The Open House & Curb Appeal

3 bedroom, 2 bath
2,083 square feet

The photographer they hired was talented. I put this particular Open House on my list because the backyard looked like a fabulous oasis and the front of the home gave a hint of art deco glam, circa 1930. As my husband drove down the narrow street with cars parked haphazardly and no real estate signs in view, I began to have my doubts. I watched the house numbers as he drove slowly in the rain. The best I could tell, we were almost there.

"Maybe they canceled because of the weather." My husband doubted aloud.

"No, it's right here," I pointed as a small real estate sign jumped into view. There was no curb appeal, I silently questioned why I had put this home on my list.

"Should we do it?" He asked.


And I'm glad we did. After we parked our car (blocking the driveway on the tight street), we walked into one of the most surprising homes I've seen. It was almost like walking through the wardrobe door in a CS Lewis novel. 

A bright naturally lit flagstone entry with a well varnished gnarled wood bench welcomed us. I wanted to hang my coat and stay, but I was just a temporary guest and began to wander.

The home owner had updated the 1930's home with every modern convenience imaginable, and it was beautiful! The bathrooms were Architectural Digest perfect with white porcelain sinks and modern stainless steel fixtures, the closets had been fitted with the Elfa storage system, a fabulously large laundry room had been carved out in the center of the home and the large kitchen was gourmet at its best.

I almost skipped from room to room, ecstatic that I had put this home on my list.

"Did you go in the backyard yet?" The realtor asked. "Don't let the rain stop you."

Out the sliding glass door off the kitchen, was the huge backyard I'd seen in the on-line photos. There were majestic redwood trees, a swimming pool, a classic cedar hot tub, a small shed which housed pool equipment and changing room complete with a shower and toilet. The yard also had stand alone building furnished as a guest bedroom. 

The rain fell harder, my husband and I did not stop wandering, but stood in the shelter of a rain proof umbrella standing over an outdoor dining table. "Do you love it?" He asked.

"Yes, this place did not look like anything from the street. What a treat!"

Going to Open Houses every week, I see much of the same thing over and over. This house is why I won't stop. Those homes which are unique or surprising are incredibly fun to look at and even more fun to imagine living in. This home would not be a good family home, but a perfect artist retreat or space for hosting salons. 

Next Sunday will be Easter, a holiday for many and probably even fewer Open Houses than Super Bowl Sunday. It's a good thing the Open House I saw yesterday was so incredible, it will tide me over.


Wet Cat Food on a Wet Day

Earlier this month I was invited to be a guest contributor to the mortgage website BeSmartee. It was my first hurrah away from my home blog. The column I wrote was easy advice for hosting open houses entitled "10 Things You Shouldn't Do When Holding An Open House", or simply Open House Dont's.

This past weekend I visited two open houses and through my visits could add two more tips to my Open House Don'ts: don't leave out wet cat food and don't hover.

Wet Cat Food
I've been to many open houses where I've encountered cats. I typically get one stern look from the cat as it scurries off under a bed or behind a piece of furniture. The run-ins are quick and harmless.The first open house I visited on Sunday had a warning taped to the front door. The rumpled piece of paper dampened by the rain put visitors on notice that cats were in residence and were not to be let outside.

I entered on alert for the cats. The felines never appeared through the entire visit, but what hit me the moment I walked into the house and stayed with me after I left was to smell of wet cat food. If one were to list scents that are objectionable, wet cat food is quite high along with fish, onions and dirty socks. The house looked like it had new carpets, but I could only smell the cat food. These particular cats were well loved in the home and had water dishes and food bowls in multiple rooms. The home owners may be great pet owners, but the food bowls should have been emptied and cleaned in favor of the three hour open house.

Hovering Realtors
I mentioned in my BeSmartee column that you want prospective buyers to feel free
to roam your house and open closets and kitchen cabinets. A realtor hovering and following one from room to room does not put a buyer at ease. The second home I visited on Sunday was empty, and I was the only one visiting the house on the rainy Sunday. The realtor followed me from room to room questioning my interest in the house. I know it's rude to spend time on your smart phone while in the company of others, but I would've felt better if he stayed in the front room and with on his phone rather than hovering.


Amenities and the Open House

My Sunday was spent at a volleyball tournament out of town. I thought at one point I could sneak out to see an Open House or two, but my daughter played too many matches and the outing never materialized. As I drove back toward Sonoma, I wondered what my blog post would feature since I had missed the inspiration in the weekly Open House. With my daughter sleeping in the backseat, I thought about all the homes I've visited. What made the good ones memorable versus meh? I figured it out. The thing that made an Open House memorable was the amenity.

The dictionary defines an amenity as: something that makes life easier or more pleasant. So yes, the amenity or thing that made the house more pleasant was what made a home memorable. Early in the 20th century, indoor plumbing or electricity were amenities, but as we have modernized our amenities have changed and become truly luxurious. Below is a list of amenities I've seen:

-Swimming pool       -Bocce Ball court                -Artist Studio
-Sauna                     -Hot Tub                            -Tennis Court
-Outdoor Kitchen     -Fire pit                             -Wine Cellar/cave
-Koi Pond                 -Game Room                      -Bonus Room

By Vic Brincat from Keswick, Ontario, Canada
The most common amenity is the swimming pool. While I do live in California, I do not live in the warm coastal region, but the cooler wine growing region. A realtor friend of mine told me that swimming pools are not seen as amenities in this cooler climate. While I hear his words, I honestly feel a bit happier and more relaxed in those homes where aqua waters beckon in the backyard. A pool makes a home feel like a small resort and everyone likes a resort living.

Game rooms are probably the next most common amenity I've seen. I only count them as such when they are a separate living space above a garage or detached from the house. When a home owner has converted a dining room to a game room, I never see it as an amenity, but instead a smaller house.

The bonus room is tricky. Realtors seemed to call it a bonus room when the space is not something that could be permitted as living space. I've seen rooms in sub-floors with ceilings that top out at 5 feet and stair cases roughed into attic areas. I would never call these types of bonus rooms amenities. The only time I would call a bonus room an amenity is when a prospective buyer could actually use the room, stand in it and feel comfortable. Low ceilings or nails poking in from the roof are not bonus rooms but should simply be labeled storage areas.

By Exscape Designs (Own work)
Outdoor kitchens seem to be gaining in popularity. The ever present backyard grill has matured and is now joined by a counter top and outdoor fridge with a seating area. Sometimes these outdoor kitchens are custom built and other times they are large pieces purchased from a home improvement store. Like the swimming pool, the outdoor kitchen screams resort living and can be enjoyed by all ages.

I look forward to next weekend and lining up my Open House visits. Perhaps my amenity list will grown. In the meantime, tell me: what is your favorite amenity?