DÉCOR in Decor
Just as money can’t buy you happiness, neither can it buy you beauty and taste. And in the sustained state of emergency that is the experience of first-time home-building, a lot of crazy things can happen.
For 20 years I’ve been helping people who are in the throes of the building process. Over those same years, I have also been on the other end of it, working with new owners of resale homes who are trying to adapt to what they’ve bought.
So we have the blind leading the blind; or at least, the indiscriminate leading the overstimulated.
A lot of those homes have “features” that are hard to live with, unnecessary or downright tacky — sometimes all three. Much time and effort is spent undoing what was done in a flurry of upgrading when the house originally was built.
All this extra stuff must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Today it’s often incomprehensible. My clients say, “Why would anyone do this?”
I think it speaks to the vulnerability of people who are engaged in building a new house. And more importantly, to the huge differences between custom and production homes.
It’s like in the world of fashion; there’s a difference between a custom-tailored designer suit and the knock-off that’s going to show up in Target stores six months later. Something has to cost less and take less time or they would be equivalent products — and they’re not.
Usually, people building a custom home have professional help. Both the builder and the plans may be of higher calibre, resulting in better architecture, better design and a better outcome.
Builders of production homes are in a different market. They don’t welcome a lot of variations from the plan, but to satisfy their buyers’ desire for some control, they offer packages of upgrades.
Most of their buyers don’t hire their own designers so there’s no one really qualified to assist them with sorting out which are truly good ideas and which are better left on the table.
They may be swayed by the realtor’s agent who is their only help while they’re making their selections. I’ve often heard sales agents say things like, “Oh, everybody’s adding this feature, it’s our most popular upgrade” — which is more a statement on successful marketing than a ringing endorsement of artistic merit.
Sadly, many upgrades and extras are offered as a way of upping profitability on homes with very low advertised “base prices.” The upgrades are where the builder may make his profit on the project.
Even the list of possible extras (add a pillar here, a half wall there, a wall niche over there) are suspect. Without any professional oversight for appropriateness, the upgrade list may be just an amalgam of brilliant ideas cribbed from supplier catalogues, Florida design magazines and the builder’s own recent trip to L.A.
Do these features belong in a mid-priced Ontario home? Often they don’t.
But in many buyers’ minds, if the builder’s offering it and it costs more, well, doesn’t that make it a premium item?
So we have the blind leading the blind; or at least, the indiscriminate leading the overstimulated. (That’s not so catchy is it?) And this accounts for the weird appendages I see in some homes.
To protect yourself from buying into a long list of dubious quality features (and the endless ka-ching, ka-ching as these mount up) it’s necessary to take a realistic look at what you’re building.
Is it a true custom home with all the professional support that such a thing implies? Or is it actually a good house by a decent builder where you would be wise to keep a close eye on which features are appropriate and which are only padding.
Lose the assumption that things that cost more are automatically “better.” It breaks my heart to think of couples who stretch their finances to get unnecessary trims, finishes and details that will do nothing to enhance the livability or the simple beauty of a good honest home.
Write to Toby Yull, c/o The Hamilton Spectator, 44 Frid St., Hamilton, Ont., L8N 3G3 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.