When it comes to buying a house, what room seals the deal?
It depends on the size of the house... BUT the kitchen is perhaps the most important room in any house. The kitchen in a small house is perhaps the room people focus on the most when they are ready to buy. As you might have noticed, in every party the kitchen is the only room that is always full of people. I am a firm believer that the kitchen needs to be an open, spacious and bright room because you spend a lot of time there with your family.
The Master Suite in bigger houses is the room that most people feel should be the main focus when it comes to buying a house. People look for privacy and when there are kids, having a Master Suite helps a lot.
When you have an extra room that can be used as a Family Room, that gives the house some extra points, more so than having a den. A Family Room adds an area where the kids can watch movies or play away from the adults and where the husband with his friends can watch the game and be loud while the rest of the house can be left alone.
Another area that people pay attention to is the separate rooms like guest houses that they can use as an office or just a study. Some people like to buy houses with guest rooms away from the house to be able to rent them for some extra cash but that is a dangerous thing to do since the City would fine you if they find out. I will cover that on another topic.
People love Walk-In-Closets and in general, bathrooms and/or kitchens that have been redone. It does not take much to remodel a kitchen or a bathroom these days. Nice improvements and sharp looks can be achieved with very little money and the best part is, you always get most of the money back when you sale the property.
Making just cosmetics changes or improvements is usually enough to give the house a refreshed look. Remodeling and adding area to your home can be hard when you are living in the house, so I always recommend that the homeowners move out during construction or at least for part of it. Make sure you calculate the cost for relocation when you put together the project expenses and add it to the budget.
People call me all the time to ask me about the severity of the changes they made to their properties without permits. There’s no such a thing as a free lunch, people…It is cheaper to hire a consultant to prepare plans for a remodel or addition to your home than to have to pay the fines for construction code violations and deal with the harassment from the City officials after you get caught. They do not like people who try to full them.
To give you examples, let me mention a few:
Non-permitted brand new second story addition: A homeowner thought that because the pitched roof was so steep it gave the house enough head room to have a second story (smaller than the first floor plan, of course), he did not have to bother with the permits. Plus, nobody could see the work being done from outside because all he added to the exterior was a couple of dormers, so he thought he was off the hook. Too bad, he got into a fight with a neighbor and guess what? The neighbor turned him in at the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. This is what he told me: “All I did was install flooring on a floor structure that was already there!” “I didn’t add anything!” “This is my house and I should be allowed to do whatever I want to it.” The result? A case was filed against his property and he had to pay the fines plus get the permits he didn’t want to pay for to start with.
Complete interior and exterior remodel of a two story house: A homeowner who is a RE agent “didn’t know” he had to get a permit before doing any construction work on his recently purchased property. The changes included: Relocating load bearing walls, reconstruction of balconies, replacement of roof members that were dry rotted, replacement of all the electrical and plumbing fixtures. “Oh, but I didn’t know, I never thought…” The result? Again, a case was filed against the property, etc., etc., etc.
Garage conversion: A homeowner called me outraged because the City was harassing her about taking out a parking space inside her attached garage. What did she do? She built a wall in the middle of the garage and built an office connected to the house through the self closing garage door which connected the house to the garage before. In other words, you had to step down to go into the office (7″ lower) because the office was on the garage slab which is absolutely not allowed by the Fire Department. She complained that she didn’t have to tell anybody what she was doing to her house because she had owned that house for over 20 years. And what does that have to do with anything? You tell me… The result? A case was filed against the property, etc., etc., etc.
And my favorite: Repairs to a monolithic concrete deck and garage built in 1925: two of the concrete walls were retaining dirt, one had a small garage door and the last one was a common wall with the next door neighbor’s garage. This homeowner replaced the concrete wall over the garage door with wood studs and added no reinforcing to that new wood wall, cut the concrete slab on both ends to repair a perimeter leak but patched it again without adding the right amount of steel to make the right connection (which needs to be designed and calculated by structural engineer) and added another 4″ slab on top of the existing one plus a railing delineating a roof top deck that was not part of the original construction. This homeowner never got a permit but when the next door neighbor (the one who shared the concrete garage wall with her) started to do repairs to his garage, she filed a complain with the Neighborhood Code Compliance. In turn, the neighbor told on her so double the pleasure, double the fun… cases were filed against both residences.
I cannot emphasize enough how silly it is to try to cut corners with the City. We ALWAYS lose. They have every right to demand that you fix the problems and get approval from the officials because if something goes wrong with what you are doing, there could be horrible accidents like fires or slides, deaths, damage to other properties, etc.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that the Municipal Code plays a big role in the approval of your home design. The stairs are a vital part of your home and we need to remember they do need to comply.
There are standard clearances and dimensions commonly used which are the minimum required by the construction code like tread and riser minimum dimensions, or stair width but one thing people do not know which is worth mentioning here, is the importance of the stair style.
The Municipal Code is very picky when it comes to shapes and styles so, on this article, I am going to show the most common stair styles so you have an idea about what is allowed. But first, here are some standard dimensions to keep in mind:
– A riser shall not be less than 4 inches or more than 7 -3/4 inches high
– The tread shall not be less than 11 inches
– The difference between the largest and smallest tread shall not exceed 3/8 inches; the difference between the highest and the lowest riser shall not exceed 3/8 inches
– Headroom, landings and handrails shall comply with all building code provisions
A stair style where the flight between the landings is straight, with rectangular treads of uniform size.
A stair style where special shaped treads known as winders are used to change the direction of the stairs. They are permitted in single and multi-family residential projects and here are some of the allowed conditions:
– The winders shall have a tread no less that 9 inches deep 12 inches from the narrow edge of the tread
– The minimum tread depth or run shall not be less than 6 inches
– The treads and riser shall be uniform in size and shape
– The width shall be no less than 36 inches
A stair having a closed circular shape in plan which radiates about a minimum diameter supporting column. They are permitted in single and multi-family residential projects and here are some of the allowed condition:
– When used as the main means of egress component, the area shall be limited to 400 sq. ft.
– Treads must provide a clear with of at least 24 inches from the outer edge of supporting column to the inner edge of the handrail.
– Treads shall have a minimum dimension of 7-1/2 inches at a point 12 inches from its narrow edge.
– The rise shall be sufficient to provide a headroom of no less than 6 foot- 6 inches
– Risers shall not exceed 7-3/4 inches
– Treads and risers shall be uniform in shape and size
– Headroom, landings and handrails shall comply with all building code provisions
This style of stairs is permitted often as a means of egress
– The minimum radius shall be twice the stairway width.
– The minimum width of run (tread depth) shall not be less than 10 inches
– Headroom, landings and handrails shall comply with all building code provisions
In general, stairs that serve less than 50 people shall be no less than 36 inches wide. The landings shall be no less in depth than the width of the stairs and they shall be at the beginning and at the end of the flight of stairs. Landings shall be level except when exposed to the weather where it can have a slope of no more than 1/4 inches vertical in 12 inches horizontal (2% slope.) Handrails must be continuous, but can be interrupted by a newel post at a stair landing. Headroom shall be 6 foot 8 inches measured vertically from the edge of the tread nosing to the soffit, ceiling or any other construction along the stair.
As a professional dedicated to serving my clients, I do not seem to ever be prepared to watch the homeowners turn on me and the other consultants to side with their contractors. It is amazing to me how blind and deaf homeowners can turn over night.
My job, while designing somebody’s home, is to guide that person through the entire design process and to make sure everything I show on the plans reflects what my clients want. Once the project is approved by the city or county, the contractor picked for the job by the homeowner needs to follow the plans approved by the officials. Those plans reflect what the homeowners want and the city and county stamps make those drawings legal documents. We, as designers, do not get paid to protect anybody from their contractors but we feel it is our duty to notify them when we observe irregularities at the job site.
No matter who the contractor is, the plans approved by the city and county need to be followed exactly and the homeowners, more than anybody, need to understand that. Contractors cannot deviate from the approved plans without getting the change approved by the city or county, whichever has jurisdiction.
My point with this article is to emphasize that you have to be very cautious when you or your contractor make changes on the site. As a design professional with over twenty years of experience in residential design I can tell you, at the end of the day, the money a homeowner collects through a lawsuit against the contractors does not pay for the months and even years of anxiety and stress that result from negligence on the homeowner’s part. Protect yourself and always keep your eyes open. When a contractor starts to make changes, confront him/her. Ask why and make sure you get a straight answer. If you do not know enough about construction to be able to do that, then find someone who does. Or hire your residential designer to oversee the construction if he/she is available. Because you will not get the okay from the city inspectors unless you present the changes to the officials and get them stamped as approved. In the long run, if your addition or remodel does not pass the final inspection, the money you spent on the project will go down the drain because unless an improvement is approved by the city all the way to the end, the square footage (and therefore the cost of the improvement) will not be reflected on the property documents as legal. Besides, the Code Enforcement can open a case against you for non compliance and those are hard to fight.
I have mentioned many times in my articles that the construction documents or blueprints approved by the city or county officials are legal documents that need to be followed precisely. I cannot emphasize that enough.
As we all know, the first thing that needs to be built in any project is the footing, the foundation of the building. For this, the trenches need to be dug out and after that the concrete placed in the trenches according to the structural plans. One thing the homeowners need to understand is that the structure is the basis for the entire house, so any changes on the foundation will most definitely affect the entire project.
To give you an example, in one of my projects, from day one, the contractor started to change things like the thickness of the footings and stem walls, the concrete mix strength from 3,000 psi to 2,000 psi and even the elevation of the garage slab. The result? A catastrophe.
I had designed a garage with two riser down from the main house as requested by the owner but the contractor decided to pour the slab lower than it was shown on my plans. Just like that, because he felt like it. So, when they built the floor flaming of the main house, they realized the difference in elevation was five risers down from the house (almost 3 feet) instead of two riser (14 inches) like I had specified, so a stair had to be added to go down onto the garage level.
A stair is a stair no matter what and it needs to have a railing and a landing to comply with the code. Anything less than 18” difference between floor levels does not require any of that but 3 feet is a big drop, so you have to protect people from falling. The design of the garage did not include a stair, only two risers and one tread (11 deep long x 36 inches wide), so the addition of the 4 extra risers turned the garage access into a stair which created problems for the garage. The stair that ended up being built took 44 inches off the garage instead of 11 as I had planned, so my clients who owned big cars, an SUV and a van, lost one parking spot inside their 2-car garage, all because the contractor made changes without consulting with anybody.
This contractor went as far as changing a structural detail when he was building the 1st floor cavity and he even showed up at the structural engineer’s office one Monday morning to ask the engineer “to change the detail on his plans to show what he had built” because the inspector did not want to approve the floor the way he had built it. Needless to say, he got kicked out of the structural engineer’s office pronto! Unbelievable but that is what happens when the homeowners enable their contractors. Not all contractors have an attitude problem but some do and the homeowners need to understand that they need to be on top of things. No matter what happens, the plans need to be followed exactly.
Remodeling and adding square footage onto a property increases its value, so just for that reason, homeowners should remodel and add square footage onto their homes whenever possible.
Most people decide to remodel their homes because they need more room or just to make their houses more enjoyable but later on realize the increased resale value. Unfortunately, I have seen houses which were added onto but the addition, instead of increasing the value of the property, really hurt the property. Ex: I once saw a beautiful home in Poway in which the only way to go from the so called “Master Suite” into the yard was through the shower. I never understood what happened there but home design mistakes like that are common and in my opinion, unacceptable.
There are additions that look so different from the original house, whatever style it is, that they make the aesthetics go out the window. Take a look at the photo on the left:
Believe it or not, this charming little bungalow is ATTACHED to the amorphous building next to it. The original house was added onto but the addition has nothing to do with the shape, size or style of the original house. That decreases the value of a property. The Craftsman Style is such an elegant and formal style. The addition built next to this bungalow is something with no style and really no taste whatsoever. This should never happen.
Or this other other house...
The original house had some kind of Spanish flavor with finishes like stucco and clay tiles but the addition includes wood siding and Craftsman style wood details that have nothing to do with the original house.
My point is, very often when people do not hire a professional, the addition ruins the look and the natural flow of the original house. So if you are thinking about remodeling or adding onto your house, you are better off hiring someone with experience to work on the design layout for you so you can be guided along the way by someone who knows what he/she is doing.
A residential designer, since that is our specialty, can make your idea work nicely with the rest of the house and also make the addition look like part of the original house. So, ask around. There is always someone you know who knows someone who knows someone. It is not hard to find talented residential designers in your area to prepare your home design remodel and/or addition plans for the City. When you find someone, ask for references and to see a portfolio.
Home is where the heart is… in other words, the most important place for anybody. Remodeling your home to make it better for you and your family has become the thing to do. Of course, during construction you will feel out of place and a little disturbed if you stay in the house during construction but even then, in the long run, remodeling your house to fit your needs has proven to be the best investment.
One thing to keep in mind is to remodel or add onto your house according to the neighborhood and the value of the properties around you. If you over build, you will never get back what you put into the project. So, always make sure you do some research on the neighbors’ properties, the size of the surrounding houses, their value, etc. before you prepare the home design plans, so at the time of resale, if you decide to sell, you do not lose money.
If you own a property in a neighborhood you like, where you have everything you need close by and Zoning allows enlarging your house, why not do it? Why not invest on the property you already own to make it better for you and your family? Even if you are not planning on selling it in the near future, it is always wise to raise the value of your property.
I recommend my clients to remodel their old homes if they like the location of their houses instead of looking into buying in other neighborhoods paying maybe even more for a house that has less character than their old houses. If you are already used to that area and have a history with the schools, shops, churches, etc., Why start from scratch somewhere else? Just go for it! Find a reliable residential designer in your area to work with and together prepare the most perfect home design layout for you and your family and you’ll see, you will be happy you took advantage of this economy to do it.