What makes a home sell in a slow economy? Why are some homes more valuable than others over time? Architectural designer Marianne Cusato, who created the "Katrina cottage" to provide emergency shelter after the 2005 hurricane, offers prospective buyers a list of eight things to look for when shopping for a home.
1. Location. Proximity to daily needs. Can you get a newspaper or a cup of coffee without a car? Does a trip to your child's school require a ride on the interstate? Homes located in mixed-use, compact communities allow us to meet our daily needs by walking or driving short distances. There is nothing wrong with the car, but with gas at almost $4 a gallon, homes that are not 100 percent dependent on the automobile are more valuable.
2. Durability of materials. Is the home designed to last 10 years or 100 years? Are the materials used in your home specified to stand up to the climate where your house is located? Be wary of "no maintenance" materials. When they fail, it usually requires a complete replacement. Opt for low-maintenance products with minimal upkeep.
3. The floor plan. Does the home meet your needs? How many of us live in homes that do not fit our lives, with rooms we never enter, yet we still must spend the money to furnish, heat and cool them?
4. Garage location. Does the home contribute to or detract from the streetscape? A faceless row of garage doors creates an unfriendly environment for pedestrians. Look for a home where the garage is set back behind the front facade. Avoid the ''snout house,'' where the garage is the primary element on the front of the house.
5. Design of the roof. Avoid a roof with endless gables. Multiple gables are the calling card of the now infamous and much-derided McMansion, and a symbol of what not to build. Complicated roof designs are expensive to build and make every house look the same.
6. Commonsense design elements. Use elements and materials only when they make sense. Avoid materials that make the house look like a patchwork quilt. All this adds unnecessary cost to the home and actually detracts from the value. Real value comes from elements that make sense, like windows on the side of the house that allow cross-ventilation, therefore making the home more comfortable to live in and more efficient to heat and cool.
7. Less is more. Think about quality over quantity. This applies to both the number of elements and the square footage. The most valuable homes are typically those with fewer elements executed to a high specification. Simple buildings are easier to build and work together to form coherent streetscapes. When homes on a street work together to create an "outdoor room," they are individually more valuable than overly complicated homes competing for attention.
8. Windows. Look for vertically proportioned windows that are visible to the street. As a general rule, windows should make up 15 to 25 percent of the front of the house. Too much glass usually requires that shades be drawn all day and the air conditioner runs all the time. Too little glass means that very little natural light enters the home. Windows are also the "eyes on the street" that make it feel safe to take a walk.
Marianne Cusato, who also is an author, received the American Society of Interior Designers 2007 ASID Design for Humanity Award and the American Institute of Building Designers Florida Society 2007 Honor Award of Excellence. She is based in Coral Gables.