Space is Money. Maximize it.
Having space, whether actual or just a sense of it, is a big component of what attracts people to a property. If you are selling, the game is to use these concepts to your advantage by creating as much sense of space as you can. If you are buying, the idea is to recognize what the actual living space is like despite the concepts explored below either being totally followed or totally ignored.
I have seen many very clear examples that have shown tens of thousands of dollars of difference in value due to use of space. One case that stands out in my memory is when I showed two sides of a very nicely built duplex that both happened to be listed at the same time. Except for only the tiniest of differences (one had a small window above the staircase, too high to peer directly through) the places were identical. The presentation of them differed because side A was very poorly presented and side B was well presented. Side A was being rented to students who were in the process of moving out which basically means it was a disaster inside. The condition of the property was fine, it’s just that everything was dirty and there were boxes, clutter, trash and personal items scattered everywhere throughout the home. Of course, a lack of cleanliness doesn’t help, but let’s focus on how having things strewn everywhere affects the Buyer’s sense of comfort because it is something I see quite often, particulartly in rentals that are for sale. Side B… was pristine. Clean, no clutter. Tastefully and minimally decorated, lights on and drapes open. You felt like you could breathe easily. Side B was something like 15k higher than Side A. I pointed out to my clients that these two places were the same and a broom and a bucket of soapy water made for an opportunity to choose Side A and save some real money. But that didn’t matter in their eyes. That small window above the stairs was in their eyes the justification for the higher price and they considered the place seriously. (Don’t worry, in the end we found them an even better deal.)
Think about that. Even in a situation like this with the Realtor who is able to see past the presentation and is pointing out the easy money, the Buyer still wants the more expensive property. Clutter kills space and it kills the value of a property. I would say that by and large Sellers understand this, but even so there are many who simply don’t get it. In the end, logic usually takes a backseat to how people feel while they are in the home they are thinking of buying. How they feel when they are there is the biggest factor for most Buyers. This is a crucial point for both Buyers and Sellers to keep in mind.
I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and here is a breakdown of what I think are the major factors in creating space:
Floor plan A good floor plan can fool you into thinking a property is bigger than it really is. In general I am pretty good at guesstimating the square footage of a place just by looking at it for a minute or two but once in a while I realize I was totally off when I look at the listing sheet in my hand and then I wonder why. It’s usually because of the floor plan, a kind of hidden evidence of brilliance on the part of whichever architect designed the place. It’s pretty difficult and expensive to change what you’ve got on this one. So, in most cases it’s best to make the most of what you’ve got and in the odd case maybe removing a wall or adding a door or window in the right spot is worthwhile.
Furniture Placement A vacant property feels wide open and is a blank canvas for the Buyer’s ideas but developers stage a new home in a project so that the sense of a beautiful lifestyle is evident and needs less imagination to be seen. Most homes on the market still have people living in them and having the couch and tables and chairs in certain spots have served the Seller very well for many years. At the time of listing, however, it is worth reviewing their placement and perhaps considering selling some of them or putting them in storage until the home sells. In some cases, even just rotating a couch can make a big difference in how homey the property feels to prospective Buyers. For example, if you have a small room with a couch that is just facing a nearby blank wall, it will feel smaller that if it is facing the view out the window, the fireplace or simply out of the way of where foot traffic naturally goes.
Windows Windows provide two things: views and light! Sometimes the view isn’t worth showing off but Sellers shouldn’t totally close those blinds. Even when the view is nothing but the wall of the neighbour’s garage or the condo complex’s parking lot it is still a good idea to leave the blinds slightly open so that at least the light gets through. In general though, leave those blinds and curtains open so that it doesn’t feel like the space ends at the wall, but instead continues to the outdoors. This goes double. no… triple if you have any kind of ocean, mountain, natural or distant city view.
Lights In most properties I show I am turning on all the lights as soon as I open the door. More light feels like more space. Some places have bright lights but others are going for more of that cozy/warm feeling of dimmer lights and more subdued, possibly darker colours. Sellers should go with the former. When it comes to creating space, lots of light is key. Buyers viewing a property have just came from outside in the daytime and even if a home is pretty well lit, it will seem dark at first impression because the outside is so much brighter. It takes more time for eyes to adjust than it usually takes people to be turned on or turned off by a property.
Colours In addition to what I mention just above about lighter vs. darker colours, Sellers also need to remember that their tastes are their tastes. Personally, I love colours and I like rich homey warm things like victorian style wallpaper. My tastes (too) are a poor choice for selling a home so don’t be offended if I tell you that your tastes don’t work for selling either. “It’s just business.” as they say. The basic is always some sort of off white colour and in recent years a light beige has been the other go to. Buyers whose minds are tuned in to the process will realize that changing colours of a home is akin to a change of makeup. Not that big of a deal and being able to see past it will enable you to see opportunities that others can’t.
Clutter It is, or at least should be, fairly obvious that having less clutter in your home creates a sense of space. A Seller should try to think of having less furniture, less stuff on the counters in the kitchen, fewer knick knacks laying around, fewer clothes or boxes in the closet and so on. Also, let’s no forget the clutter of busy decor. Very floral wallpaper or lots of paintings, posters and pieces of art on the walls don’t take up floor space or change the function of the space inside a property but if you have a lot of it, it takes away the sense of that space. It also screams of the Sellers tastes and personality and makes it hard for the Buyer to see themselves in the home. I remember one property I showed in my first year of real estate that was a beautiful home full of character that was clearly owned by a prolific artist. The home was full of really amazing and creative works of art and even the garden path was painted with gorgeous patterns. My clients and I had a great time looking through the house but it was too hard to see them in it because all we could see was the artistic spirit of the current owner. Sellers should be having yard sales and putting things in storage before putting their home on the market. Buyers need to try to see the actual space and not be swayed one way or the other by how much stuff is currently in it because after all, the stuff that’s there now won’t take up space in the same way theirs will.
I previously wrote about what creates value in real estate, and it is worth noting that space was at the top of the list but of course it is also worth noting that there are other factors that I listed as well.
Also, take a close look at the photo I have included in this post. This is a relatively fancy and modern home, but it is a great case study because it is the epitomy of everything I mention above.