- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

Ever been in a house where the bathroom is in the kitchen? Ever had to walk through the dining room to get to the bedroom? A good floor plan is critical when it comes to buying and selling a home. While location, price and size are key deciding factors when selecting a house, real estate experts say attention to the floor plan will make sure that it meets an owner’s needs now and when it comes time to sell.

No matter how beautiful the exterior or how many upgraded features the home has, the floor plan sets the stage to how life in the house will function.

Home buyers might have settled on just any old floor plan several years ago in the fast-paced sellers’ market, but real estate agents say today’s buyers are looking for a house that meets all of their current needs without having to go through major renovations.

Real estate agents say this means that homes with undesirable floor plans will tend to have more price reductions and sit unsold longer.

Sonatta Camara of Keller Williams Realty Inc. in Upper Marlboro says, “Flawed floor plans have a lack of storage space and bedrooms directly off of living areas that may be easily viewed by visitors.”

To illustrate how important a floor plan is, consider that a home with insufficient storage space can prompt the residents to hijack the garage for storage, putting the cars on the street. A home with a dining room that can’t comfortably fit the 10-seater table may lead to the cancellation of your annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Harry Brubaker, a Realtor with ZipRealty, says that floor plans are more important now because today’s buyers have more choices, as opposed to the sellers’ market a few years ago when, “to find what you want, you would trade off a lot.”

An unappealing floor plan includes one with a cramped kitchen or not enough closet or storage space, or that has a room that seems to be in an illogical place, Ms. Camara says.

Although floor-plan needs vary from person to person, Realtors say that there is a common theme in what most home buyers are looking for.

“A good floor plan is one that makes the most use of available space. It flows from one room to the next,” Ms. Camara says. “A difficult floor plan obstructs the flow of traffic through the home.”

A maze of rooms, where people can’t get to one room without walking through another, is not conducive to good traffic flow and is considered less desirable. Many want to see a good combination of private and public spaces with some sort of separation between the two.

“Spaces that are cut up or divided more than they should be can be perceived as negative,” says Mr. Brubaker, who adds that the same principles apply for town houses, condominiums and single-family homes.

Robbi Kimball of Long & Foster in Takoma Park says it is interesting to see how many people who say they do not understand or believe in feng shui somehow use it in selecting or arranging their homes.

“The concepts of energy flow somehow unconsciously translate into a ‘logical’ home layout for people from many different cultures,” she says.

In addition to an easy flow, there are certain rooms and spaces within a home that more home buyers are getting accustomed to having. Ms. Kimball says that a computer work space in the kitchen is very popular right now, as is ample closet space within the house.

“All buyers continue to want big closets and maximum storage to organize all of the stuff we accumulate,” said Ms. Kimball, who added that more buyers also want a laundry room on the same level as the master bedroom to avoid hauling hampers up and down the stairs.

Mr. Brubaker agrees that a top-level laundry area is important. He says he recently sold a house in Arlington where the homeowners moved the laundry room from the basement to the top floor during renovations.

He says buyers also like to see a house that has a dedicated work area.

“As more people are doing business from home, they want office space,” Mr. Brubaker says.

In fact, as builders have gradually been decreasing the size of the living room, real estate agents say that many homeowners have opted to use this space as a home office, even adding French doors to separate it from the living space.

“The living room was for greeting guests and drinking tea, and although it is needed less and less, builders are still putting them in there,” Mr. Brubaker says. It is only natural, he says, that homeowners are turning the space into something more practical for their own needs.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) asked a panel of experts what they expect homes to look like in 2015 and released a report in August titled, “The Home of the Future.”

The panel found that while living rooms will remain a part of the floor plan in upscale homes, the living room will disappear in houses with less than 3,000 square feet and that space will have a different function such as a den, retreat and library or music room.

“The open floor plan continues to be popular, but when you look at each individual room, the living room will be downsized and the family room and kitchen will continue to increase in size,” says Steve Melman, director of economic services at NAHB.

In kitchens big and small, Mr. Brubaker says that the counter bar is popular as it helps bring the kitchen into the living areas of the home.

The counter bar or center island, which is often used as a cooking, working and dining area, can be part of the great room concept that develops as more people look at ways to integrate many rooms into one big space.

The great room, which accommodates a wide range of functions associated with the living room, dining room, family room and kitchen, will be typical among average homes in the future, the NAHB’s report found.

This is especially important for parents who don’t want closed-in rooms where they can’t see their children.

“Families with young children want to be able to see into the den or playroom from the kitchen to be able to supervise play or computer use,” Ms. Kimball says.

Many of the rooms that home buyers want to see in floor plans today are largely the same across the country, Mr. Melman says, with the exception of some spaces such as outdoor kitchens, which are more popular in the West and Southwest.

A lot of homeowners are changing their floor plans to incorporate more desirable features. However, Realtors warn that in their quest to update a home, people should pay attention to the details — including room placement.

“Some renovators have responded to buyers’ preferences for additional bathrooms by adding a bath or half-bath adjacent to the kitchen, which many buyers find repugnant,” Ms. Kimball says.

In addition to adding rooms, Realtors like Mr. Brubaker suggest opening up rooms to give the illusion of more space.

“Town houses and condominiums especially can make the most of a space by removing walls or creating openings like service spaces and windows,” he says.

He advises homeowners to check with their condominium association first because some won’t allow the removal of walls.

Ms. Camara says, “A seller usually can remedy a flawed floor plan by removing walls that are not essential to the structural integrity of a house, but that interferes with the traffic flow, line of sight and general airy, spacious feel of a home.”

Mr. Melman says the same concept applies to new home construction.

“Removing walls and using columns and arches as opposed to walls, which makes some rooms look like big boxes, is popular,” he says.

While it’s tempting to rip out nonload-bearing walls to open up the floor plan, Ms. Kimball points out that not all big open spaces are desirable living spaces.

“Before picking up the sledgehammer, work with an architect or use online designer software to be sure of what you are doing,” she says. “Otherwise, you could be making a bad situation worse.”

Ms. Kimball says bigger is not always better. She says she is meeting a growing number of buyers who absolutely do not want more space than they need and are willing to trade off entertaining spaces for lower energy costs.

Instead of removing walls and adding rooms, some in the industry suggest that homeowners can offset a poor floor plan by installing upgraded light fixtures, kitchen appliances, cabinets, counters, windows, flooring, stair railings and banisters.

Ms. Camara says the most desirable floor plans are those that include features such as bathrooms on each floor, spacious closets, high ceilings, a separate dining room, available space for a home office, a finished basement, a fireplace, a laundry room and a space that can be easily converted as needed for an extra bedroom or other usable living space.

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