If I were to ask what elements make up a house, some of you might rattle off a list that includes a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and perhaps a foyer or hall. Others might add a basement, an attic or a garage.
A foundation contractor would include form boards, concrete, rebar and anchor bolts. A construction foreman would certainly tell you that a house is made of joists, decking and studs. (After all, what’s a house without a few studs?)
A roofer would bring up trusses, shingles, fascia boards and drip edges. An HVAC contractor would think first of BTUs, heat pumps, thermostats and flexible ducts.
A plumber would likely mention pipes, stacks and elbows, an electrician would have breakers, receptacles and switches on his list, and we certainly can’t forget windows, doors, flooring and masonry.
But if I were to ask what elements make up a home, I suspect the answers might be somewhat different.
You might cite a common phrase such as: “Home is where the heart is,” or “Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.” And who among us has not donned our ruby red slippers, clicked our heels together, and whispered, “There’s no place like home?”
Sometimes I get the opportunity to see how people turn the houses I sell them into homes, but often, the plans they had to “make it their own” don’t seem to get done.
Why is that? Are we afraid of taking on do-it-yourself projects? Are the costs of our dreams for a renovated kitchen too high? Are we too tired to do anything but binge watch TV when we get home from work? Or does life simply get in the way?
I purchased my first house in the suburbs of Detroit in 1977 for $22,200. It had two bedrooms, one bath, a den, and funky angles that made each room feel as though it was an afterthought. It had no personality, so I set about to give it one. After all, I wanted a home.
The living room and dining room were perhaps the most sedate, with beige carpet and walls, rust and black plaid sofas and the requisite painting of Elvis on velvet. The first-floor den had blue carpet and white, blue and silver metallic wallpaper. I gave the kitchen a fresh cover of indoor-outdoor carpet in blue and brown paisley, with complementary striped wallpaper.
As if that weren’t enough, I installed gold shag carpet upstairs with green, gold and orange plaid accent walls in the bedrooms and brown and silver metallic paint in the bathroom. The home was certainly “me” and I’m thankful the “me” of those days is gone.
Still, I was one of the few people in my age group who owned a house. I shared it with a boyfriend, hosted parties, baked goodies for the office and gabbed over the back fence with the neighbor.
Now, when people tell me what they’re looking for in a house, I spend more time digging into the why behind the what, determining the elements that will make their house a home.
For example, if you want a gourmet kitchen, will it be just for show or will you really use six burners, a double oven, and a warming drawer? If you need a wine fridge do you have someone to share a bottle with, or should I be worried that you’re drinking alone? Will you be grilling on the patio and hosting friends and family gatherings or sitting on a balcony to wind down after a bad day?
If children are on your agenda, do you need a place for them to do their homework? Will there be an extra bedroom with en suite bath for an au pair or an aging parent? And will that garage you insist on house the Ferrari, the kayak, or the boxes you will someday get around to unpacking?
Whatever your needs, remember the immortal words of Burt Bacharach: “a house is not a home when there’s no one there to hold you tight and no one there you can kiss good night.” We could all use a little more of that.
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at Real Living| At Home. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.