A Good Architect Makes A HUGE Difference

Three things in the past week drove home what Dan and I have known for a while… A good architect makes a huge difference.

A real estate client of mine is bidding on a gut-renovated house that’s been on the market for nearly 2 years. It hasn’t sold because, as my client describes it, the renovation is “competent” (solidly built), but it’s just a “step above rental grade”. When it went on the market it was priced up with the high end properties that are nearby. But those high end properties are in a desirable landmark district and often have over-the-top renovations. The bottom line with the house my client is biding on is that people aren’t making an emotional connection with the house in part because it’s “just OK”. Without that emotional connection people aren’t willing to bid anywhere near the asking price.

Similar to that experience I went through a place in South Harlem with another client. The neighborhood and block could support a $2.5M+ sale, but the person that renovated it did a Home Depot renovation – it was also competent and solidly built, but like the first house, there were a lot of odd architectural choices (actually it was worse than the first house). The use of space was pretty bad with lots of wasted square footage. The bottom like was that the place didn’t feel special – but they the asking price was nearly $2 million.

It hasn’t been all bad this week though. We sat down with some neighbors for brunch and they showed us the plans for the townhouse they bought almost a year ago. I think they were a bit scared to show us the plans because the first time the showed us plans months ago we didn’t have much of anything good to say about what we saw. The architect had small, oddly shaped rooms, an absurd amount of closet/storage space, and the architect wasted a lot of their square footage on hallways. They fired that architect (thank god), and have been working with another architect – Victor Ruiz. Victor is leaps and bounds above their first architect. His plans for their place are really pretty fascinating and wonderful.

The moral of the story is that there’s something to be said for houses that people make emotional connections with. We saw it in action when we sold our coop. When we renovated we had put in a rather expensive Poliform kitchen – complete with an integrated Sub Zero and a Wolf range. People loved that apartment and it sold fairly quickly and for a good price – despite the fact that the market had crashed just a year before. In fact our sale is still the high water mark in that coop for post-recession 2 bedroom sales.

But emotional connections like that don’t happen by accident – they take a lot of planning that starts with a great architect. I’d almost go as far as asking prospective architects for sales histories – post recession $$/sq. ft., and time on the market. You might spend a little more hiring a good architect, but the money you spend will come back to you several times over when you sell. Plus, you’ll have a great place to live in the meantime.

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