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Mood of our time favors home with open feeling

ConstecRealty - Miami MLS listings for condos and houses

Is there a correlation between world affairs and the preferences of home buyers?

Dorcas Helfant, former president of the National Association of Realtors, believes there could be a link.

''Since Sept. 11, people feel our country has become more regimented. To combat terrorism, there are new restrictions on people. They feel more constrained and limited,'' she says.

On the real estate front, Helfant contends, this sense of social confinement has intensified the already strong preference among many buyers for larger, more open houses with high ceilings.

''In their own homes, people want a feeling of personal empowerment,'' she says. ``They want bright, airy environments. They want comfortable homes where they can close the front door and the world outside stops.''

Rich Carlson, who heads a strategic marketing firm that advises home building companies, agrees. ''The world may be a frightening place, but at home people want plenty of space to be gregarious with friends and family,'' Carlson says.

Of course, not everyone can own a house with skylights, huge windows or ceilings that are nine feet or higher. But all who put their homes on the market should strive to make them appear as roomy and open as possible.

How can you make your property seem brighter, airy and spacious? Here are several suggestions:

• Emphasize features that buyers appreciate. Carlson, who has served as a consultant to home builders for 18 years, says several features resonate especially well. Among the strongest draws: soaring atriums, walk-in closets and oversize ''great rooms'' that link to kitchens and provide ample space for casual entertaining.

''If you have any of these features, you should highlight them in your advertising and promotional materials,'' Carlson says.

• Remove excess belongings to create the feel of a larger space. Helfant, who's been involved in a number of international real estate transactions, says Americans typically own far more clothes than do Europeans. ''Our closets are crammed with clothes,'' she says. ``Most people have four to five times as many clothes as they actually wear.''

Helfant says it's tough to persuade home sellers to dispense with more than a few clothes. But at a minimum, she urges sellers to place out-of-season clothes in storage until their property is sold.

Helfant also encourages sellers to pay special attention to the clutter that can build up in a bedroom adapted to home office use. ''Buyers don't want to see all your stacks of paper and messy office supplies strewn about,'' she says.

• Don't discount ''staging'' without looking into it. ''Stagers'' are design professionals with an eye for improving the decor of a property within a short time frame and on a slender budget. They remove superfluous furnishings and rearrange the remaining pieces, adding a few decorator items as necessary.

In many areas, Helfant says, home sellers can find savvy stagers who charge no more than $40 to $100 an hour. That sum can reward you several times over, she says, because a well-staged home will typically sell sooner, and for a larger amount than one that's unstaged.

Your listing agent should be one good source of referrals to stagers. You may also visit the website of the Interior Redesign Industry Specialists,

• Enhance illumination. ''Light is the No. 1 draw for people,'' according to Helfant, who says most home sellers can benefit from upgrading key light fixtures -- including those at their property's entrance and in heavily used rooms, such as the kitchen, den and bathrooms. Where lighting is plentiful, living space seems larger, and attractive lighting also elevates the mood of a room.

• Pay extra attention to windows. In past decades, many home buyers liked formal draperies, particularly in dining and living rooms. But nowadays, most would-be purchasers prefer their windows ''au natural,'' or nearly so.

Windows with minimal coverings usually seem more appealing to visitors because they allow more light into a room. In fact, Helfant says, it's perfectly acceptable to market a home with no window coverings at all, except in bathrooms and bedrooms where privacy is an issue.

Windows that are barely covered and kept sparkling clean do more than brighten rooms. They allow visitors a more expansive view of a home's surroundings.

''People feel that their home is their kingdom,'' she says. ``They want a very large view.''

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