Real Estate Matters | November 23, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - November 23, 2012

Real Estate Matters

Home remodeling words of wisdom

by Michael Dreyfus

If you're a homeowner, chances are you've either survived a remodel (congratulations are in order), or you've contemplated what you would do to your house to make it better. The question then becomes: Is your "better" the same as the next person's "better"? In other words, will the remodeling choices you make now transfer into future value?

After 30 years in the local real-estate business, I'm here to tell you that "better" is in the eyes of the beholder, but there's a general rule that can give you peace of mind as you decide where to put your remodeling energy and money (and to potentially save you a lot of both). Here it is. Are you ready?

The WOWs: Don't sweat the small stuff.

I know I didn't invent this rule, but I really like it. It can be applied to one's life and works handily when making remodeling decisions as well. Focus on the big picture, and don't worry too much about the little details.

In the world of remodeling, the "details" translate to colors and finishes: paint, tiles and countertops. Today's home fashion is on the fast track, morphing more quickly than J.Lo can change her dress length from mini to maxi and back again.

Take kitchen counters. In just the past decade, the mainstream material of choice has made the rapid-fire transition from marble to granite to limestone to soapstone. Throw in current trends towards quartz, concrete, stainless steel and recycled glass and whatever decision you make on countertops today won't be in style in 2022. So just pick what you love and enjoy it, like your grandma loved that fabulous avocado green refrigerator she picked out. If you love it, it's perfect!

Paint-color fashion changes even faster than countertops. Fifty shades of gray didn't just hit the bookstores this year; they're now in every house on the market, but by next year we will have moved on to a new palette. I'm predicting blues. My point is, whatever color you paint your house today, you will likely be painting it again with the paint flavor of the moment when it comes time to sell.

So what are the "big picture" remodeling choices that really do matter in the long run? The key consideration is and always will be floor plan. It matters tomorrow, and it matters 100 years from tomorrow.

Potential buyers can handle updating the cosmetic details of a home (at the risk of repeating myself, this translates to paint, tiles and countertops) and in some cases they actually want to. But a floor plan that doesn't work will squash buyer interest in a home quickly and fatally.

Here are three guidelines I advise friends, family and clients to follow when they are contemplating a remodel:

1. Stick with a traditional floor plan. The perfect (i.e., most buyer-friendly) house is one with four bedrooms, including a master, two kids' rooms and a guest room with bath attached or en suite, preferably downstairs or separate from the rest of the bedrooms. As tempting as it may be to put some distance between you and your teenagers, remodeling your home in order to put their bedrooms up and your master down might turn off young families who usually want their master bedroom on the same floor with their kids.

2. Don't tailor a home to your current phase of life or interests. Think about who your next buyer may be and what floor plan they would want. If your kids are grown and gone, avoid the temptation to get rid of their bedrooms to make a bigger master or a home theater. Repurpose those empty bedrooms while keeping the walls intact. You'll be happy you did when it's time to sell your home.

3. Tear down this wall. Between the dining room and kitchen, that is. It's official. The days of compartmentalized kitchen and dining spaces are over, never to return. From empty nesters to young families to single homebuyers, everyone prefers an open kitchen. So if you're worried the next buyer will want a private, formal dining room at the expense of a big, expansive kitchen, stop worrying. They won't.

So that's it for my remodeling words of wisdom. Don't sweat the small stuff. Focus on the big picture. And most importantly, enjoy the holidays with your friends and family!

Michael Dreyfus founded boutique brokerage Dreyfus Properties, with offices in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, in 2000. He can be reached at


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