By Jeff Brown
When you find your dream home, things just click. The closets may be a bit too small, the A/C may come from window units instead of a central system, and maybe there's no full-time guest room. ... But the place just has that magic. Still, it pays to think about those shortcomings, which could make it harder to sell when you're ready to move on in a few years. To some extent, the housing market is a fashion industry, and today's styles will sell better than yesteryear's.
A study by the National Association of Realtors says central air conditioning is the most critical of 33 features surveyed, with 65 percent of those polled rating it very important. So if the home doesn't have it when you buy, think about putting it in. You'll enjoy it and will find it easier to sell for the price you deserve.
Among other highly desirable features: new kitchen appliances and a walk-in closet in the master bedroom. Buyers also preferred homes that were less than five years old, which might surprise those who believe in old-time craftsmanship. The fact is, newer homes are better insulated, have safer wiring and are built to withstand winds that would blow older homes apart.
Not surprisingly, buyers would prefer choice sites such as those on the water. They want basements, and many look for a home with an in-law suite. (Of course, that doesn't mean the in-laws will move in. The suite can serve a grown child who's slow to launch, or function as a better-than-average guest quarters.)
Most buyers still want a traditional living room, even though modern life seems to gravitate to the great room. Asked what they were willing to spend more to get, a majority of buyers said: a laundry room and den/study/office/library. Many buyers who were satisfied with their home said that they would still like more and bigger closets and a larger kitchen. In fact, 47 percent of recent buyers undertook a major kitchen improvement quickly, and almost as many upgraded a bathroom.
Of course, buyers' demands vary by region and demographics. In the South, as one would imagine, air conditioning is especially important. And older buyers are more likely to prefer single-story homes. Obviously, there's no simple rule about what will appeal to a future buyer. But today's shopper would be wise to visit a wide range of homes, not just a few suggested by the real estate agent, to get a sense of the styles popular in the community.
Builders have a pretty good sense of what buyers in the area want, so tour some open houses in new developments. If new homes offer stainless steel kitchen appliances, dedicated laundry rooms, finished basements and bedroom-size closets, you can bet that future buyers will demand those features -- at a minimum. Keep in mind, though, that many major home improvements don't add as much value as they cost, so it's probably not a good strategy to buy a substandard home and plan to upgrade just before selling. Get a home that has the features other buyers value, or put them in quickly so you can enjoy them yourself before selling.
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