magnifierDo you enjoy looking at open houses, or visiting new home sites and seeing the models? Or are you hunting for a new Silicon Valley home in earnest and seeing tons of staged houses or condos? That can be a fun real estate exercise but there are omissions in some models or staged properties that you might not notice, so I wanted to just touch on those today.  I would like my readers to actively look for what may not be there – and to register for themselves whether it matters or not.

In many new or vacant & staged resale homes, all or most window coverings have been removed.  Why do this?  With older houses or condos, often the curtains or blinds are old and bent.  Always, they block some of the natural light.  By removing them, far more light pours in.  Most home buyers never notice that they are missing.  But it’s a hidden cost if you buy and there are no shades there!  It’s easy to spend thousands on window coverings for a home, so take note!

Another item often missing – perhaps usually missing – from newly constructed model homes are interior doors.  Not there are doors to bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms and the like.  Why leave these out?  First is probably a practical issue that they are always just a little bit in the path of traffic and likely to get banged up.  But visually, it makes rooms and doorways seem to be bigger, more open, less obstructed with the doors gone.  Furniture placement in a bedroom may be differently perceived without the door.   Is it a big deal? Maybe not.  But it is different with the doors in than not, so please just make a mental note.

Perhaps the last big item that you may find with staged and model homes is something I will call, broadly, “unrealistic use of space”.  Here are a few examples:

Let’s say there’s a home with a living room (but no family room).  It may be staged with a couch, two chairs, and a coffee table and an end table or two.  That’s well and good, but for most American households, there also needs to be room for a television, perhaps also a stereo or a cabinet for a CD player and so on.  Many homes will be decked out with bookshelves, a place for knickknacks, or in some cases, a piano or a box full of toys.    The living room is staged almost sparsely; but throw in a toybox and a TV set and suddenly you’ve got crowding.

Bedrooms are often portrayed extremely lightly on the furniture front.  A double bed, 2 nightstands and a tiny desk with cool decor may fill the room.  In reality, though, what you may have is a bed, one nightstand, a dresser, and a desk for homework.

Kitchens, of course, do not include the normal assortment of coffee pots, toasters, knife blocks, oil & vinegar etc.  Instead, there’s often an artfully placed wooden statue of a rooster (don’t ask me why) and words stuck on the wall with something like EAT telling you why you’re there.    Countertops are abnormally empty. Is that how most of us live?  I tell you, no!  Of course it’s good to remove the photos from the fridge and to put the cat food out of the way, but when you go through a model home, the decluttering is so extreme as to be nearly intoxicating.  But – and this is a big but – it’s not how most people actually live.

Dining rooms usually contain just the table and chairs.   Really – where do you put table clothes, napkins, place mats?  How about your better dishes and cutlery, your special candlesticks and all the rest of it?  In traditional dining rooms, there’d often be at least one massive piece of furniture and often  two of them for the linens, china, crystal etc.  A room with just the table and chairs may look nice, but is it realistic?

With models, one other gotcha is that often they are shown with the upgrades, not the base package.  Each builder has a different set of upgrades but what you fall in love with may not be the base price.   Landscaping in back yards is often not included, even if you see it in the model.  So price it out so that you don’t have the shock of your life later!

Finally, what about flipped  homes?  Townhouses, condominiums or houses which were bought either as original, tear down, or foreclosed but rehabbed and resold within a few months are dubbed “flipped” properties.   I wrote about the difference between “nicely remodeled vs flipped” on my Belwood of Los Gatos blog (Belwood is a neighborhood in east Los Gatos where my family and I live).  With a flipped property, there are MANY concerns.  Among them are that the work done is only going to be what’s visible (carpet and paint vs electrical, plumbing, foundation, sewer line, etc.).   Please click on the link above to read more on this topic.

When you visit new or highly staged homes, please make a checklist (at least a mental one) of what you are not seeing.  If you fall in love with a  home based on how it looks today, rather than how it may work with your life, you may feel later as though you made a mistake.  Best to go in just a little cynical and see how realistic it all is.  Bring a checklist – it may really help you in the long run.