Monday, April 5, 2010

Things We Like (and Don't)

Since I've now signed a contract for tenure-track employment, it's house-hunting time. After all, if I want to get that $8000 first-time buyer tax credit, I've got to sign a house contract by the end of the month.
Real estate is plentiful around here, and it's pretty affordable as real estate goes. While I gather that McMansions in the suburbs are wildly expensive, those are of no interest to me anyway. An interesting house with a yard, within walking distance of places to eat and other useful businesses, is what I have in mind. Proximity to a bus stop and/or freeway is also good.
Books and articles about real estate always talk about what sorts of renovations and upgrades add value to a house. I find I am only in partial agreement with the prevailing wisdom. I do agree that it is wise for the seller to make some cosmetic fixes that make a place look appealing. But I'd rather see things like freshly planted annuals than a remodeled kitchen or bathroom. While I'm not likely to be drawn to something that looks like a wreck, I'm also not likely to buy something that's just been fixed up with whatever someone regards as the latest decorating trend, whether it is low-end or high-end.
What would I like to see as far as updates? Well, I am all in favor of good insulation. I did not enjoy seeing my heating bills this past winter, especially since I spent most of my hours at home either wrapped in an alpaca cape or wearing layers under three insufficiently warm blankets. I would also be all in favor of a European-style tankless water heater. And I would be happy to see some solar panels even though this isn't the sunniest part of the country.
What don't I want to see? I certainly don't want to see new carpeting. If the carpeting is cheap, I'm just going to want to rip it out, and if it's expensive, I'm still going to want to rip it out but I'll feel like I have to use it for years first. I have no objection to buying a house with old and ugly carpet, because rabbits like carpet and they can enjoy racing around on a nasty carpet while I figure out whether the flooring underneath is desirable. Carpeting, in my view, is basically a magnet for dust, fur, and moths. It's also never in a color I want on my floor. It may be an inoffensive color, but it is still never in a color I really want. Rugs are the solution here. I will pick out my own rugs, thank you.
I have alluded to my general desire not to see remodeled kitchens and bathrooms. As far as I'm concerned, they can have plumbing and cabinetry from 1890, 1920, or 1950, so long as the plumbing actually functions. I will then have the option of keeping it or updating it according to my own preferences. I grant that one does see some very appealing updates, and at times I respond favorably, but very often my reaction is "That's nice, but I don't want it." I cannot count the number of elegant bathrooms I've seen lately, all of which have brown tile. The first couple of times I saw this, I was impressed, because admittedly it's good-quality tile, and furthermore, I wasn't used to seeing brown bathrooms, so it had a certain novelty value. I've now realized that every bathroom in this city remodeled within the past five years apparently has the same brown tile. Designers in this city have a thing for brown, in general. I do not. None of my towels go with brown. Brown is not a color I'm anxious to see first thing in the morning. I've concluded that while I could go for a brown-and-black half-bath off my living room, I don't want a shower lined with this ubiquitous expensive brown tile. I can get my brown bathroom fix every time I stay in a conference hotel or go to the local restaurants and cafes. I mean, some years back I complained because my apartment had pink tile, circa 1960. Yet it was surprisingly easy to make the pink tile work, since it didn't clash with most of my towels or with my shower curtain or with either black or white. I will be perfectly content to deal with pink, blue, green, lavender, or even (possibly) daffodil yellow tile in my bathroom. Black or white tile is also acceptable. Just say no to the trendy brown bathroom, please. I do not want to see any more of those, any more than I want to see any more household objects or clothes that combine brown with blue, with pink, or with turquoise. By 2007 I was thinking "ugh, that's so last year" and I am not inclined to that kind of dismissive thinking.
In the same way, I'm concluding that there are certain styles of kitchen cabinetry that, despite being perfectly nice in themselves, are just far too ubiquitous. Unpainted wood cabinetry is attractive when new, but it does not do well with moisture. I do not want to spend my life checking for water stains on my lower kitchen cabinetry. Nor do I want to have exactly the same millwork as everyone else has installed since 1990 or so. Thus, do not install new cabinetry to sell your house to me, unless you are magically on my wavelength. Nor should the prospective buyer put in new countertops or backsplashes unless these are just unusually exciting. Even then, my reaction may well be "Great workmanship. Hate the color."
In sum, if the house dates to 1890 and the exterior and fireplaces are lovely examples of that era, I just do not want my kitchen and bathroom to scream "2000" or "2010." They need not look precisely 1890-ish, but they should not look as though 1890 and 2010 have been mysteriously grafted together and the fruit of the two will be 2010. Let the building give some sense of having a gradual development from 1890 to 2010, or else of being the result of the efforts of a person with a strong personal sense of design.
I can tolerate the trendy of decades past (at least temporarily); I do not want the trendy of today haunting me until it's decrepit enough to justify replacement.
Now: while we're at it, I have not been excited by any of the child-centered decorating I've seen either, since it distracts me from envisioning what I might want to do with the child's bedroom. That's not a major issue because all I'd really have to do is tear off the decals and repaint, but I'll point out that I've only seen one example of a child's room that really took my fancy. A friend of mine bought a house with beautifully done Beatrix Potter characters painted in one room. I'm not sure children are ever allowed near, but it's a divine guest bedroom. I'd hire that painter. Maybe I'll need Beatrix Potter characters on my own bedroom walls.


  1. I had three requirements for my house -- a garage or space to build one, a wood-burning fireplace, and central air conditioning. I was looking at houses that all have wooden floors. I wish I didn't have to share a driveway. Good luck. It took me five years to get rid of a wall paper band with geese with bows around their necks in my kitchen, and longer to get wall paper in the bathroom that didn't have strawberries (the walls are too icky to paint) -- I went for pictures of reed mats. The most recent changes was that I finally redid the upstairs shower and bathroom -- I never use it but I have a friend who stays over for a week in the summer and she and her daughter enjoy it. Nice updates? New gutters and gutter covers, and I personally am all in favour of a newly-painted house, or good quality siding.

  2. Of course no children are ever allowed near! Artist's name available on request.

  3. Well, I'll be sure not to bring any children next time I stop by the Beatrix Potter room.

    Re requirements, garage or space for one is definitely wanted although not 100% required. Wood-burning fireplace would be nice but doesn't seem like the norm here--mainly they're former coal-burners. Central air is pretty much a given. Wood floors definitely wanted, even if hidden under carpeting. New exterior paint is always good. Don't want wallpaper with geese with bows, although that would be better than a lot of the other wallpapers in the world.