Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer where we field real estate queries from our clients. This time, we are talking with a client who has had an awakening of sorts – the realization that what started as an interest has evolved into something more substantial, shaping her overall perception of real estate.
Like many of my friends, I love design and décor, not just for aesthetic pleasure, but as a form of entertainment. With the growth of HGTV and other design media, there is always something to watch, learn or experience. I’ve recently begun my own house hunt during which I’ve begun to realize something. My design TV hobby has sharpened my critical eye to the point where I feel like I’m not going to be satisfied with my purchase unless it mirrors what I’ve come to expect housing to be – thanks to my frequent indulgences in design media. With the confines of my budget and the lack of listings, I’m totally realistic that I’ll have to compromise somehow. But, even knowing that, I’m genuinely worried that my home will look substandard compared to what I’ve got in my mind’s eye. I know I’m creating this problem for myself, but what can I do about it?
Can I Be Happy With Such Design Envy?
Here’s our response:
Dear Design Envy:
You’ve raised on a very interesting point, touching on a trend that is developing in a very real way in our society. While there is no denying the tremendous entertainment appeal of design shows and glossy magazines, the sheer volume, popularity and availability of them has transferred material changes to the house hunt. Buyer’s perceptions of what is acceptable as a baseline have been substantially altered; housing prices and a buyer’s willingness to spend to achieve that benchmark standard is unprecedented.
The impact of the media in establishing expectations is nothing new; think of the raging debate around the ‘standards’ of body type and concept of beauty that are reinforced by fashion models and magazines for decades. One compares oneself to this displayed standard, which incidentally is a contrived reality. If one uses this contrived reality as a benchmark, they’re really setting themselves up for disappointment. The same can be said for your admitted perception of what is important and desirable when it comes to housing.
The acquisition of a home is one of the most complex – and biggest – purchases most of us will ever make, followed by the acts of maintaining, upgrading, and filling it with contents. It’s no surprise then that the shelter industry is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy – home renovations contribute in the range of four per cent to the Canadian GDP! That wealth of opportunity for business is a marketers dream. Add to that the entertainment value of housing, design, and décor and you can clearly see why HGTV and other channels are so popular – they are feeding a voracious consumer appetite.
Housing has continued to advance, beginning in the days of cave dwellers right up to where we are now. Our housing tastes constantly evolve to reflect society, the economy, and the fashion of the time. But what distinguishes this particular movement today is the ‘perfect storm’ of low interest rates, giving people the initial means to purchase, modify, and create homes that mirror the inspiration they see on TV, while the media continues to perpetuate a the social pressure to do so. I touched on this before in Behold The HGTV Effect On Toronto Real Estate.
Understanding The Roots Of The Problem To Change Your Point Of View
The commodification of shelter – where the glossy lipstick of a designer kitchen holds more allure than the practicality of a new roof – has hijacked our sensibilities in our quest to acquire the ‘perfect home’. Today, Toronto property Sellers have at their disposal the capacity to garner top dollar by tapping into the intangible wants, wishes, and desires of a high-earning, career-focused, on-trend home-buying populous. While this isn’t always the case, the very fact that our collective psyche has set a new standard for what we consider ‘habitable’ (god forbid your kitchen has white appliances when stainless steel is a common luxury) has meant the bar of what we deem ‘standard’ finishes is the much higher and more costly. Homebuyers now expect this standard and are willing to pay for it, by whatever means necessary.
Today, even first time condominium buyers expect Caesarstone counters in the kitchen, which, let’s face it, is substantially elevated compared to the Formica of yesteryear that your parents or grandparents had. This expectation for higher grade home decor finishes and fittings have substantially contributed to the rise in property prices. It’s not only the real costs of incorporating these ‘standard’ luxe finishes – found in new builds and most every resale flip downtown – which have fueled higher property values, but also our exponential obsession with being ‘on trend’ in our domestic settings.
In a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, housing fashion seems to be oscillating faster and faster with each passing year; we’re churning out new products so quickly that the old ones are deemed dated well before they’re worn out. This blind obsession with a culture of consumption, cultivated through the art of media persuasion, has given birth to an era in which we mock granite counters, vertical blinds, and parquet floors (not that I’m championing them), and condemned us to elevating our housing stock beyond the thresholds of affordability, particularly for first-time buyers.
Toronto’s real estate values are currently determined less by the real cost of producing bricks and mortar, but more by our self-engaged desires, demands, and lifestyles. Here is an interesting article from MacLeans Magazine called ‘The Dark Side of the Renovation Boom‘ that is worth the read.
What is concerning, is that our obsession with housing media has flipped “need” and “want” on its ear. While housing certainly fills a psychological need for self-expression and belonging (my recent posts on Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And Toronto Real Estate For Buyers and Sellers talk in more detail about this concept), it is, at its base, physical shelter, followed by an investment opportunity. Both of these require a decidedly pragmatic approach to balancing need and want when on the house hunt.
So, what’s to be done? To counter the momentum of this movement, Buyers should re-introduce both time and sensible budgeting into their housing search. Just because your prospective home doesn’t look like it should in your mind’s eye today, there is no reason that you can’t renovate and tailor over time, as the budget allows. After all, the favorite products and design styles of today will soon become the cast-offs of tomorrow, inciting constant modifications and upgrades anyway.
What Are ‘Good’ Improvements?
The impact of this HGTV phenomenon is far reaching. A recent study by Houzz.com shed some light on some of the reasoning behind home renovations in Canada. While it is a well-known fact that home renovations for the most part fall into the “good debt” category because they should increase the asset value of your home. However, as the Houzz study shows, a staggering 83 per cent of Canadians choose to renovate their homes simply because they want to improve the look or feel of their home.
When taking on home improvements, it is important to remember that your home is an investment. There is definitely value in terms of quality of life in renovating your home to reflect your taste. But it shouldn’t do so at the expense of your budget or in place of other home improvements that will preserve your home’s asset value.
Every year, the Appraisal Institute of Canada surveys their members (over 5,000 professional appraisers across the country) and compiles a list of renovations that yield the best return on investment. Kitchens and bathrooms are always big winners when it comes to getting the best bang for your buck (subject to taste and execution, of course), followed by exterior painting, basement renovation, flooring upgrades, window/door replacement, and furnace/heating system replacement. At the opposite end of the spectrum, results show that the projects that consistently demonstrate very little return, include landscaping, pools/whirlpools, home theatres, and skylights. For those planning their own reno, the AIC website has excellent resources, including consumer guides to help predict probable returns on various projects!
Check out this past post for more tips: ‘Eight Ways To Increase The Value Of Your Home’. If you own or intend to own a condo, here’s a condo-specific rundown of what is most likely to maintain or increase your home’s value: ‘Dear urbaneer: How Do I Boost The Value Of My Condominium?’ Are you a couple spearheading a renovation? Here’s my essential guide to home reno: Dear Urbaneer: Help! We Want to Renovate, And Keep Our Relationship Intact.
As for reconciling your expectations of housing with your housing reality, your best approach is to get grounded in the context of your own values and expectations when it comes to housing, instead of those that are set forward by the media. While social pressures are not always easy to ignore, you must recognize your own role in having created this standard, and, by doing so, sidestep it by choice. Furthermore, know that you’re not alone; we’re all complicit – albeit perhaps unwittingly – in the tacit agreement that certain housing stock is obsolete, tired, or in dire need of transformation. Set up a long term plan that will let you put your own personal stamp on your space, dependant your budget.
As they say, it’s the journey that counts!
Are you trying to find a property that matches the picture in your mind’s eye? We can help you determining needs, wants and wise purchasing for your future. Are you a first time buyer? Here’s Dear urbaneer: I Need A Crash Course In First Time Home Buying. Climbing the property ladder? Here’s How To Search For Your Next Property Purchase. Building your investment portfolio? This is the intelligent dwelling one of our clients recently purchased! With decades of experience in navigating the waters of Toronto Real Estate, my team and I are here to help!
~ Steven and the urbaneer team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –
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