I went house hunting with a client yesterday let’s call her "Alice." Alice’s particular homebuyer neurosis is "closet" post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And she’s not at all in the closet about the fact that she has it — in fact, to the contrary. She’s extremely clear — in her head and with what comes out of her mouth — that ample closet and storage space is a must-have in her home-to-be and, by inference, the lack thereof is a deal-killer for her.
Alice currently lives in a duplex that is very nice, private and in a great area, but has virtually ZERO closet space. This is a problem, for a gal who I have never — I repeat, NEVER — seen repeat an outfit. She’s young, single, makes a great living and has a great figure, so she has, let’s just say, embraced her inner clotheshorse.
The result? Her bedroom is always a mess. Not dirty, but messy, because she has dramatically insufficient storage space. The No. 1 rule of feng shui is that old adage: a place for everything, and everything in its place. But following this rule of thumb is impossible if there is no place for all of the things!
Could she downsize her collection of stuff? Sure. And she probably will, as she’s actually an orderly person by nature, and fiscally smart, so I know she will not want to spend a single cent moving a single unneeded or unwanted item. Nevertheless, she knows herself well enough at this point to know that to live out her Vision of Home — including the vision of a totally orderly, fabulously organized home with a place for every loafer and every miniskirt in its place — she’ll need to set herself up for success by ensuring that she picks a place that has either huge closets, or supersized storage, or a plus room that can be used as a closet … or something.
I work with a lot of well-dressed women, so this is certainly not the first time this exact issue has come up. In fact, there’s a recent article in the New York Times real estate section in which a couple of single, women house hunters express the challenges of finding either "closets together with prewar charm and personality," or sufficient closet space in newly constructed units.
One such woman cut straight to the chase: "Why would you build a new condo with only two closets? Just because you are across the street from Manhattan Mini Storage does not mean you do not need more storage."
In fact, it’s likely that in this era of conspicuous frugality, the opposite is true. Want to get inside the mind of a homebuyer? Then understand that when she selects a home, she is often looking for a place that will eliminate the need for any other real estate rental fees that she is currently paying.
This is not limited to just the rental on their home, but parking space fees, storage spaces — the ideal home is one that obviates the need to pay for additional space: period.
And this issue is not just a woman’s issue. Couples actually have more collective stuff, and so need more collective storage. The husband of a house-hunting couple I toured with this weekend exclaimed with delight when a place had garage space sufficient to park both his car and his Total Gym.
Storage and closet space are primary dealmakers and -breakers in homebuying, and are especially attractive or deterrent at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
It’s not just about sticking your junk somewhere, but in those wished-for closets live a buyer’s vision of living an orderly life where before there was disorder. Of course, for some, it’s about a "hoarderly" life, but that’s neither here nor there. …CONTINUED
Closet space promises the grown-up, sophisticated ability to own more stuff than is strictly necessary for day-to-day survival, like, as the New York Times article mentioned, suitcases, cleaning supplies and ironing boards.
If you’re a buyer finding lots of dream homes that lack only for storage space, or a seller hoping to overcome closet deficiencies in your home’s sale, here are some solutions and alternatives I often suggest to my clients who are hunting for a house that cures their "closet PTSD":
Supplemental Storage: East Coasters and people who love old homes can’t imagine disliking a home just because of its closet space (or lack thereof). They would just buy furniture for additional storage — whether you go to flea markets, Craigslist or Ikea, there are tons of "pieces" you can buy to create additional storage. On the Ikea end of the spectrum, there are even pieces you can install flush against the wall to look built-in, without spending more than you put down on the house.
The Closet Room: This is my personal preference. One of the luxuries of living in a home you own is that, if you have a room to spare, you can use the entire room as a closet/dressing room. You can make the investment to hire a company that customizes closets and have them line the walls with design-your-own shoe racks, sweater cubbies, short and tall rod/hanging areas, and purse cabinets.
Or, you can take the more frugal and arguably more luxe tactic of lining the walls on your own with rolling racks, dressers, a vanity, etc., leaving space in the middle of the floor for The Ultimate Holy Grail of Homeownership: the ability to leave your ironing board standing open without it being an eyesore or obstacle. All day long. Every day.
Hog, I mean, USE, all the closets: The best closet-relevant implication of single living is that every single closet in the house belongs to you! All the bedroom closets. All the utility closets. The linen closet. The broom closet. Those little tiny closets with the built-in ironing boards. All of them!
Blow it out: If you’re buying a home worth several hundred thousand dollars, minimum, and the deal-killer is that the closets are too small, perhaps it might be worth the $500-$2,500 it might cost to extend, enlarge or even relocate your closet(s). Most often, this just involves pushing one wall out a few inches and maybe some fixes to the flooring you disturb.
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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