Location, Location, Location

Living Well Magazine
April 2012


...may no longer be the phrase we live by when buying and selling real estate. Today, there are many more factors to consider when making a change to your home or your real estate portfolio. Along with your realtor, seeking professional advice from Architects, Engineers, Land Planners, Surveyors and Real Estate Attorneys can provide you with the help you need when making your decisions. In the long term, the right professional advice will save you money and time, without creating unnecessary stress. When supported by the right team of professionals, whether you're upgrading your current home, building your dream home, or just investing in property for the future, the experience for those who are informed can be rewarding and fun. With this in mind, I'd like to share some of my experience in this ever-changing world of home ownership and property investment with some important things to consider.

Your EXISTING Location may be the BEST Location.

You can't put a price on happiness. Many times your children, their friends and your neighbors are a big part of your happiness. While the lure of a new home, or new to you home, may be appealing, it may make more sense to stay in your own home, and avoid the upheaval to you and your family from changing schools, doctors or even losing familiar shopping locations. A well-designed and constructed addition may give you the opportunity to renovate and re-invent your home. Updating your home with a new Kitchen, Bathroom, or adding a first floor Master Bedroom Suite may be all it takes to give you many more years of enjoyment in your current home. Lastly, with many homes sitting on the market for long periods of time and selling for less than ideal prices, staying in your current home and giving it an exciting facelift may be just what the doctor ordered. Hiring a professional architect and builder with experience in renovations may be your best solution.

The BEST Location may not be the RIGHT Location.

Recently, David, a successful businessman based in New York called me on a Sunday evening and said he found the ocean front property of his dreams. The asking price for the property was $3 million including the existing house. Unfortunately, the existing house was too small for his needs and he wanted to tear it down and design a new home large enough to accommodate his 3 children, their spouses and 6 grandkids. David told me to get started immediately on the design process. My office started researching zoning codes, building and deed restrictions, surveys, and everything they could find regarding this property. Checking the deed restrictions is a must; most properties will have some restrictions imposed on them. It's not unusual to find a restriction which prohibits extensive improvements, or to have limitations designed to protect the surrounding area. In this case, the maximum footprint of the home could only be 1500 square feet, and the adjacent property owner had the right to approve any improvements to the lot. David's dreams of building his ocean front family home were shattered as this seemingly perfect location turned out to be wrong location for many reasons.

Do ALL of your homework.

A friend of my son had inherited his Grandmom's house, a large home in an upscale older neighborhood. Knowing that the upkeep on the old home was going to be beyond his current means, but not wanting to lose the opportunity of being able to live in such a location, the grandson made a decision to demolish the old house. His intention was to keep the lot for a few years until he was ready to build his own home. My son, Matthew, who is both an Engineer and a Real Estate Attorney working at my firm, asked if he'd consulted with anybody about his plan. He said he hadn't, he thought it was common sense to tear down the house and keep the lot until he was ready to build. His common sense could have cost him a fortune. New restrictions in building height and setbacks from the neighboring homes in the latest zoning code would not let a house of near the magnitude of his Grandmom's house to be built on the lot. By leaving Grandmom's house standing it was "Grandfathered" due to its age, and many of the new rules would not apply. An approved renovation of Grandmom's house could be worth more than other homes in the area, and definitely more than any new home on the lot. Changes in zoning restrictions can mean trouble for unaware homeowners, but using an experienced attorney and real estate professionals to research previous codes and variance possibilities can make all the difference.

Established communities don't always provide flexibility.

Building a new home on a vacant lot in an established community can often be a safe bet. The exception to this can be when the community has an Architectural Review Committee that has decided to impose new stringent rules to vacant lots, additions or other improvements. The Committee's intentions are usually for good reason; they may have found over the years that some of the additions or improvements were not in keeping with the aesthetics of most of the homes in their community. A well designed home by a professional architect using tools such as 3D modeling can give the community a clear picture of any proposed improvements. If you are going to invest in a lot, contact the communities Homeowners Association to see if they have architectural review policies, meet with any Committees they may have, show them your plans, and gain approval for your plans during your due diligence period, prior to the purchase of the lot.

Bigger is NOT ALWAYS better.

You would think that a 4 acre lot in a beautiful country setting would have plenty of space for a modest home. That's exactly what a builder client of mine thought when he bought such a lot. A potential homebuyer approached him with architectural plans to build a 3500 square foot, 2-car garage home which he thought would obviously fit the lot. Much to his surprise, when he checked with our office, the house, or any reasonable sized home for that matter, would not fit on the lot due to setbacks from steep slopes and wetlands. Fortunately, our Land Planner and the local zoning officer found an interpretation of the code that would let the builder construct this home. Therefore, it is critical when buying a vacant home site, large or small, to check with the professionals including the permit agencies before you begin the design process.

A Diamond in the Rough.

I was recently chosen to be the architect to update an existing contemporary style home with magnificent views of the Chesapeake Bay. The contemporary look was no longer desirable and the homeowner wanted a more traditional look to their home. Understandably, changing the design from contemporary to traditional would seem to be impossible, but I found that some "outside of the box" thinking would do the trick. The transformation included removing the existing roof and creating a new roofline which changed the character of the home into a more traditional home, with a timeless architectural appearance. All of this enabled me to include lofts, raised ceiling heights, tray ceilings and second floors that were never imagined by the original architect. This particular waterfront home also had an existing boat lift, bulk heads, floating rafts and docks, but due to current restrictions in this area of the Chesapeake, these types of improvements would no longer be permitted if they didn't already exist. I was able to help the homeowner recognize the existing assets of the property and visualize the endless possibilities. At first glance, some properties may not look as appealing as they could be, but with the help of a discerning and experienced architectural eye, a new property can emerge. Before the recent downturn in the housing market, if you made a mistake in real estate you probably would not have lost any money. Today, that mistake could leave you stuck with a property you are dissatisfied with, and unable to sell until the market recovers. However, this economic time can also yield favorable results. With over forty years in this business, I have never experienced such a great opportunity to invest in real estate. Whether buying new or upgrading your current home, it is important to remember to always consult with professionals in the industry. By using a reputable, experienced realtor that understands your needs, backed by other seasoned professionals such as architects, engineers, surveyors, and attorneys you will help make your purchase safe and valuable leading to many years of happiness, while also benefitting from the greatest right in our country -property ownership.