This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of House & Home
You can probably imagine how many scouting shots of condos and newly renovated houses arrive in our office every month. Over the 30-plus years of looking at thousands of photos, patterns emerge that can’t be ignored. Some have been great, while others, not so much….
The problem is when a certain look reaches a tipping point, and we’re over it, having seen the exact same thing in so many renovations, there must be the inevitable backlash, right? For example, there was the “Ionic column trend.” Back in the ’80s, when walls were coming down on the ground floor of old Victorian houses, fat faux columns complete with Doric or Ionic plaster capitals were going up. They were all the rage for at least a few years. And then they weren’t.
Or how about the pass-through window between the kitchen and dining room? It was the first step to the open kitchen we now take for granted, and it’s one of the first things that gets ripped out in today’s renovations.
For a time, we were in love with front foyers and hallways. Long, narrow corridors from the front door through to the back of our houses were not only expected, they were necessary to avoid having to step from the entryway right into your living room.
Kitchens were prized for the number of overhead cabinets and the amount of storage that could be crammed into that huge island. The style was heavy wood with carved mouldings. Ugh!
I recall when the first condos hit the luxury end of the market. The best ones were built out with panelled walls, deep mouldings, English- or French-style mantels and miles of built-in bookcases and cabinets. Except for the views, you could easily be in a traditional mansion instead of a box in the sky.
Today, we’ve turned the tables. Old houses are being renovated to look like new condos with open-concept floor plans replacing traditional formal rooms for the loft look that is popular with both the luxury market and the more moderate midrange buyer.
Right now, I’m looking at scouts from Montreal of two different renos by two different designers, and I can hardly tell them apart. It’s the new “It” Look, and it’s a formula: wide open from the front door through to the backyard. White walls, one big room dominated by the open kitchen/living/dining area. Blond wood floors, sleek, airy cabinets and loads of light through big windows and NanaWalls, and plenty of room for dramatic art. That’s what we’re seeing over and over again.
I asked Maggie Lind of Chestnut Park Real Estate, whose clients tend to be affluent, downtown couples and families, if it’s true that most buyers are looking for the same thing. Most of all, I wanted the hit list of what you should do if you’re renovating and want to have the best chances to maximize your investment on a resale.
She agreed. “There is still the affluent buyer who appreciates a house with formal rooms, although they admit to rarely using them”she said. But, by far, most people want open-concept layouts. “Clean lines, open spaces, easy to come home to” was her description of the new dream home. I asked her about my theory that people must be sick of seeing the same look over and over again. Wrong, she told me. Apparently, there’s comfort in the familiar, and we’re far from tiring of a style that is prized by most buyers in urban markets across North America.
I asked Maggie to review my hit list of “wants,” and she added a few surprises that you should consider if you’re renovating. If you can check all these boxes in your renovation, you’ll have a prime house for resale.
- Real hardwood floors over engineered wood floors. Light blond is fine, but dark floors and mid-tones are making a comeback.
- Signature ranges. “People love their Wolf stoves,” says Maggie, but they also love complete suites of appliances including drawer microwaves, wall ovens and wine fridges by high-end brands such as Miele, Sharp, JennAir, LG, Thermador and Fisher & Paykel.
- Exhibition kitchens with eating counters, always open to family rooms or dining areas.
- “Wine storage walls” made of glass that line a dining room or kitchen, instead of basement wine cellars.
- Mudrooms are a must, along with good laundry rooms.
- Basement walkouts to a backyard or deck, especially for a family house.
- Principal bedrooms with a walk-in closet, an ensuite bath with a freestanding tub, a separate shower and water closet and double sinks.
- Gas fireplaces for ease.
- An elevator corridor for a future elevator in houses that are more than two storeys. A working elevator is the best, but just having thought out the space and allowed for it is in itself a huge plus for a future buyer.
- Sliding or folding glass doors that open up wide to the outdoors.
I also canvassed several agents who all agree on the single biggest-selling feature: high-end buyers want a house that is done. Great kitchens and bathrooms will sell a house. No one wants to have to do that work. If they did, they would most probably buy a “redo” that needs a total renovation.
And then there is that other factor: location, location, location…. But you already know that.