Let's just say that house shopping with an architect can be a lengthy process...For most architects the running commentary of design evaluation never ceases, whether we are walking the dog, enjoying a bike ride, driving down the road or flying over a city. Design is always with us. When shopping for a home, that internal Socratic dialogue is as at a heightened state; for those with spouses, we apologize in advance.
So what do I look for?
1. Good site. Is the house sited appropriately to sunrise, sunset, prevailing weather? Is there good drainage? Is the landscape in good shape, or does it need work? Are trees and plantings starting to weather the house- by affecting the roof, the siding or the foundation?
Does that house sit appropriately on the site? Is there a sense of outdoor rooms? Does the driveway gracefully arc through the lot? Is the house dangerously close to any setbacks- could it be added on to easily?
2. Good bones- I look at the foundation, the framing (if visible), siding, windows and roofing. Are they in good shape? (I once visited a house I was interested in and had shingles fly off the roof over my head- not a good sign). Are there water leaks? (I passed on the house with 2 feet of water in the basement, which sat on a natural spring back in Pennsylvania). Products suspected to be asbestos? (At one time Asbestos was put in all sorts of home products- do some research, take samples to be tested if necessary). Is the house a simple shape that lends itself to an addition, or is it a jumble? What shape are the mechanical systems in?
3. Does the house have the big five of residential architecture? Kitchen, Living Room, Master Suite, Garage and Storage? I call these spaces the big five, because they are the spaces that will add the most to your daily enjoyment of a house. What shape are they in? Are they dated or freshly renovated/ added? Could they be added easily?
4. Aesthetics- does the house have a style and is it cohesive? Could I get it there without tearing half of it down? Could simple things be added- ie., porches, awnings at doorways, a garage, a breezeway? Could the attic or basement be finished? Does it just need scrubbing, painting and a refresh?
5. Zoning, Code and Covenants. I always check the zoning of a home I'm interested in. What are the regulations that apply to the lot? Find out about setbacks, easements, and right-of-ways. Is the current house in compliance; does it have open permits? Is there a site survey or as-built drawing? Do the original construction drawings exist? Are there waterways or wetlands? Are there other projects in the area being permitted? Are you in a neighborhood with covenants and restrictions? Any pending road construction? Call or visit your building department, press your realtor and do your research.
6. Finally a brief word of advice- buy the smallest house in the nicest neighborhood you can afford. Location really does matter.
7. Still not sure? Consult an architect before you buy!