At this point in this series, we’ve explored sight, smell and sound — the primary physical senses involved in sensory or, more accurately, multisensory homebuying. Taste is, obviously, implicated much less frequently (although I did swipe a staging apple from a bowl a few weeks back during my third back-to-back appointment without a break on a day of "cardio house hunting" — and yes, I did check first to ensure that it was a real apple, not a staging prop).
The other physical senses, touch and balance, are similarly tough to use on a house hunt, except to the extent that we perceive things like a funny wall texture, distinguish between hardwoods and laminate by feeling for wood grain, or sometimes feel slightly off-kilter when our footsteps alert us to an older home’s sloping floor.
But the last sense we need to explore is not classified in the textbook lists of somatosensory perceptive senses. I submit that it ought to be listed in the real estate books, though.
The last sense is the real estate equivalent of a sixth sense. Let’s call it "feel."
A few weeks ago, I showed one of my more discriminating buyer couples two homes back to back. We’d already gotten clear that they needed quiet, preferred the clean but warm austerity of the mid-century modern to the nook-and-cranny charm of the Mediterraneans and Victorians, and that San Francisco Bay views were strongly preferred.
So we looked at two places about a half-mile away from each other, both high up in the East Bay hills. They looked pretty comparable from the street — both built in the 1950s, both in the general style these folks preferred. One was higher up on the hill and significantly larger — that one was priced a bit higher, too. But the smaller one was the standout winner. Why? It had the "feel."
So much so that I actually wished, out loud, that the multiple listing service had a check box in the property description section where listing agents could indicate whether the property had the "feel." I’m using the term "feel" to describe both the perceptive sense and that quality of a home, which perceived, is interpreted in a buyer’s brain/mind as "feel."
If you’re a real estate fan, you likely already have a nonverbal concept of what feel is. But before we try to define it, let’s get clear on some feel need-to-knows. First off, every buyer is not looking for feel. Some folks are simply pragmatic in their tastes, just grateful to be able to buy anything at all, or have other priorities and values for their home that trump feel by far.
Second, if there was an MLS check box for feel, I have no doubt that the rotten apples amongst my real estate colleagues would simply check it every time, even for places without feel, so that there would be little to no true information value added for having the box in the first place. In fact, it would very likely very quickly devolve to the point that if a property’s listing did NOT have the feel box checked, you’d know it was pretty stinking bad. …CONTINUED
Now, back to what feel actually is. It is tough to articulate a definition of feel, but not impossible. Feel is best understood in the context of a concrete example. With my feel-driven buyers, before that particular showing we’d had lots of discussions about style and floor-plan issues. The house that didn’t have feel had about 1,000 square feet more than the feel house, including a downstairs family/bonus room with a separate office — a feature these clients were specifically looking for, and which the house with feel didn’t have. The non-feel house also had an en suite bathroom in the master bedroom; the feel house didn’t.
As I walked through the properties, though, there were some definite distinctions which created the feel-spectrum contrast:
- Proximity to neighbors — The feel house was spaced further from the neighbors; in comparison, the non-feel house’s position vis-à-vis the homes next door felt claustrophobic and apartment-like.
- Street traffic and street maintenance — The non-feel house was on a thoroughfare patched and spackled with pothole repairs; the other was freshly paved and on a street with less traffic, and so a more private feel.
- Window placement and quality of views throughout the home — While both homes had views of the Bay from their living room windows, the non-feel house had lots of windows unfortunately poised so that while washing dishes or cooking dinner, the homeowner would be forced to ponder stunning views of the neighbor’s roof and rusted rain gutters. The feel house’s windows seemed to have been placed to frame the very best outdoor views, even if that was simply a flowering backyard hedge, in some instances.
- Open space — The feel house had no rear neighbors but, rather, a large, protected open space behind the home. The non-feel house, again, was in a denser block, with homes all around that could either see into or be seen into from the property.
- Size vs. quantity of rooms — The non-feel house was bigger and had more rooms, but had a lot of small rooms and a correspondingly choppy floor plan with lots of doors. The feel house had far fewer rooms, but each room was much more spacious.
- Position of home — The feel house was situated on a corner, with so much open space between it and the nearest neighbors and such perfect exposure that light poured in every well-placed window unobstructed. The non-feel house was also on a corner, but at a 90-degree angle, exposure-wise, from the feel house’s position and, as such, felt gloomier, darker and — given the choppy, convoluted room scheme, just less pleasant.
- Landscaping — Both homes were immaculately landscaped. The feel house had clean expanses of (admittedly eco-unfriendly) grass with meticulous flower beds. The non-feel house had an intricate Japanese garden — they were beautiful, but also complicated, tougher for the eye to scan and detailed enough to give the impression of being time-intensive to maintain.
- Built-ins and lines — Built-in bookcases, arches, niches and moldings create feel — for sure. But clean lines can also. The non-feel house had neither.
- Staging — Really great staging with simple but higher-end furnishings created the vignettes of a lifestyle that maximized every view and square foot of the feel house. The non-feel house’s staging furniture looked like it might have been the listing agent’s castoffs, or maybe even the owner’s own oldie-not-goodie furniture, whittled down. Not a good look. …CONTINUED
While some of these feel factors are partially sight- or sound-based, they are more than that, too, and interact with each other to a high degree. For example, window placement and the property’s position are interconnected with sight, but they also interact with each other to contribute to the perception of how close or far from the neighbors the home is located.
Some buyers detect feel and say, "This house has good feng shui." Others reference flow, or call out all the sights, sounds, and other sensory inputs that they can articulate as favorable, then declare that their attraction to the home is much greater than the sum of these sensations’ parts: "This place just feels really great." Buyers do this intuitively — they just walk in and know.
Sellers, if you want to either price your place appropriately or prepare it to get top dollar, visit some open houses in your neighborhood and look for those with feel — this will give you a reality check on what your home might be worth in comparison, or give you a weekend chore list to give your place a feel injection, if possible. And while you’re visiting the competition, don’t just look — use all of your senses to put yourself quite literally inside the mind of the buyers who will tour your home. I guarantee that your buyers will use all of theirs.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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