7 Ingredients make a home irresistible to buyers — Story

7 Ingredients make a home irresistible to buyers - Story

7 ingredients make a home irresistible to buyers

Its an age-old real estate scenario: Buyers walk through a home for sale, and shrug. Theres nothing wrong with the house, really, they tell the agent. Its just that the house lacks a certain, indefinable something.

Mary Cook has heard it before, many times mostly from homebuilders who have called her in to put her finger on whats keeping people from buying their homes.

Cook lives at the intersection of design and marketing. Her Chicago-based interior design firm, Mary Cook Associates, outfits 75 to 80 model rooms a year for homebuilders around the country. Beyond merely looking good, the design plans for all those models share a single goal: to make consumers want to buy the homes because, for lack of a more concrete term, they feel right.

After nearly three decades in the business, Cook has firm ideas about what it takes to get there. She recently wrote a lavishly illustrated book that elaborates on seven principles she considers the ingredients for good design.

The Art of Space isnt a get it sold/home staging guide. Its her philosophy about what it takes to make a space look good for any purpose.

Nonetheless, Cook honed those principles while working for homebuilders who are trying to please customers, and she said in an interview that the seven ingredients also can be helpful to anybody with a for sale sign in the yard.

After all, they have customers to please too.

The book grew out of that fix it period that mushroomed into a business subspecialty during the recession, Cook said.

Eighty percent of our business for more than two years was being called in to fix things that somebody else had finished, Cook said. The builder (or property owner) would say, Theres something missing our customers cant relate to the space. They couldnt articulate what was wrong, but they knew something was amiss and they were coming to me to fix it.

Define your market. After about the 20th redo, Cook realized the rescues boiled down to analyzing and recasting seven aspects of the design, every time such things as getting color, lighting and texture right.

Also crucial is defining function a dining room should look like a dining room, for most buyers.

But first, she said, figure out your objective.

You have to decide who youre designing for, she said. In real estate terms, that means looking at neighborhood demographics to gauge whos most likely to buy, and emphasize how your house works for them. Maybe its a young couple just starting a family who want to know theres going to be space for toys and trikes. Or empty-nesters who may want less space and, certainly, less maintenance.

Perhaps the most crucial of the seven is to get the scale of the objects in a room right, she said. Many a time, Cook has seen skewed proportions in furnishings, art or ceiling heights drive an entire design scheme off the rails, she said. Theyre easy to spot the room may look crowded and cramped.

At the other end of the unbalanced scale, it may look empty and feel vacant, she said. It plays out often in the two-story, open spaces that proliferated in homes built during the housing boom, Cook said: When the proportions in those rooms are wrong, theyre really wrong.

Scale and proportion. Those big spaces call for big components, with an emphasis, again, on getting the proportion right, she said.

We often use overscale light fixtures in those spaces, she said. In almost every two-story family room, youll see a big light fixture. It helps to balance the space.

In a foyer with 20-foot ceilings thats featured in the book, Cook said its original spans of blank space towered over and intimidated visitors. She added wainscoting made from wooden trim pieces that rose about two-thirds of the way toward the ceiling, with a darker wall color above to add contrast. It got the big space under control, she said.

And if such carpentry is beyond the average homeowners budget, a similar softening effect can come from painting the walls in contrasting colors, she said.

The final element to warily tiptoe through is ornament, Cook said, though most any home stager would be more frank about it and call it clutter.

Your No. 1 objective should be to bring harmony to a room, and ornament will derail it faster than anything else, Cook said.

Clutter dismantles proportion. It takes away from the visceral feeling, that harmony, that really hits people and makes them like a room.

Whatever you put into a room (to ornament it), there has to be a purpose.


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