Q&A: How to house hunt with future remodeling in mind?

RabucinwindowsQuestion: I'm getting ready to embark on a house hunt here in Los Angeles. Beyond dealing with the particulars of finding a place to buy, which is treacherous enough, I'd like to get a headstart on the remodeling. Obviously, I don't have specs for my new digs to really plan anything out, but I'd like to gather some ideas of how I'd like my future space to be organized. I know I should be consulting design magazines, but which ones? Please keep in mind that I'm a total design novice with absolutely no budget. Is there a good resource for someone like myself who's just starting out? What kinds of things should I keep in mind as I try to visualize my TBD home? And how do I reconcile my future design aspirations with my current house hunt? I know these are fairly wide and far-reaching questions, but any advice on these matters would be greatly appreciated as I'm starting from scratch.

— Milla

Answer: Milla, congratulations on embarking on home ownership.

First of all, as this is Los Angeles, why not be on TV while you search for your home? A new show called "Good Buy?" is looking for people about to embark on a home search, and it’s being shot in L.A. What do you get? A free evaluation of the homes you’re considering buying. And since the market is so slow right now, you’ll have time to evaluate homes in a leisurely manner without getting outbid! Read "Good Buy?" FAQs. And there’s always the good old "House Hunters" TV show, which is also looking for home buyers to be on TV. You can fill out a "House Hunters" application here.

Before you do that, though, I think it’s very smart to start looking at magazines now, before you look for a house to buy. And here is an exercise I've learned from several talented L.A. designers.

I suggest you get a wide range of magazines and tear out pages whenever you see something that strikes you as cool, amazing or beautiful. Also, tear out pages that make you think: “How awful!” Give your assessment no more than a few seconds. Don’t sit there, at this point, and study the rooms. Just glance, react and tear.

Get your two stacks of pages going. After you’re done, study the two stacks slowly and carefully. You’ll start to see some similarities. For instance, you might notice that all the pages in your “awful” pile have wrought iron. Or it may be all the pages in your “wonderful” pile have wrought iron. You’ll see colors and shapes and materials in common.

I believe if you do this exercise (do it, rather than just think about it), then you will have a knowingness when you go to look at homes for sale. I just read a survey of people and their regrets when remodeling, and one of the most common regrets was not doing enough research in advance. This research will help you buy the house that is consistent with your future dreams.

What kinds of magazines? You might want to pick up Elle Décor, Architectural Digest, Dwell, Traditional Home, Home magazine and anything else that catches your eye.

After you buy your home, it should then be leaning toward the style you like, and you can find economical ways to expand on that beauty.

Best of luck to you!

2 Comments on Q&A: How to house hunt with future remodeling in mind?

  1. jmart

    i would watch out for sheila’s advice tip #1 “( e.g., it’s usually cheaper to add a second story than to spread out horizontally) “.
    It is almost always more expensive to go up rather than out. Adding second stories to existing homes usually mean a significant structural upgrade in the framing and new foundations (which means tearing apart a portion of the bottom floor).
    I suspect the advice from sheila was a typo.

  2. sheila

    i might add to that these 5 topics to research (sorry i’m too lazy to cite specific resources!):
    1. find out what is REALLY expensive to fix (foundation issues come to mind) and what is REALLY cheap to fix (paint, basic landscaping, interior decorating) and what is in-between (moving interior walls, flooring, built-ins, windows), ditto for additions( e.g., it’s usually cheaper to add a second story than to spread out horizontally) so you can factor that in;
    2. sketch out your lifestyle over a month’s time. do you like throwing dinner parties? hate cleaning all the time? suffer from bad allergies? do you have kids? work from home? love gardening? the design must suit your lifestyle or it’s going to really irritate you, no matter how magazine-perfect it looks;
    3. some people will obsess over “resale values” and making sure your house is generic enough to appeal to the next buyer, so you may want to research the remodeling magazines for the types of changes which get you the best resale value if you only plan on being in the house a short while (kitchens, bathrooms and roofs have been hot lately). i tend to prefer to design to my own taste and stay put, since i am of the ‘it’s my living space” category more than the “it’s my investment” category, but both are legitimate;
    4. find out what kind of permitting tricks there are in your neighborhood. where i live, there is a rule that if you add on less than 500 square feet in a single permit, you are exempt from all sorts of fees and if you do certain “green building” things, you are exempt from permitting fees and/or fast-tracked through the building dept, which can really help;
    5. please, please learn about “passive solar” design and green building techniques. part of this is researching, for example, energy star rated products and going back and forth between what objects will be IN your house and what design you house will have. save a ton of money and save the planet!
    good luck!