Don’t let reports of a real estate slowdown (actually more of a return to normalcy) convince you that new homes aren’t being built – especially new, expensive homes. Having toured a few newly built homes listed above $1 million, I am surprised at what’s missing. I’m not talking about mink toilet seats and diamond-studded coffee makers. I mean more pedestrian things.
Here’s my unofficial list of relatively cheap things that should “just be there” in newly constructed homes over $1 million.
Recessed Motorized Shades
I’m nowhere near $1 million and I have motorized shades. Luckily, the original builder put in the necessary ceiling recesses where the shades can be slotted into for a smooth ceiling line. Back in the 1960s when my place was built, those recesses pushed curtain tops up so that light bleeds were minimized and rooms (especially bedrooms) were darker. During my renovation, all I had to do was get electricity up there (fairly easy when the walls are open).
In a new-build home, if the builder isn’t going to install the motorized shades themselves, it’s a pittance to put an electric outlet into window frame recesses. Buyers in this range should be looking for such things.
Spritz, Fold, and Fluff Toilets
The Japanese brought us Godzilla, the Walkman and now Toto Neorest toilets. They’re definitely bidet 2.0 for those (mostly women) who find solace in having a wand poke out of a recess in their toilet that hoses down the naughty bits (with warm oscillating or pulsating water) and dries them before offering a post-cleanse (front or rear) kooosh of deodorizer. So sophisticated has toilet-paper’s replacement gotten that it includes a remote control. Or “in for a penny, in for a pound” there’s a $1,470 chrome remote control stand available.
Sure, the toilets themselves start at $5,000 before topping out at $13,000, so I don’t expect them to be standard equipment. That said, the add-on Washlet toilet seats only cost between $500 and $1,200 and offer the same bum-pampering that owners can retrofit on “dumb” toilets.
What I do expect is for an electrical outlet to be placed near the toilet for retrofitting – a very inexpensive feature to add.
And even if no one ultimately installs an after-market Neorest or Washlet, tech-heavy folks can use the outlet to charge their phones (don’t look all innocent).
I can’t believe I have to even mention this. Regardless of price-point, not having a shampoo niche in a shower or bathtub is the definition of a builder not paying attention. And yes, I saw this two weeks ago in a newly-built home listed for over $1 million. None of the home’s three bathrooms had any place (besides the floor) to place shampoo. I wonder if a buyer can write-in a $6 Bed Bath & Beyond shampoo caddy into the offer?
Eye-Level Bathroom Lighting
Just to be upfront, I don’t use makeup nor do I spend inordinate amounts of time preening in front of a mirror. But even I know that you need more than ceiling spotlights in a bathroom. Ultimately, one would hope for omnidirectional lighting that eliminates as much shadow as possible. Ceiling-only lighting just casts a downward shadow over your face – the reverse of having a flashlight under your chin when telling a ghost story (or texting at night).
Surely at a $1 million price point, the builder could scare up a few sconces or pendants? A “clean” look only works when you’re not also sacrificing usability.
The world frowns on my preferring to drink taste-free water out of plastic bottles while having no issue with sugary, carbonated drinks housed in the same plastic bottles? Sure, I’d happily use tap water if it didn’t taste bad or in some cases actually smell. The in-home solution? Water purification in the kitchen.
For a couple of hundred bucks, you can place a reverse osmosis system under the kitchen sink with a tap on the counter. Easy-peasy. But no one does it. At best, buyers could ask the builder to drill the hole in the counter for the faucet. Why not just do it? Shouldn’t $1 million buy more than a Brita pitcher in the fridge?
Generally, when you’re in $1+ million world, you’re getting significant space. Why then do these homes sometimes feel so small? Often it’s poor space allocation. A ground-floor master suite that takes up more square footage than the living room. Closets that could be satellite Neiman Marcuses. Hallways and entries designed for largely useless effect. It all adds up.
Many architects (usually draftspeople), seem to have failed Space Allocation 101. Where do occupants spend time? That should be the benchmark question that dictates how to allocate square footage. Working from home, I spend nearly all waking hours in my combination living/dining/office/kitchen space – and it takes up well over half of my 1,900 square feet. Two bedrooms with their associated closets and bathrooms take up the remainder. Before you think those must be pokey spaces, the master bedroom alone is 14’ x 21’ and has a 12’ deep walk-in closet plus good-sized bathroom (for a high-rise).
And yet, I walk into $1 million single-family homes where diners can reach the kitchen island without getting up from the table. Where enormous “statement” staircases rob space from living rooms barely capable of seating six people.
Similarly, over-rotating on master suites means less space elsewhere. And after all, a bedroom suite really encompasses dumping and humping before slumping off to sleep. One recently-toured home boasted of its 2,400 square foot master suite.
Laundry on Bedroom Level
This is another “do I really have to say this” item. Yes, another $1 million single family home with all the bedrooms on the second floor had a hidden ground-floor laundry near the garage – and no laundry chute because it would be in the middle of the master bedroom. What’s up with that? Poor design.
Properly Installed Windows
Another newly-built, $1 million single family home had a large statement wall of stacked windows leading to the yard (wonderful). Problem was that they were installed improperly. I could clearly see the window frame was already sagging in the middle. Maybe it was a trim malfunction. Maybe something worse. Regardless of your price range, poor workmanship is unacceptable.
Note to Builders: Build More Flats
High-rises are typically one-level ranch homes in the sky. Ranch homes are also single story homes albeit on the ground (duh). I’ve spoken with a few tongue-tied townhouse builders when I ask why they don’t build flats instead of the ubiquitous three-story townhouse. You know what I mean – ground floor garage and guest bedroom, middle level living/dining/kitchen that’s topped by one or two additional bedrooms – and all crisscrossed by space-hogging staircases. Figure a 2,000 square foot, single story, would translate into at least 2,400 square feet of townhouse just because of the stairs. And even then, the two-car width of townhouses can’t replicate the generosity of a single-floor layout.
In Oak Lawn there are a few four-story flats buildings with ground floor parking and three levels of single-level residential. One is called Vallera at 3818 Holland and another is the Alix at 4107 Bowser. Near Cole Park is the newly built 3923 Cole Avenue. All have floorplans that feel more efficient and generous than their square footage due to their lack of staircases.
I know some fresh-out-of-an-apartment people think of stairs as a totem of homeownership – a cap and gown to mortgagehood. Gosh, that’s a limiting view, and obviously not universal.
Great swathes of Dallas are being townhoused to death – block upon block of randomly-styled quad- and quint- plexes are being slapped up on previously downtrodden single-family plots. Builders, mix it up a bit. Give the streets some visual interest with differently shaped buildings and product. Attract buyers who appreciate the horizontal over the vertical. The result is the same salable square footage, so why not? You’re in a rut, that’s why.
Here’s the kicker to this column. While everything I’ve listed should be in a new-build home costing more than $1 million, it should also be in cheaper builds. The most expensive of these items costs no more than a few hundred dollars.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.