I’ve been in business since 2002 and as you might imagine, I’ve spoken with many new homeowners who are looking to have their new space decorated. I’ve had a front row seat to many of the mistakes home buyers make when they don’t consider their interiors when selecting their new home. Now, this presumes that said buyers are interested in having beautiful interiors; some people don’t care, which is their right and they aren’t calling me anyway!
The very first person who wrote me a check for my services was such a case. At that time, I was marketing my business via snail mail to new home buyers. Sales transactions were published in local newspapers so I knew how much people had paid for their homes and I targeted my marketing efforts to homes of certain price points. Massachusetts has high property values, which is important to keep in mind. The house was a new build, 4,100 sq. ft., with statement kitchen open to a great room with vaulted ceilings. The master suite included a large bedroom, ensuite bathroom and walk-in closets. The purchase price was just under $850,000.00.
I met with Mrs. Client and she walked me around talking about all the things she wanted to do with the house. They had moved up from a smaller house and needed lots of new furniture and some furniture upgrades. As a new structure, there were no window coverings and so most of the windows would need something for privacy, light and temperature control and simple beauty. There are over twenty windows on the front of the house alone.
What was the mistake this home buyer made? Their budget was $20,000.00 – for a brand new, large home. And worse, before she called me, she’d already spend nearly half the budget on furniture and rugs from a local low/mid-budget furniture store. $20,000.00 wouldn’t cover the price of window coverings for the whole house. Additionally, the windows were all different shapes and sizes – builders seem to think this is good design – so off-the-rack window coverings weren’t a good option either.
Mistakes Home Buyers Make #1 – Not looking beyond the purchase price
So, the #1 mistake home buyers make is not having a clear idea of what the furnishings and decorations will actually cost for the home they are buying. Now, let me make it clear – this is not to be critical of a $20,000.00 budget. It’s a lot of money. But if you’re looking to nearly fully furnish a 4,100 sq. ft. home, it’s not going to get the job done. In the end, this lovely client said she wished she had called me sooner (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that!) but they couldn’t move forward with hiring me, so she paid for my hour consultation and that was that.
My personal rule of thumb for estimating a furnishings budget (furniture, lighting, window coverings, painting, but no heavy construction) should be 15-20% of the purchase price of the house. Where do I get this number from? Window treatments alone average $1,000.00 per window (some will be less, some will be more, it’s an average for estimating purposes). So, in the case of this new homeowner, the windows on the front of the house alone (24) would cost probably between $15,000.00 and $24,000.00 to cover. This includes a mix of custom soft treatments and hard treatments (woven woods, for example). Okay, now multiply that by every window that might need something on it. A decent quality rug runs between $1,500.00 and $10,000.00, depending on quality and size. Now add up how many rugs are needed. It’s not difficult, it just takes a little time.
So, please, when house hunting, consider your decorating budget as part of the purchase price. So, if what your interiors look like matters to you, maybe you should buy a smaller house and have more money to decorate it! You can always implement your designs over time, but have a realistic idea before you commit. Look at the windows, look at the room configurations, ceiling heights – all those oddly shaped spaces will cost more to decorate than a simpler style home.
Mistakes Home Buyers Make #2 – Form Over Function
In my mind, the #2 mistake is not considering function over form. We can get so wrapped up in how pretty things are, or conversely if we don’t like something, we forget to think if the space works for us. If you’re house hunting – pay no attention to wall colors or the existence of wall paper and other similar materials. They are easily and relatively cheaply replaced. But, does the room work? Is it the right size for your needs? This room above was my parent’s dining room for thirty years on Cape Cod. After my mom passed away in 2013, I got the house ready for sale and put it on the market in 2014.
More than one real estate agent suggested that I remove the wallpaper and the window treatments. I did remove the sheers on the windows which brightened and refreshed the room a bit, but otherwise, I just didn’t see the need to turn this room into a model of neutral blah. This room was decorated in the 1980’s and the furniture was purchased in the 1950’s. The rug (which is now in my bedroom) was originally owned by my grandparents. Clearly, this room isn’t to everyone’s taste – it’s not particularly mine. But, the modest size and traditional shape, the brightness and view of the back yard, made it a nice dining room space that easily fit dinners with 10 people. It functioned well and wouldn’t cost a bundle to furnish. That’s what we should be thinking about when we’re house hunting – how will this space work? (BTW, the house sold on the first day it was on the market to the first people who saw it.)
But ask yourself, do you really need vaulted ceilings? What of the heating and cooling bills, how will you paint it or decorate it? How big a chandelier do you need in a double-height foyer and can you afford it? Do you need a professional kitchen when take-out is your go-to meal?
Mistakes Home Buyers Make #3 – Don’t be a slave to trends
Don’t be blinded by what you see on Pinterest or Instagram. Not every trend is meant to go together, not every trend works in every home. It’s a lot like hair – not every hair style works on every person.
The “Rachel” was a signature look from the ’90’s. And you know what? Even Jennifer Aniston hated it – she said the only reason it worked was because her hair dresser was ready off camera between takes to fluff it. A good hair dresser can wrestle any style onto pretty much any head of hair, but how long will that last once we’re on our own? Usually only to the next time we wash our hair, if we’re lucky. And, even if you can wield a hair dryer and curling iron like a pro, will it complement your face? A good hair style both looks good AND works for the lifestyle of the owner.
This is the same with decorating – not every color, not every Mexican tile pattern, not every barn door, not every faux-rustic-cum-industrial light fixture is right for every house. And, they don’t all go together either.
I haven’t read the book, but from the images I’ve seen online, I’m not impressed. Also, $$$$.
Another thought – sometimes people will say “If you love it, there will be a place for it”. Not really. Maybe for art. I guess it depends on the why. Are you enamored with a trend or does the item actually speak to your soul? Trends are fun, but they come and go and it’s so easy for us to get caught up with something that’s “in” (gray walls, for instance) that we forget to ask if it’s the right choice. You may love a specific quartz or granite for your counter, and you may love a specific back splash tile – but do they actually go together? Do they complement each other and the cabinets? Are they easy to clean and maintain?
Mistakes Home Buyers Make #4 – Don’t Crowd Source Your Decorating
If you’re in a position to hire a design professional, do it. Pick someone whose work you love and whose personality you like. It’s a close, intimate relationship while the work is ongoing. And then, listen to what they have to say. Trust your designer or decorator. Trust yourself. Be honest with them about what you like, be clear and be present. But, too often today, homeowners are hiring designers and then working around them, asking others for their opinion, scouring the advice boards on Houzz and sending images from Pinterest at all hours asking for opinions, even if decisions have already been made.
Also, bring in your chosen design professional as early as possible. Even if you’re not going to be buying anything right away, just having a professional opinion will set you in the right direction. You might even hire a designer just to help with establishing a “to-do” list and budget – even if you then go about the work yourself.
If you don’t want to hire a designer, it’s fine. But tackle your project as a designer would. Make a list of everything you want to do. Do some preliminary research on pricing, ask questions of professionals. If you’re buying a house, share the real estate photos with a painter or contractor to get an idea of painting costs, or visit a store that sells window treatments and ask them for rough pricing. No one can give you definitive pricing at this stage (and you shouldn’t take advantage of someone’s time if you don’t plan on hiring them) but you’ll have a range to work with. But what you shouldn’t do is ask your painter to suggest colors and then post photos all over Houzz and other design boards asking for input. Because if you ask five different people their opinion, you will get five different answers. And likely none of them is a professional. If you don’t ask a professional, you won’t likely get a professional quality response.
Mistakes Home Buyers Make #5 – If it does not fit, you must chuck it!
Most people aren’t in the position of buying a new home and furnishing it completely new. That’s totally ok. But, as William Morris said:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
Don’t keep things that aren’t truly useful or beautiful out of sentimentality or a misguided feeling that you should be thrifty. If something isn’t functional – and I would argue a sofa next to a bed blocking a door is neither useful nor beautiful – then it’s a waste to keep it. Donate, sell on consignment if it’s good enough, leave on your curb – someone is sure to want it and put it to good use. In the end, our things are just that – things. They serve a purpose and should have function or be pleasing to the eye – preferably both.
When it came time to clean out my parent’s home, after my family and I took what we wanted, I had an estate sale. I contemplating keeping the dining room set, for while it’s not really my taste, it was functional, beautiful, and free. I thought about painting it. But, in the end, I decided that while I had a lifetime of memories of sitting around that table, it was simply too big for my needs and if someone else could make use of it, then they could start their own memories. The entire set (table, chairs and buffet) sold at the estate sale for $150.00 – which was less than I hoped, but it wasn’t sent to the dump and someone was able to make use of it. And I am not stuck with a too large dining room set that’s not really “me”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on mistakes you’ve made, or avoided, when buying a new home!