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Don’t let the failure to manage your own mindset be your downfall, or cause you to lose dream house after dream house while the market slowly, painfully manages it for you. Here are 5 mindset management tasks that should go on every home buyer’s MUST list, especially in areas where multiple offers and over-asking sales prices are the norm:
1. Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive. My kettlebell teacher is constantly citing research that proves most of us limit how hard we can go, in our workouts, by shutting down mentally way before we’re even near our physical limits. This keeps us from making the progress we could otherwise make.
And the same goes for house hunting in a market like this one. Many a hot market home buyer has to lose a handful of homes - or more - before they realize making discount-priced offers doesn’t result in a deal at all if they don’t get the house. And take it from San Francisco buyers, who have been dealing with bizarrely strong seller’s market dynamics for longer than those in other areas of the country: if you mess around making weak offers for too much time, you can end up priced out of the market or the type of home you were hoping for, entirely.
I don’t want you to blindly throw money at homes. Instead, get educated about things like:
how long homes stay on the market, in your target neighborhood
how much above or below asking homes usually sell for, in your neighborhood, and
how many other offers you are competing with on any given home.
Your agent will have insider insight on these items. Then use that data to drive your decision-making about how much to offer. Just don’t let delusions of getting a champagne home on a beer budget get the best of you.
2. Don’t let up when you get into contract. The post-contract period can feel anticlimactic, after the frenzy of the house hunt and the drama of negotiations. But if you want to get to a successful close and be happy with your home over the long term, you need to stay just as engaged during escrow as you were during the house hunt. Be prompt in delivering documents to your lenders, even if the requests seem bizarre. Show up to your inspections - in person. Your mere presence creates the opportunity for inspectors to give you a much more colorful commentary on the ins and outs of the house than you can ever get from a mere written report. They also will often show you where emergency shutoffs are for your utilities and even help you figure out how to operate things. But once the inspection reports come in, there’s more for you to do: read them. Read your HOA disclosures - all of them. Read the seller’s disclosures. Read the inspection reports. Ask questions about the things you don’t understand - and keep asking until you do understand. And follow directions: if your home inspector says you need to get a specialist out to look at something electrical, or your chimney inspector says you need to ditch a broken chimney that is creating an earthquake hazard: do it.
3. Get comfortable with the emotional Catch-22 of this market. Conventional wisdom advises buyers not to get emotional about a property. But let’s be real - it’s easy to fall in love with a home and, frankly, you should have some level of excitement about a place on which you’re about to spend such a vast amount of your hard-earned money, and in which you’ll be spending many moments of your life.
So, to make an offer at all, you should be somewhat emotional about a place or, well, it might not be the right place. But here’s the Catch-22: in many local markets right now, a wise buyer should also be prepared to lose at least a few properties before they are successful in scoring “the one.” And you don’t want your heart to get totally broken every time you lose out to a higher offer. It’s essential to get right back on the house hunting-and-offer making horse, stat.
How do you do that? Detachment. Cultivate the ability to be excited and like, even love a home, without getting overly attached to the outcome of it becoming yours. You do your best, pushing yourself to make the best, cleanest offer you can within the realm of what you can afford and what the comps support, and then you let go of the outcome. When the home you’re making an offer on is meant to be yours and you take this approach, things will fall into place.
4. See “failure” as course-correction. If you lose ten houses to multiple offers this Spring, the solution is not to get dejected, stop house hunting and go spend your down payment on a summer trip to Cabo. As in life, you should see every house hunting “failure” - as a course-correction. Every home you make an offer on, but don’t get, can clue you into something you can do differently to get closer to dream home owner status.
Getting overbid? Look in a lower price range, or at homes that need a bit of work.
Seeing homes go pending before you can get out to see them? Set up alerts, and we’ll notify you when new listings come on the market that meet your criteria. And work with your agent to be diligent about getting in to see new “possible” properties immediately, so they don’t sneak out from under you.
In fact, many agents are great at helping you understand what’s not working after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to buy a home and, more importantly, helping you put a plan of action in place for course-correcting your way to house hunt success.
5. House hunting couples: get it together. On a market like today’s, hesitation kills deals. When co-buyers are not on the same page about what’s important, the time between seeing a home, deciding to make an offer and deciding how much to offer can be much longer than it should be. The delay can be devastating - many a dream home has been sold to the highest bidder while a couple argues over whether it’s the one.
Now, on some level, it can be very clarifying and even help to broker a compromise to get out of the abstract conversations about home features and amenities on paper, and to get into real properties in the real world. But it’s also helpful to bring your agent into the conversation as early on as possible and, ideally, before one party falls in love with any property. Many agents have experience helping couples sort through these issues and determine a property-finding action plan and set of priorities that works for everyone.
As NYC agent Renee Fishman recently commented on a recent post 5 Tips for Regret-Free Home Buying During This Spring’s Hot Market, “where I work, sometimes one partner wants outdoor space more than anything while the other wants more closet space (both amenities are at a premium). I often find myself navigating between them by helping them understand how they are communicating with each other -- the job of a good real estate agent is to be an expert in communication dynamics as much as any other part of the process.”
But your agent can’t help you with this - or might not feel comfortable butting into your dispute - if you don’t let them know that there’s a stalemate and invite them to mediate. And this goes not only for spouses and partners, but to anyone who is co-buying with anyone else - whether you are buying a duplex with your BFF or your parents are going on title with you.
Agents: What mindset shifts do you most often see successful buyers make during the home buying process?
All: You should follow Tara and Trulia on Facebook!
Surprisingly, this calculus of what home upgrades are (and aren’t) worth doing gets slightly more complicated in the context of preparing a home for sale. It seems like it should be even more simple - dollars in vs. dollars out. But most agents or stagers will tell you that preparing a property for listing is more art than science, in that there are many human factors that must be weighed and balanced against the costs involved.
For instance, whether a given project is worth doing sometimes depends on the current state of the property vis-a-vis local buyers’ expectations at that price range. It can also depend on the relative aesthetic and perceptual boost that a particular project promises, and on any negatives that the property needs to compensate for. The seller’s budget and even local municipal codes all must be factored in.
Accordingly, there’s no single set of black-and-white rules that apply to every property and every seller. But here are some rules of thumb and food for thought that you should walk through with your agent or stager if you’re in the process of trying to figure out which tasks to do - and which to leave for your home’s next owner - before you put your place on the market.
FIX: Paint. There is simply no accounting for the massive upgrade a fresh coat of paint can bring to the look and feel of your home, inside and out - especially given the relatively low cost and high do-it-yourself-ability of painting. A home that is freshly painted inside and out reads as fresh, clean and ready for new life, from a buyer’s perspective. A taupe wall with white trims and moldings has essentially become the new white wall of this generation - the aim is to go neutral, not boring.
If you can’t afford the time or cost to paint everything, take a hard look at your walls and rooms and see which hallway or room(s) need it the most. Also, painting your trims, doors and moldings can go a long way toward de-shabbifying a place. Similarly, on the exterior of your home, I cannot overstate the polish potential of painting the trims a bright or deep, color. Changing the color and refreshing the paint on your exterior shutters, doors and eaves gives a powerful update and burst of color to the place.
Check in with your stager and agent about your color palette for any pre-listing paint projects before you have the hardware folks mix up a vat of chartreuse semi-gloss for the kitchen walls.
DON’T FIX: That uber-luxe kitchen remodel you always wanted. Do gorgeous kitchens sell homes? Yes. But they also easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Unless your home’s existing kitchen is truly cringe-worthy, a high-end overhaul just before listing is not likely to even recoup what you spend on it. I advise sellers who are hemming and hawing about a kitchen remodel to do it while they and their families can still enjoy it. If you’ve already decided to move on from the home and the kitchen is so bad as to render the place un-sellable, your agent and stager can help you come up with a moderate plan for whipping it into shape without breaking the bank. Repainting or refacing cabinets (instead of replacing them), installing butcher block counters (vs. marble or stone) and replacing your avocado green appliances with nice GE or Kenmore versions (vs. Wolf and Miele) might be the route to go.
Caveat: if your home is competing with luxury properties and you insist on listing it at top dollar, you might actually have to go with a higher-end kitchen upgrade plan before you list it. Think long and hard about whether this make more sense than simply discounting the property or offering a kitchen upgrade credit to the buyer.
FIX: Plumbing problems. Plumbing leaks make noise, cause damage to the wood structure and areas around them and are often believed by buyers to cost more to fix than they actually do. In some parts of the home, plumbing leaks are prone to being called out as conditions conducive to long-term structural problems by pest and structural inspectors. If you can have a handyman or plumber come in and eliminate drips and leaks, you will simultaneously eliminate some buyers’ objections or concerns about your home.
And this goes for sewer line issues, too. An increasing number of areas are now requiring that the sewer line from home to the sewer main in the street be inspected before or during a home’s sale - and be repaired or replaced if it is cracked or broken. If you’ve had chronic backups or your home’s sewer line is simply due for an inspection, work with your agent to get the appropriate inspector out there now to get an understanding of what sewer line work will need to be done to comply with any local point-of-sale ordinances.
A new sewer line is a great draw for a buyer, as is one with a clean bill of health. If your line does need work, you and your agent might decide not to repair or replace it, based on your budget, how much of a seller’s market your area is currently experiencing, legal requirements and standard practices in your area. But you should have the state of the sewer line in mind, for better or for worse, before you set the list price for your home and begin preparing your disclosures for prospective buyers.
DON’T FIX: Malfunctioning, costly appliances. Consider offering a credit for the buyer to use to replace appliances that don’t work - or don’t work well. Buyers appreciate the ability to select their own new appliances on your dime. That said, it can be difficult for some buyers to get past the collective aura of bad repair that arises when a home has a whole host of really old or beat up appliances. In some cases, it might even make sense to simply remove an appliance entirely, without replacing it at all. In others, a replacement or a credit might make more sense - this is a topic for discussion with your listing agent, who should have a good understanding of what’s normal in your area and important to local buyers.
If you do decide to replace an appliance, consider resources like Craigslist, where you might be able to find used items in good repair at a fraction of the new cost.
Caveat: if you are in a price point or area where the average buyer uses an FHA loan to finance their home, there are certain appliances which must be in the home at closing, like a functional stove. Discuss with your agent before you start ditching the old appliances.
FIX: Old and outdated hardware, fixtures and finishes. Hardware can refer to the little metalworks that make things work (or not) throughout your home, like hinges that make a door hard to close, cabinet and drawer handles and pulls or your closet door and drawer slides. These are all the sorts of things buyers test out while they’re viewing a home. However, it also includes things that might work fine, but look outdated, like light switches, door knockers and kick plates. Hardware, as a general rule, is inexpensive as home fixes go - if it will make your home function more smoothly and look like it’s been well cared-for, the low investment is well worth an upgrade.
Scuffed and scratched wood floors; 80’s era carpet, gold-plate lighting and faucet fixtures and even more recent upgrades that have seen better days (e.g. bowing and warped laminate floor sections) should all go on the list of finishes and fixtures to fix or replace before you list. All cracks, chips, scuffs and nicks should go on the list, for that matter.
The rationale is the same: they are a highly cost-efficient fix vis-a-vis the big bang they make on your home’s appearance to buyers.
DON’T FIX: Replacing old windows. This is a project that many crave to do, especially if the windows are single-pane, aluminum framed, or involve rotten wood casings. But it’s also a project that can easily become extremely expensive, and one that often snowballs into costly, time-consuming framing repairs. Aluminum frames around windows can sometimes be spruced or painted to make them look at bit better, if absolutely necessary. And even old wood windows that have issues often create a generally charming feeling that helps a buyer see the home’s potential they can restore, better than if you replace it with inexpensive fiberglass windows before listing the place for sale.
This advice is primarily for those tempted to replace a whole house worth of windows - if you have one window that is particularly offensive or allows water in, or even have multiple window panes that are cracked or broken, these are things you might want to repair or replace. Your agent can help you make a suitable action plan on this score.
By contrast, if you have old, dinged, ugly or broken doors, toilets and sinks anywhere in your house, these are things you may want to rip out and replace before listing your home. You might be amazed at how fast and inexpensively these fixes can be done, and how much of a stylistic upgrade and update you can get out of them.
Recent Sellers: What fixes did you do before you listed your home? How did that work out, in the end?
Agents: What other fixes do you recommend sellers-to-be do - or refrain from doing? Why?
ALL: You should follow Tara and Trulia on Facebook!
These are the outliers. And being the outlier, in this particular context, is not a fun place to be. When all the other listings seem to be flying off the market and yours seems to be stuck, it’s easy to delve into fear, panic and even depression.
Here’s a glimmer of hope: there is a pretty short list of reasons that most slow-to-sell homes lag on the market. You’ve probably heard at least a couple of them before, maybe even from your real estate agent. But sometimes hearing things a few times, from different people and at the right moment in time can cause the shift in position that will power a shift in the situations that are keeping your home sale stuck - and your life plans stuck with it.
1. You’re stuck on a too-high price. If your home has been sitting on the market for significantly longer than average, the market has spoken. And it’s saying: the price is too high vis-a-vis the current condition of the market and the property. Period.
There are only three variables in this equation - which is helpful, because it means there are really only three ways to fix this situation:
- change the condition of your property
- wait until your market conditions change to support a higher price
- change the list price.
That’s it. That’s all there really is. For most sellers the simplest, most sensible of these three variables is to modify is the list price. This is especially so in cases where the home is in good basic condition, is well-staged, and other homes nearby are flying off the market. The fact that you don’t want to hear that your home is overpriced doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.
Today’s market is ascending in most areas, which simply means that prices are on the rise. Some sellers are waiting to list their homes, hoping that prices will be higher in the years to come. But if you want and need to sell your home sooner than later or you are hoping to sell in time to buy your next home before prices rise much higher, holding out for a higher price probably doesn’t make sense.
In fact, your resistance to making a necessary price cut could backfire. Buyers often keep their eye on overpriced but otherwise nice homes, waiting until they suspect the seller’s desperation will make them more receptive to a lowball offer.
2. Your home is not be fully exposed to the market. So the truth that the market has spoken on the matter of overpricing does have one caveat: it assumes the market has actually been exposed to your home. If your home’s marketing plan has been limited to that red-and-black For Sale sign you got at the hardware store and stuck in the lawn, chances are good that your home is lagging because your area’s community of buyers and brokers have no idea it is on the market!
Other common conditions of home sale-preventing underexposure include:
- Homes that are not listed on the area’s Multiple Listing Service or MLS
- Homes that are not listed on major real estate search engines, like Trulia
- Homes that are very difficult to show or are rarely made available for viewing
- Homes that are listed online with no, few or poor quality property photos.
If your home is lagging on the market and any of the above apply to your listing, they could be the culprit. If you chose a listing agent who has a strong track record of success selling homes, these sorts of listing issues can sometimes reflect a glitch in the system. So, do a double check - Google your address and see how your home is represented online. If you find any of these issues, work with your agent to get them fixed.
If you didn’t engage a listing agent at all and your home is simply not moving, it might be time to reconsider and course-correct your home-selling plan.
3. Your home has a glaring issue that needs resolving. Many times, a big condition issue can cause a home to sit on the market unless and until the seller either (a) fixes the issue, (b) offers a credit or incentive to offset the issue or (c ) reduces the price so low that a buyer thinks the bargain is worth the hassle. Some situations are too costly for a seller to fix (e.g., foundation needs replacing), and others are not fix-able (nuclear power plant next door). In these situations, reducing the price might be the only resolution.
But other listings are sabotaged by highly fixable issues the seller simply might not be willing to admit are at the root of the problem. You might love the highlighter yellow you chose to paint all of your home’s interior walls, the wall-to-wall powder blue sculpted carpet or the “rustic” look of the weathered paint, fences and trims on the exterior. Or maybe you don’t love them, but you think buyers should just look past these issues.
Your home’s slowness to move is a wake-call. The average buyers’ tastes might simply differ from yours. Or maybe in your area and price range, buyers don’t have to look past issues to find a home that is move-in ready. To concern yourself about what buyers “should” be willing to do is to live in a fantasy world - and as long as you’re there, your home won’t move in real life.
4. You’re not really ready to move on. If none of your agent’s advice about how to shift your home’s fate makes sense, if everything on this list strikes you as outrageous, if even your friends’ and family members’ urgings to cut the list price makes you think the whole world must be crazy, ask yourself this question: are you really, truly ready to move on?
It’s not at all bizarre for home sellers who are deeply attached to a longtime family home, or somewhat fearful about the next phase of their lives to make decisions around their home’s listing that keep it from selling. I once showed a house where there were people still sleeping, in beds that were - bizarrely - in the living room, while the listing agent walked my buyer and I through the place. If you find yourself in a situation where your head is telling you that cutting the price is the right thing to do, but your heart makes you do everything possible to keep the home from being shown, consider whether you are truly ready to move on.
If you ultimately decide that you do want or need to sell the home and move on, but are anxious or fearful for whatever reason, don’t take your fear out on your listing. Notice where your decisions and behavior might be sabotaging the higher purpose of getting your home sold and manage your own mindset so you can get out of the way of your own progress.
Past Sellers: Did your home lag, even in a hot market? What was the game-changer for your home?
Buyers + Agents: What issues do you see that keep homes from selling?
ALL: You should follow Tara and Trulia on Facebook!
But I understand the urge to post them -- Spring Cleaning is one of those tasks that is daunting and dread-making until you’re done, and you feel the great sense of accomplishment, freshness and possibility of your post-cleaning space.
Removing clutter at home removes obstacles to mental clarity by stopping up those little nagging drains that leak a little bit more of your energy every time you see that pile of papers that need shredding or the boxes of toys your kids no longer use. And the same goes for Spring Cleaning your credit report in advance of kicking off your house hunt. It’s stressful to have little credit report glitches get in your way and hold up the process after you’re already in heated house hunt mode.
Getting out in front of potential financing issues by doing a DIY credit cleaning gives you the chance to remove all those glitches and obstacles to a smooth loan approval, underwriting and home buying transaction.
Here’s how to do-it-yourself:
1. Do one scan for flat-out errors. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and order your credit reports from all three reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Look for accounts that aren’t yours, that have long been closed or otherwise are erroneously reported (e.g., payments listed as late that were actually on-time, a short sale listed as a foreclosure, etc.). Follow the instructions on the reports to dispute such report errors immediately - both online/on the phone and in writing.
Be prepared that it might even take several rounds of disputes and submissions of documents proving your case to ultimately clear everything up - if you experience this, make sure to loop your mortgage pro in after the first dispute round, rather than waiting months and months to even make the first call. It might be the case that the hard-to-dispute items are simply not making much of a difference to your ability to get a home loan.
2. Do another scan for small reporting inaccuracies you think don’t make a difference - but do. In particular, you’re looking for things like:
- delinquencies that should have aged off
- balances listed as higher than they truly are
- limits listed as lower than they really are, and
- short sales/foreclosures that are improperly dated, among other things.
Paying bills late or not at all is only one thing that dings your credit report and score. Having a maxed out credit account (loan, line or card) limits is another. So, if your credit report shows your balances as higher than they actually are or your limits as lower than they actually are, this by itself can actually impair your credit score.
These sorts of little, technical errors can, cumulatively, create a serious, negative impact on your credit score. They are very common - and commonly overlooked by consumers who are looking primarily for big, bad errors and wrong reporting that might indicate identity theft or other nefarious goings-on. So take a second tour through your credit reports looking for inaccurate balances and limits.
In the same vein, triple-check the dates of any delinquent payments, collections, short sale(s), foreclosure(s), or bankruptcies that are legitimately reported. Another common error is for these sorts of derogatory credit marks to have been dated inaccurately. Delinquencies should age entirely off your report after 7 years, and bankruptcies after 10. The precise date of a short sale or foreclosure can actually make or break your ability to qualify for a home loan - so make sure it is reported accurately.
3. Pay the right things off - and take care not to pay off accounts you need to show your responsible use of credit. A few things that most lenders will demand you settle, bring current or pay off entirely before you can buy a home:
- accounts in collections
- state and federal tax liens
- past home loans or lines of credit in default that were not extinguished through foreclosure or short sale (e.g., second loans, home equity lines of credit, etc.)
- defaulted federal student loans (for FHA loan applicants).
If you do have to negotiate with any such creditors for settlements or repayment plans, consider including the way they report the account as one of the negotiables in your settlement deal. Consult with your mortgage professional about how you should ask the creditor to report the resolution as part of the settlement - you might not get it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.
Your mortgage pro can also help you understand how you should sequence and prioritize the various items on this little laundry list. For example, some lenders might allow you to simply extinguish a tax lien at closing, while most FHA loans won’t allow for a credit pre-approval while you have a defaulted federal student loan on your report.
But do exercise some caution when you start paying off debt in preparation for home buying. Some house hunters take the opportunity to pay all their debt off and close out old, unused accounts, thinking it will document their readiness for the financial responsibilities of homeownership. Not so: credit scores are optimized when they show that you (a) have credit available to you, and (b) are responsible in how you use it. The ideal for the FICO score calculations is to be using roughly 30 percent of the credit available to you on your accounts. So don’t pay them entirely off, and whatever you do, don’t close accounts that are open and/or current.
That said, don’t go out charging up a storm trying to bring zero balance accounts up to 30 percent credit limit usage. A flurry of new charges can upset your debt-to-income ratio and be seen by the FICO calculating robots as a sign of potential financial distress.
4. Get your mortgage pro to help. Up to now, you’ve been working on the reports that you can pull yourself, for free, as mandated under the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) through AnnualCreditReport.com. These reports are free and are the smart starting point for your credit Spring Cleaning, but they have two important shortcomings:
(1) They are almost never identical to the report your lender will actually use as the basis of your mortgage application, and
(2) They do not include the FICO credit score on which lending decisions are based.
So, once you’ve dealt with any major or minor reporting errors you detect on the free reports, get your mortgage pro in the loop (if you haven’t already) and ask them to pull your report and FICO score, and help you to troubleshoot it. From the report, they can tell you whether you’ll have any challenges qualifying at the price range you desire and, if so, they can help you put a plan of action into place for finishing up your credit fitness program.
Many mortgage pros have software or expertise that can power a set of recommendations about what you need to do to complete your credit report Spring Clean, like paying 3 particular accounts down by a specific dollar amount, each. Also, they generally have access to Rapid Rescore or similar programs that will have your report updated and your credit score revised within a day or two after you pay a bill down or execute your mortgage broker’s other score-boosting advice. (By contrast, it can take 30 days or more it can take for your score to be updated if you dispute your report on your own.)
5. Ask about augmenting your report with non-traditional “tradelines,” if needed. If you simply don’t have much credit because you like to pay cash, kudos to you for managing your finances responsibly. Increasingly, lenders will allow borrowers to use non-traditional accounts to document their credit history. If you can document your history of paying your rent, health insurance, or even child care bills on time, every time, for at least 12 months, talk to your mortgage professional about whether you can use any of these accounts to prove yourself creditworthy to mortgage lenders.
ALL: Is anyone Spring Cleaning their credit report right now? What have you found - any tips or insights you can share?
Everyone: You should follow Tara and Trulia on Facebook!
Most homeowners who have formal living and dining rooms rarely use them (Thanksgiving and Christmas are but two days of the year). Similarly, millions of square feet in great rooms, breakfast nooks, laundry rooms and hallways and even “spare” bedrooms go underused - space wasted most or all of the year.
Sometimes this is simply a sign that you have a really great kitchen or bedroom that you love - and love to be in. But it’s often an indicator that there might be a little disconnect between your everyday life and the way you’ve chosen to configure your home. In either case, given the cost of those precious square feet, it is a worthwhile endeavor to do what you can to make as many of them as lovable and livable as possible!
There is a cure for the scourge of wasted space: rethinking your rooms. The fact that a room is called a dining room or a breakfast area does not mean that’s the only function you can do there. In fact, I propose that buyers and owners alike might want to spend some time this Spring rethinking and rearranging your rooms to live to the very edges of your precious square footage. Here are a few ideas for repurposing your underused spaces at home:
1. Too-small bedroom into closet or extra bathroom. If you have a bedroom so tiny that it’s barely usable as such, and only when the occasional guest rolls into town, consider getting a sleeper sofa or making friends with a concierge at the hotel down town and converting the little bedroom into an amazing closet. I did this at my last home - simply opened up the wall between the small room and the master, inserted floor to ceiling closet doors and called in a closet organizing company to help trick my new closet out with shoe racks, sweater shelves, rods at varying heights and drawers.
Best. Closet. Ever. And to boot, I no longer found myself griping about the unusable little room!
If you have a little more money to invest and could use an extra bathroom, a too-small bedroom makes for a good, efficient bathroom - especially if it’s located next to another bathroom, so the plumbing already exists.
2. Wide hallway or under-stairs space into study or storage areas. You might be thinking: “Are you nuts lady? I don’t have any “extra” rooms!” Even if every proper room in your home is spoken for and being used, you might still be able to find underutilized areas and spaces in your home that you can arrange more efficiently and squeeze maximum use out of those square feet. Common culprits are very wide hallways and spaces under the stairs, both of which make excellent spaces for custom built-in storage cabinets or desks. Need some inspiration? Visit online home design wonderland Houzz, where there’s a whole category for under-stair design ideas and pics from real homes.
3. Dining room into office or game room. Probably the number one room conversion I hear homeowners consider is the change of a formal dining room into an office. Think about it - you might use the dining room a couple of days a year - a couple of weeks, max, if you are an avid entertainer or dinner party host. But these days, many people work at home, at least part of the time, and running a household is a job of its own, generating papers, files and bills galore. Kids also need a study area for homework and school projects.
Now, with wifi and laptops, all these work and study activities can happen anywhere in a home. But many families find their best case scenario is to have one room with well-arranged desks, lighting, seating, monitors and office supplies, where one or many family members can contain their work and study activities and clutter. This promotes balance and calm in the rest of the home and minimizes distractions to boost focus.
4. Breakfast nook into computer or bill-paying area. There’s something very sweet and romantic about the notion of a breakfast nook. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a nook and an eat-in kitchen island or other casual dining area, you might find yourself using the nook more for organizing the family calendars and paying the bills than for eating. If this is how things go for you, it might make sense to lean on into what you’re already using this space for and optimize it by bringing organization and storage solutions to the area to cut clutter and make even your bill paying a bit more enjoyable.
Consider installing a bulletin or chalk board, a table with a drawer in which you can stash your laptop and ensure you have drawer storage for your files, checkbook, pens or other objects you need to handle the family business.
5. Too-large great room into living, dining, study and play area. A surprising number of homeowners with great rooms find that they furnish these massive, vaulted rooms beautifully upon moving in, never to enter more than a corner of the space again. A great room presents the perfect opportunity to carve out and repurpose the space you have in a way that aligns with the activities your family actually does on a regular basis. If you have a great room, but no casual dining space, why not make the area nearest to the kitchen into a breakfast nook-inspired dining area - there are scads of bar-height tables and stools on the market for precisely this purpose. No spare room for an office? Consider setting up a desk, chair and lamps or whatever other office area equipment your family needs in one segment of the great room.
And there’s absolutely no reason you can’t use furniture and carpets to turn your great room into more of a multipurpose room, strategically laying things out and arranging furnishings to host your family’s living, dining, study and recreation areas all within four walls.
6. Basement or laundry room into mudroom or pet grooming area. Many people think “underused space” and what instantly comes to mind is the basement. Basements have been finished with sheet rock, painted, carpeted and turned into living areas as long as human beings have been into home improvement. But here’s the rub: in many parts of the country, older homes were built over raised basements because the builders knew the lower areas were susceptible to flooding in the rain or snow. In such areas and cases, it might not make sense to finish the basement with carpet and other things that will be ruined if they get wet.
That said, basements often have entry doors to the exterior of the home, and many have plumbing. This makes them the ideal site for a tiled mudroom, with racks and shelves for family members to stash their muddy, wet shoes, coats, umbrellas and even sports gear - and a sink or other area where they can clean up a bit so as not to track their wintry messes upstairs. Same goes for oversized laundry rooms that were built in the days before full-sized stacking, front-loaders were even a possibility - if you have oodles of extra laundry room space, rethink it into a mudroom/laundry room combo.
If you live in an area with mild winters, but you have canine family members, the very features which make basements and laundry rooms great mudrooms render them prime sports for installing a pet bath or shower area.
7. Formal living room into library. Are you a book junkie? It’s relatively harmless, as vices go, with one exception: it can be excessively space consuming. By this I mean, it can be excessively clutter-creating, if you don’t get a handle on it. If you have a formal living or dining room that is simply not being used, consider lining the walls with bookshelves - bought or built in - and converting the space into a library. Comfortable, well-lit seating and a desk or writing area will finish the room off.
If books don’t float your boat or you have switched entirely over to e-reading, this same model can be applied to any space-sucking collection that you spend more time enjoying than you spend in your formal living or dining room.
P.S.: For a step-by-step room rethink plan, and many inspirational photos check out the book Right-Sizing Your Home: Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle, by Gale Stevens.
ALL: Have you ever repurposed a room? What was it before, and what did you do with it? Were you happy with the results? Please share!
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