Starter. Move-up. Downsize.
That’s the traditional path for many homeowners. But these days, some buyers are choosing a new, different approach.
Rather than shopping for a home for a life stage, they’re buying a home for a lifetime. It’s a choice that minimizes the disruption and expense of moving and maximizes the importance of shopping for a home that makes sense now and that can grow with you and adapt to your family’s changing needs into the future.
If the idea of staying in place for the long term captures your home-buying heart, here are five things you should look for when you shop for your new home: 1) flexible spaces, 2) welcoming spaces, 3) public and private spaces, 4) fewer stairs and 5) functional amenities:
Rooms that can be transformed from one purpose to another are a must for a forever home, says Jay Kallos, vice president of architecture at Ashton Woods Homes, a homebuilder headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.
For example, if you’re single, you might use a great room for a pool table and media center. When you get married, you might move that stuff upstairs to a rec room and re-purpose your great room with a more traditional seating area and dining table.
Similarly, your children’s playroom could later become your home office. Your upstairs nursery could be given over to your teenagers to entertain their friends. Your bonus guest room could become living quarters for your aging mom or dad.
“Having spaces that can grow with the family and then shrink back can help that become someone’s forever home,” Kallos says.
Formal living and dining rooms are dead.
But what has taken their place? Rather than convert those spaces, traditionally to the left of the front door, into a home office or playroom, a forever home offers a foyer or welcoming area, where your guests can take off their coats and settle inside your home.
“It’s the place where people connect with other people,” Kallos says.
In a two-story residence, that same space might become a grand staircase with natural light pouring down from windows along the way upstairs.
Public Spaces, Private Spaces
The perfect square footage or lot size of a forever home isn’t nearly as important as a floor plan that fits your current and future selves, says Leigh Spicher, Ashton Woods’ director of design studios.
If you crave privacy, you might choose a split-plan home with bedrooms and bathrooms divided from family living areas. If you embrace collaborative energy, you might want an indoor/outdoor garden or gourmet kitchen that draws people inside and together.
“Think about how you live now, but also include some thought about your future self,” Spicher suggests.
A forever home also needs what designers call “away spaces.” These areas are within your home’s footprint, but are set apart by walls, staircases, private entrances or other architectural elements to allow multiple generations to live compatibly together. Multigen living might mean you and your children, you and your parents, or you, your children and your parents.
“Can each generation go to their separate corners?” Kallos asks. “If they’re all right next to each other, that’s not as effective.”
Away spaces might change over time. The important point is to have a home that allows for them.
Most older people have at least some difficulty with mobility in their home, particularly if it has stairs. Step-less front and back entrances, wider doorways and other elements of universal design can make your home more comfortable for your older guests now and yourself and your family members as you age.
“In our younger years, a large shower feels like space-heaven. As we grow older, the area makes it easier to maneuver if a wheelchair or walker is necessary,” says Mekevia Hawkins, a Realtor at One Sotheby’s International Realty in Aventura, Fla.
Amenities You Want
If your home is part of a homeowners association (HOA), you’ll be paying dues to help maintain the community’s amenities. Examples include swimming pools, clubhouses, walking or riding trails, fitness centers, golf courses, parks and tennis courts.
Think about which amenities you’re likely to use and which you’re not, advises Timur Loynab, vice president in the condo resales division at McWilliams Ballard, a project development sales, marketing and consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
“Amenity-rich buildings will come with higher fees and those can balloon over a decade or two or three,” says Loynab. “Buyers should determine what amenities, if any, are important enough for them to pay a premium in future years.”
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor in Ventura, California. In the last decade, she has penned more than 1,000 published stories about residential and commercial real estate, banking, credit cards, computer security, health insurance and small business, among other subjects. Editors describe her as “detail-driven,” “conscientious,” “smart” and “incredibly versatile.” Her award-winning reporting has been lauded as “rock solid,” “spot-on relevant,” “informative,” “engaging,” “interesting” and “nuanced.” Her stories have been cited in seven published nonfiction books and two U.S. Congressional hearings.
Prior to her freelance career, Geffner was senior editor of California Real Estate magazine. Later, she became managing editor of Inman.com, an independent real estate news website. She also has prior employment experience in technical writing, corporate communications and employee communications. She received a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She enjoys reading, home improvement projects and watching seagulls at the beach.