What makes a Quality House?

Notice I didn’t ask: “What makes a quality Home?” A home implies people, a house is a building.

In South Florida, new construction is popping up all over the place as existing housing inventory is dwindling. I have traveled up and down the East Coast of the US recently and we are not alone in our inventory depletion. I am pleased today that the housing market is recovering from location like Bergen County, New Jersey to Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys, and anyone anywhere buying a house wants a house built with quality – certainly not just retirees. No one will ever say, “Please show me a house that sacrificed high quality for low price.” But how can you tell superior quality?

What makes a Quality House

Some of the keys that comprise a quality house:

1.    Superior materials

2.    Superior design

3.    Refined Craftsmanship

4.    Energy Efficiency

5.    Maintenance free  and over all ownership cost

I have been through many new home models that are being considered as a home for retirement either with my wife Gail or with clients. Usually within the first few minutes or less there is an impression of that quality which maps the mind set for the house. I remember an article about Peoples Express founder Frank Lorenzo. He said that a dirty pull down tray by your seat implies poor engine maintenance.  The passenger sits down and while the pull down tray has no bearing what so ever on the ability of the plane to arrive on time or run smoothly, the passenger has the impression, simply from his dirty pull down tray, that the plane is in poor shape and the airline poorly run.

For me, a quality house starts with the curb appeal and is punctuated right at the front door. An impressive front door that is clean, fits property, and closes solidly behind you and leaves you in a quiet house, that smells pleasant and is bright and inviting sets my mind map for the rest of the house. I begin to look for things that support my first impression and tend to ignore things that counter it. A client more often than not will make a positive or negative comment with in the first minutes of entering a home.  And this is before seeing the quality of the air-conditioning, the windows, or the indeed the rest of the house.

I remember touring a new home outside of Tampa a year ago. As soon as I walked in there was an ever so slight give in the flooring as soon as I stepped in. The designer or builder had skimped in the floor joists support.  I never could see past this very obvious lack of quality and began looking for the failures in other parts of the house that supported that impression. In my mind the granite counter tops and hardwood flooring were just lipstick on a pig.

There is an old saying about quality: “Speed, Quality, or Price: pick two.”  If you want speed and price, you must sacrifice quality. You want speed and quality, you must sacrifice price, etc. There are similar trade-offs in housing. Another one I hear often is if you want energy efficiency, you must sacrifice price. I would agree that this is true about initial price to acquire, but not about the total cost of owning the homes. There is a trend towards smaller houses, but with higher efficiency in an effort to combat the buying price versus energy efficiency rule.

The national builders will “value design” a home to eliminate costly waste in construction so that with almost assembly line efficiency and with mass buying power they can lower prices for the consumer while increasing their bottom line at the same time, a win-win situation for all. In contrast, the custom builders marketing claims are that they do not have to cut a corner by eliminating a perhaps extra 2 x 4 or  an extra sheet or two of drywall, because for them this cost is not multiplied by 1000 homes.

For me, quality pays, it doesn’t cost. Not in the long run. Given the choice I would prefer a smaller high quality home that a larger, lower quality home. Quality pays in terms of cost of maintenance, energy usage, and ability to last. Some of the costs of ownership may be immediate – like in insurance costs and cooling costs. Others are long term such as replacement costs on roofing and appliances.

Front door detail n a new retirement home

Front door detail n a new retirement home

As you tour a new home model, sit down in a few of the rooms. Try to ignore the well placed furniture and the expensive window treatments. Notice that the doors are all missing (makes the house look bigger). Listen to the house. Is it quiet or is it easy to hear the lawnmower across the street and the wind at the windows? Look for the fit and finish. Check out the quality of the plumbing. (I always look under the sinks).  How is the craftsmanship? Do the corners fit true and snug?  Is the flooring level?  Look carefully at the grading of the house and how our heavy rains effect the house and the drainage?  In fact, as you get closer to a decision, request a tour during a rain storm as well as at night. One of the most common cost cutting measures in a new home will be lighting – homes are very seldom toured at night.

Builders know that the two most important rooms in a quality house are the master bedroom and the kitchen, so these are more certainly decorated well and sized properly. Get past those two rooms and dig a bit deeper. Storage in Florida is important (remember: no basements), maybe even more important than the dining room used only once every two months or so.

There are certainly many more aspects of quality that I have not touched on – for example landscaping, location, neighborhood and transportation.  For the home itself, even with a brand new home, I highly suggest a home inspection by a professional.

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