As a builder of luxury waterfront houses – $1 million and up – I have pretty savvy clients. They’re not only interested maximizing their living pleasure, they also think of their home as an investment. Many of them come to me saying, “We want it for us, but we also want it to make commercial sense, so where is the market going to be in three year’s time?”
Whilst I don’t have all the answers, I do think that houses are becoming smaller; The 6,000 square foot home is now 4,500 square foot.
Many Realtors and builders have commented on this change in perspective, but what does this 20% reduction in living area actually mean? How does it affect livability? Does it really mean making do with less?
In certain ways, it means actual downsizing. The big homes used to have two dining rooms, a formal one which gets used only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a smaller table perched in the corner of the kitchen where people eat the rest of the year.
Instead, I recommend, and a number of my clients have agreed, to have one dining area only, but in the best location possible. That way, every time they eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, they have the best view and can enjoy it.
The same thing holds true for the living room areas. Why have a large living room – usually near the entry – filled with furniture that you only pass to and from the way to the bedroom? It takes up space, has to be air conditioned, and serves as little more than a showroom at a car dealership – no one drives those models; no one sits on that furniture. Why not get rid of it and add the space you’ve saved to your main living area where you and your guests really spend time?
That way, you reduce cost and size by making the house more livable on an everyday basis. As empty nesters, you can have the whole ground floor to yourselves and save the upstairs for guests.
Another great thing to do is to put more emphasis on exterior decks and outdoor kitchens. Here’s how.
On the waterfront, land is at a premium. Often with, say, a 100 by 150 foot property (15,000 square feet), you have a 30 foot setback in the front and at the rear. That pushes the house as far back from the water and the views.
The current “must-have” is a 3-car garage. But do you really need it? If it’s your second or third home, perhaps two and half spaces, for 2 cars and a motorbike/golf cart/kayak, is plenty. Now you can pull the house back even farther and expand the deck.
The result is a bigger deck in back, which is what people in Florida really use and enjoy. Open up the sliders to your living room and it doubles your usable footage for 4 to 5 months out of the year. Chances are, for much of the humid summer, you’ll be gone anyway.
If you follow these simple ideas and principles, you’re going to make the house livable for you and your spouse 90% of the time, instead of building to suit the needs of occasional visits from kids, grandkids and friends.
Let’s face it, your guests will sleep where you put them. They’ll be flexible for a week or two. They’re just happy to be in the sun! But under no circumstances should you compromise your needs and living pleasure.
The reason we have had poorly designed homes in the past is that when the housing market was booming and investors ruled the land, they were buying raw property, developing it and putting up homes they then inflicted on the market. Buyers had no other option than to buy what there was. Needless to say, these investors weren’t always employing the best architects in order to save money.
Now that the market is coming back, it is an opportunity for individuals who are building custom homes for themselves to say what they really want.
That’s why I strongly encourage my clients to use top notch architects. They may be more expensive, but they’re also better. They’ll have the skills and vision to offer clients what they want with proper integrity of design. And that will benefit the resale value down the road.
Clients may be spending the same amount of money on a smaller house than they would have on a larger house in the past, but they’re giving themselves what they want – a beautifully designed, livable space that will hold or even increase its value over time.