Look for quality when touring a home

Ever see two houses that seem to have a lot in common, but have significantly different prices? This difference is often more pronounced when comparing their prices on a per-square-foot basis. However, like some people, the beauty of some houses is only skin deep.

Identifying quality usually starts at the sidewalk. Does the landscaping look like it came straight from the corner home improvement store or from the cover of a magazine? The difference between the budget front yard and the professionally landscaped home can easily be tens of thousands of dollars, but over time a well thought out landscape will enhance the curb appeal and make a house distinctive.

Next up is the front door. Is it two-inch solid mahogany or 13/8-inch steel? Is the hardware still shiny and substantial or is the finish corroded and cheap feeling? A good lock set and ball bearing hinges can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a front door, but are often indicative to what you will find inside.

Once inside, look up. Is there molding where the ceiling meets the wall? Is it puny or substantial? How about the trim around the doors, windows and at the floor? Beefy trim costs more, but makes a strong statement about the level of finish present in the home.

Look at all the interior doors. Are they 13/8-inch or 13/4-inch? Are they solid or hollow? How does the hardware feel? How does it operate? The difference in these factors will be noticeable to the owner every day and again can be evidence of a well-appointed home.

Two areas that are often overlooked – but are among the most significant in contributing to value differences – are windows and cabinets. Certainly, an older home with newer windows is preferable to the original single-pane windows, but the cost difference between economical vinyl windows and the more substantial wood or wood-clad variety can easily run 300 percent or more. For even an average house, this can represent a variance of thousands of dollars. Many buyers become so enamored with the beautiful granite in a kitchen or bath that they overlook the builder-grade cabinets that are supporting the counters. Things to examine on cabinets include drawer construction, glides and hinges (are they soft close?) and door and drawer fronts (wood or particle board?).

Appliances can range in price significantly, but set the tone for a home’s stature. Stainless steel, long a staple in commercial and upscale kitchens, is now found at virtually every price point. Luxury brand names tend to be found in quality focused homes and is why you often see them called out specifically on MLS listing tickets. Many of these brands will have properties and features that are associated with their commercial-oriented cousins, such as refrigerators with dual compressors, ovens with a convection option and dryers with steam settings.

Other contributors to quality can be less material and more functional. Has the house been properly maintained and kept current to modern standards? Areas that often demonstrate the seller’s commitment to maintenance include tuck pointing mortar voids (especially chimneys), treating mildew on roof or soffits, grout repair, restored caulk in baths and around trim and replacing broken seals on multiple pane windows.

While a few Birmingham houses were purchased for less than $50 per square foot in 2014, others sold for more than 10 times that. Understanding the differences is important in making a sound investment decision.

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