions to ask:
- How usable is the space?
- What does the layout look like?
- Is the price per square foot misleading?
How Usable is the Space?
This is the big one. No matter how big a room is, if it’s awkwardly shaped, it won’t be easy to set up furniture or be enjoyable to live in.
Don't forget that a home’s square footage also includes hallways, closets and bathrooms, all of which are important, but you don’t really live in these spaces. You want the square footage to be allocated to the rooms you spend the most time in – and for you, that might be your bedroom, the living room, the den or the kitchen.
Look at the floor plan. This will tell you a ton about the home before you even set foot in it. You can’t really live in the hallway, and large hallways can make the floor plan seem ill-planned and inelegant.
What Does the Layout Look Like?
No matter the square footage, if the layout is badly planned, a home may not feel inviting or spacious.
In a city with lots of apartment living like New York, many people buy the next-door unit in order to expand their space instead of moving. One of the pitfalls of this is that the layout may not quite work, leaving the flow feeling like a railroad apartment – where the rooms are stacked one after another without much flow – or with strangely placed rooms, like the master bedroom off the kitchen or dead space doubling as hallways and a family room.
Even a large home may lack logical flow, and if the layout doesn’t really work, it can be very difficult to create a gracious and welcoming feeling.
Is the Price Per Square Foot Misleading?
A few years ago, in a newly constructed New York building, one condo unit stood out as bigger than many of the others, and appeared to be a steal based on the price per square foot.
Turns out, there was a large and strangely shaped “bedroom” underground with no windows, an extra egress to the building’s mechanical systems and an awkward pillar in the middle of the room. Trying to place a bed in this room seemed virtually impossible. The room was basically unusable except for maybe storage, yet the developer wanted to count this as a full bedroom, inflating the square footage of the home and making the price per square foot look particularly appealing.
There was a reason this condo hadn’t yet sold, despite the popularity of the rest of the building. Yes, the price per square foot for this unit was the best in the building, but there was an entire room that was basically a waste of space.
Over time, architects have changed the way they plan home layouts to better suit the needs of each era’s homebuyers. In recent years, the idea of the great room – a large family room that performs triple duty as kitchen, living room and dining room – has been particularly trendy, especially as kitchens have become increasingly the center of the action. This has created more usable square footage, as walls between these rooms have been eliminated.
But for some, this means that more traditional graciousness has also fallen by the wayside in favor of efficiency, as many architects have jettisoned a foyer or formal dining room. In the end, each home’s square footage is allocated differently, and while some buyers are willing to sacrifice function or flow for needed space, the large majority may not be willing to pay for square footage that doesn’t make sense.
Are these must-haves on your list?
One of the first steps you take when deciding you want a new home is determining what you need in order to be happy there. The list of your must-haves can get long, and you reasonably can’t expect to find a house that perfectly matches all your criteria. “Someone has a list of 10 things – if they can find a house that has seven or eight of those, they’re doing pretty good,” says Jeff Plotkin, a Texas-licensed Realtor, attorney, certified public accountant and vice president of Habitat Hunters Inc. in Austin, Texas. Deciding what needs win out in your next home search can be tough, but there are a few key features and amenities many buyers seem unwilling to live without.Right in your price range
Right in your price range
Being able to afford your new home is a given, but buyers are often faced with having to choose between stretching their budget to have the master suite they want or having more reasonable monthly mortgage payments. Price often wins out in the end – you’re less likely to enjoy that master suite if you’re eating soup and foregoing vacations for the next five to 10 years to pay it off. In the 2018 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, home affordability was one of the three most important factors for respondents who recently purchased a home – behind only quality of the neighborhood and a location's convenience to work.In your preferred location
In your preferred location
Homebuyers care a lot about being able to get from point A to point B – as well as points C, D and E. Your future neighborhood can dictate what school your kids go to, how long it takes to get to work and how easy it is to stop at the grocery store when you forgot an ingredient for dinner. Plotkin says buyers put a lot of stress on where the house is, rather than what’s in the house itself. They’re looking for “proximity to schools, shopping, entertainment, public transportation,” he says.Interior over curb appeal
Interior over curb appeal
A handsome exterior keeps potential buyers from quickly driving away, but insight from new construction marketing site HomLuv.com reveals that it’s the interior that most often serves as the deal-maker. HomLuv’s website allows homebuyers to begin their search for a new home from the room they care about most, whether that’s the kitchen, living room or master bathroom. The one part of the house people don’t seem too worried about? Outside. In the roughly two months since HomLuv launched, “no one has chosen to look at exteriors first,” says Mark Law, vice president of product management for BDX, a home builder marketing company and parent company of HomLuv.The right number of bedrooms
The right number of bedrooms
While the interior of the home allows more wiggle room to compromise on your needs, there are some details that buyers must have. The right number of bedrooms would be the big one. Family expansion is often a primary reason homeowners start looking for a new house, so leaving out that extra room would defeat the entire purpose of the sale. According to the NAR report, 85 percent of homes purchased by respondents in 2017 had three bedrooms or more.Window treatments for reference
Window treatments for reference
Staging matters in a home. As much as we think we can picture how a vacant house will look with our own furnishings and decor, at the end of the day we need some suggestions. Law says builders will include big picture windows in bedrooms or over the tub in a master bathroom to let in natural light, but if the photos show the space without curtains or blinds, house hunters will inevitably see a design flaw. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not an exhibitionist,’” he explains. To avoid turning homebuyers off, window treatments should be included in listing photos and for home tours.Move-in ready
The condition of the home you shop for often goes hand in hand with your budget and the neighborhood you hope to live in. If your budget is at the lower end of the price range in the hottest community in town, you’ll likely find yourself buying a house that needs a little love. If your budget doesn’t restrict it, chances are you’ll have your pick of properties that have been turned by real estate investors. “The [buyer] demand is for 100 percent move-in ready condition,” says Bobby Montagne, CEO of Walnut Street Finance, a private money lender focused on home flipping in markets in Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia metro area.Possible to picture your vision
Possible to picture your vision
Even if you’re one of the detractors who prefers a fixer-upper, it’s still necessary to be able to envision how the space will look once you’ve added your personal touches. Based on reactions from HomLuv users, details as small as the cabinet color in a photo can change the way a person thinks about a house. Law says he’s found preferences differ from region to region – darker cabinets may see more love in the South, while in California the preference is for white kitchen cabinets. “You could offer a free puppy and free pots and pans with the house, but if the cabinets are dark they still don’t want it,” he says.Warranty available
For newly built homes and those that have been recently flipped with significant work, you want to know that the professionals involved stand by their work. New construction homes often come with a warranty from the builder or the option to get a third-party warranty, and you should ask the investors involved with a flip for the same level of protection. “A good builder [or] a good flipper does not have a problem with that,” Montagne says. If an issue arises within the life of the warranty related to the workmanship, you can rest easy knowing you’re covered financially for the repairs.Potential for value growth
Potential for value growth
Your home isn’t just where you’ll live – it’s also an investment. There are a few easy decisions you can make that reduce the chances of losing out on potential growth in value over time, whether that means buying in a neighborhood where home values are steadily growing, finding a home in a desirable school district or avoiding living next to a strip mall. “When you’re buying a house, you’re not only buying it for yourself, you’re buying it for resale,” Plotkin says. “So most people are not going to want to back up to commercial [property] or a busy road.”Read More