10 Key Factors You Must Consider When House Hunting.

Most people when buying a home, walk around inside and out for an hour, fall in love and make an offer.  If the offer is accepted, then they hire a home inspector to catch the flaws and create the sellers’ “fix it” list.  Fast forward to the successful closing, the excited owners move into their new home.  However, after the new homeowner honeymoon of about the first two weeks is over they start to notice things, a lot of things!  That’s when unnoticed issues become real and hidden problems become expensive.

“What does this switch do?”

“Why does the water drain like that?”

“Who would put that cabinet there?”

“Why is this room so cold?”

The strange, odd, and broken things start showing up while the flow of the floor plan starts becoming a reality.  Do you have to duck under kitchen cabinets to talk to someone at the dining table? Maybe you have to peak around a wall to see the little ones playing.  Does your garage get a puddle every time it rains?  Are you always tripping breakers or maybe your septic system can’t keep up and what’s that weird smell?  The point is, buying a house takes attention.  Having to get beyond the distraction of the beautifully staged home to search every nook and cranny in one fast hour is impossible.  If a second showing isn’t possible due to high demand and offer competition then you HAVE to use your only hour wisely and strategically.  I’ve categorized the 10 areas that I feel as a designer will cover the bulk of the hidden problems…

empty house icon

1.Basic needs

Before you even start house hunting, make this list.  These are the deal breakers, the “don’t even walk through the front door if they’re not there” items.  Make a list of your requirements for why you are even looking for a new house.  Some examples might include: # of bedrooms & bathrooms, an attached garage, a bathtub or fireplace, central air, dedicated office space, open floor plan, master en-suite bath, private yard, location, and waterfront views.  The point is to know your personal list and only look at those that qualify.  Don’t waste time looking at a house that doesn’t tick your major must have boxes.  Yes you can renovate, but buy your basics that you need already in the house.

lodge living roomopen floor plan

2. Flow & Orientation

Once you’ve set foot into the house that fits your needs start looking at the flow and floor plan of the house.  Is it open concept or a historic home with walled off rooms?  Pay attention to the sight lines, especially from the kitchen and to the living room.  Remember the kitchen is the hub of the home, how does it relate to the rest of the rooms?  Is there a breakfast bar in the island or a separate dining room?  How’s the home’s main entrance?  Is there a “landing station” somewhere near for keys, mail, and chargers?  What about a mudroom/coat area?  As you walk around the flow of the floor plan, imagine how you would live in the layout.

The next step, and often missed, is to figure out which side of the house faces south as this side will get the most quality sun during the day.  Not only is it your perception of your house being bright and sunny vs dark and dreary, sun orientation affects lighting needs (therefor your electric bill), heating/cooling impacts (your bill again), snow melting rate for your driveway, and growing success in your yard.  Some people may disregard sun orientation however they won’t when they realize they have to have all of their lights on during the day and their living room is sweltering in the summer.  In colder climates, south facing main activity areas are preferred.  Giant windows facing north will be very chilly come winter time and large west facing windows will increase cooling needs come summer time.  Learn the direction of the sun.

orange tabby catscreened in deck

3. Stairs

You’ve walked around the main floor, now are there stairs?  Is it a split level?  If so, how is it arranged room grouping wise?  What floor is the laundry room? Where is the master bedroom in relation to the other bedrooms?  For safety reasons, notice the stair railing spacing and height.  If they’re too wide or low, they’ll need to be replaced.  For outside access, are there stairs from the deck?  If you have older pets that go out or young children to play outside, a flight of deck stairs might not be for you.  Do you even want stairs?  If you’re buying a house later in life, it may be wise to avoid multi story homes for ease of use in the long term.

finished attic space

4. Storage 

First and foremost, don’t buy a house because of its storage.  Purge your stuff before you move and preferably before you start house hunting.  Do you have old sports equipment, out of date/outgrown clothes, rusty baking pans, old shoes, leaky hoses, rusty tools, old paperwork, or threadbare/stained linens?  None of this should move with you!  Many people get too busy at moving time and simply box it up and take it with them kidding themselves they’ll sort it when they move in.  Do you know what happens then?  People don’t sort it out, they shove that box in their walk-in closet, tuck it in their attic or by the furnace in their basement right next to the other boxes from previous moves.  Thirty years later, those boxes haves accumulated and the storage monster has gotten out of control.  Eventually, your storage nightmare will fall to your next of kin to handle because you didn’t. Love your loved ones and sort your own stuff.

Purge every season, every year, and before every move.

Now, analyzing storage needs that have purposeful functions including: garages, finished attic/basement, and walk-in closets.  If you’re buying in a four seasons climate then a garage is a blessing, especially an attached one.  Finished attics work great for offices, libraries, hobby rooms, and teen hangouts. Finished basements are great for wine rooms, home theaters, playrooms, rec rooms, and gyms.  Walk in closets are typically coveted for master suites and fortunate in children rooms.  However, based on your amount of clothing and whether you use dressers, you may be able to use standard sized closets found in older homes just fine.  Is there a linen closet or a coat closet?  What about a garden shed, third stall garage or driveway apron?  All of these support additional storage areas for active needs and routinely used items, but NOT your old boxes of stuff.

modern kitchenoak cabinets, traditional kitchenwhite shaker style cabinets, transitional style, white kitchens

5. Finishes & Materials

This item is usually what home buyers focus on the most.  Rightly so, it dictates the feel and age of the home.  For the interior, it can include: cabinetry, counter tops, lighting, wood trim, doors, metal hardware, tile, flooring, ceilings, paneling, skylights, window treatments, paint and wall coverings.  For the outside, it includes siding material, deck vs. patio, windows, doors, garage doors, porches, roof and foundations to name a few. Buying a home that is still in a previous decade and not in a good way takes a lot of work and money to update.  Know your limits and tolerances when buying a home like this.  Maybe you don’t mind painting or want to install hardwood floor regardless.  Can you afford a remodel or do you have time or tolerance for renovations?  In more expensive real estate markets, buying an older home and renovating it can be the only way to get into that desired location and therefor necessary.  However, build that construction cost into the price of the home to make sure its still comparable to the area.

All finishes have a lifespan and each material has its pros and cons.  One may be easier to maintain or more efficient for utilities while another one is better for your lifestyle or aesthetic preferences.  The point is, analyze the upkeep or replacement of these materials and take it into consideration when choosing the right home for you.

wood frame consruction

6. Utilities

These are the bones and brains of your home.  Unfortunately, when these system go, they require tearing apart your house.  This category includes: wiring type, electrical panel amperage, structure/foundation, air conditioning method, oil vs. natural gas, solar panels, geothermal, radiant floor heating, radiators, mini splits, septic/plumbing, piping material, well vs. city water, fireplace and chimney, radon mitigation, sump pump, water heater and softener, kitchen and laundry appliances, and insulation.  When touring a potential home you should ask yourself if you’re comfortable maintaining that type of system and equipment.  New homes win hands down in this category for being built up to current codes and higher standards for energy efficiency.

A separate blog could be written regarding each one of these so I’ll just touch on a few key factors that perspective home buyers should take note.  When touring existing and older homes, look for ones where systems have been updated and recently replaced.  Ask about the type of heating source’s monthly cost, water quality, fireplace inspection, and age of all appliances.  Are you familiar with the systems in the house you are touring?

A special note regarding radon as many people are oblivious to this danger:

Radon can be in any home in any location.  Even if it’s not in your neighbors it can be present in yours.  It is odorless, colorless and long term exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer.  Ask for a test if a mitigation system is not in place. 

paved patio, landscaping, colorful pillowsmaintenance free fencing, healthy lawns, landscaping, privacy fencecottage, landscaping

7. Yard Maintenance

Now it’s time to turn your attention to outside matters.  Stroll around the yard and take note of the landscaping.  Do you like to garden or do you want minimal work?  Are you looking at a condo or is there an HOA, as both have rules regarding the yard upkeep. Notice the trees in relation to gutters and in colder climates for fall raking.  What’s the age and material of the deck or patio?  Are there railings that need to be updated?  Is there a pool to maintain and if so, a fence around it?  In many locations a pool alters home owners insurance costs so be aware.  Do you want a fence for privacy or security? Maybe you enjoy planting vegetables or herbs, where would they go?  Does the property back into woods or conservation land?  Are there utility poles visible or are they buried? Again, like the utilities and finishes, know what your capabilities are in regards to maintenance and upkeep.  If you’re moving from an apartment to a house for the first time, the yard is definitely an area you’ll want to consider.

Seattle, drainage, house maintenance

8. Drainage

Unless you live in Arizona, you’ll have to consider drainage.  Different soils in different parts of the country drain differently so know your region’s soil type.  Driveway construction should be noted: gravel vs. paved, concrete vs asphalt, as well as slope if you live in an icy or rainy climate.  Is the house situated at the bottom or top of a hill?  Does it have retaining walls that you should check for cracks?  Is there a body of water nearby and are you in a flood plain?  What’s the yard slope and are there French drains installed?  When inside, inspect the lower level corners and walls for past leaks.  Walk the perimeter and feel the “squish factor’ of the soil, standing water is not your friend.

yorkie puppytoddlers, touch a truck

9. Neighbors & Roads 

This one is a lot more subjective based on your lifestyle and preferences.  Is the house located on a child friendly road vs. main road?  Is it a connector street or cul-de-sac?  Is there road noise outside that can be heard from the deck?  Are there any barking dogs outside?

What are the neighbors’ houses like and how does your house compare to others in the neighborhood?  Is it the most expensive, comparable or the least expensive?  What are the nearby adjacencies?    Are you a walker, if so, are there sidewalks?  What are the neighboring streets like?  What’s around you?  Knowing your neighborhood will help you not only make a secure decision but also when its time for you to sell, the return on investment, knowing your house is comparable to the area and not drastically different.

aerial, neighborhood, commute time

10. Travel 

If you lead a very active lifestyle and are always coming and going you’ll need to take note of where the house is in relation to all the places you need to go.  These include schools, work, errands, leisure activities, friends and family.  Do you travel for work or leisure frequently?  Where’s the nearest freeway, airport, and commuter train station? Tolerable commute time is very subjective and up to the individual.  Its a common choice between a great house and a great location.  This item works as a tie breaker to choose between houses.

A problem in any of these areas isn’t necessarily a deal breaker as every buyer decides what they can learn to live with or fix themselves.  The problem arises when many of these items are evident, then the buyer must think to themselves how much do they really love this house or can they wait to buy something later?  No house is perfect, but the house you buy should tick many boxes and be a “wise buy”.

Buying a house is one area where your heart should not make the final decision, your head should make the ultimate call.

Check out my companion blog regarding preparing the inside of your home for a showing here. How to prepare your house for a showing.


Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner & Interior Designer

Daricilar Design Studio    –    Millis, MA

downsizing, real estate, interior design

Beyond the Beige Box; 6 ways to create curb appeal and exterior detail.

Another season has started, real estate season!  In Massachusetts, this year’s season seemed to start February 1st with the dripping of melting icicles.  Many parts of the country may not get going until May, however out in Boston and the surrounding metro area, people are thirsty for new property as they move up, downsize, or try to shorten their commute by 20 minutes.  Open houses out here are busy and the buyers compete.  Just like a job interview, first impression is key and for property that’s curb appeal.  Even if you’re not preparing to plant that powerful “For Sale” sign in your front yard, creating curb appeal for your home is important for maintaining property value, neighborhood feel and fundamental homeowner pride.

The most expensive purchase you’ll ever make should be made to shine.  As an interior designer, my focus is inside a building, however I also have a background in city planning and urban design where I focus on enhancing the aesthetics of buildings and streetscapes.  So let’s go outside for a minute and take a look at what’s going on out there.

1. Style Basics & Color Schemes

Studying the style and architecture of your home is the first step in analyzing the color scheme.  All styles come with a feel and look that makes them work or makes them clash.  Searching online for the style of your home, you can quickly gather color ideas of tried and true combinations.  Another factor to consider is your weather and climate.  If you’ve traveled anywhere to a different climate you may have noticed the buildings are painted very differently.  Mainly to do with weather conditions, cultural influences, but also to do with the sun, particularly the quality of sunlight.  Northern climates tend to favor gray and beige schemes as the sun intensity is greatly reduced during winter months.  A brightly painted house would almost glow in the dark come January.  Move slowly south, the “Painted Lady” Victorian house starts popping up with bits of colorful trim.  Finally, go to tropical locales and you have fuchsia, turquoise, and canary yellow being acceptable and common place.  Historical and iconic locations such as Rome and Santorini even have building covenants in place limiting the color schemes to maintain the look of the area that visitors and residents expect and love.  Note: if you live in a condo community, check with your HOA for an official list of approved colors prior to painting, many communities have rules regarding color schemes.  Once you have developed a color scheme, use that inspiration throughout your project for continuity.  Painting a house or choosing siding is expensive and not done very often in the lifespan of a home.  This is not a time to reinvent the proverbial wheel in color schemes or combinations.

Washington DC townhomes, row house, historic neighborhood

Santorini Greece
Washington DC vs. Santorini


Netherlands, Amsterdam
Caribbean vs. Netherlands

2. Windows & Doors

Once your color scheme is established, its time to pay attention to the main features of your house, the windows and doors.  Accent colors tend to be used on front doors and shutters (if installed).  Front doors should also indicate what’s to come on the inside. Classic black indicates traditional style, bright colors usually indicate a more modern style, and complimentary or neutrals usually indicate a more transitional or casual interior. Styles of front doors should also be considered when enhancing the architecture of your home.  Cohesion is key to creating strong curb appeal.  Mullion and muntin lines in window profiles lend to the architecture style of the house, choosing the correct one is imperative.  Windows can cost up to 20% of the cost of your home, getting the style wrong is expensive and not a mistake that can be undone.

Yellow front door, curb appeal, historic homes

Notting Hill, Beacon Hill, Black front door, curb appeal

3. Wood Trim & Gingerbread

Victorian homes shine when it comes to wood trim or “gingerbread” when the correct colors are applied.  The term “painted ladies” describes the post card row houses of San Francisco, what many people envision with the term Victorian home.  Craftsman homes are another style where color palettes can greatly improve the wood trim appearance. Using more neutral and earthy tones in addition to stone accents can really enhance these homes.  Like idea #1 above, this is not a time to reinvent the proverbial wheel in color schemes or combinations.

Victorian home, restored homes, historic home, painted ladies

San Francisco, Painted Ladies, row house, historic homes
“Painted Ladies”

4. Details & Hardware

A quick way to enhance to the appearance of your home is with door hardware.  Its an up close detail that can add a lot of charm and character for relatively little cost.  Many home owners think of new door knobs and locks as the only option, however this category also includes items such as door knockers, hinges, brackets, kick plates, and house numbers.  Again, stick to the common architecture style of your house and stay in the same “line” when choosing items at the store.  Decisions to consider are the metal finish, profile, intricacy, and style.  For house numbers, the font choice will also need to be considered.  Just like letters, the font of the letter depicts a feel and style that needs to correlate to the overall style of your house.  If placing it on your house, by your front door or by the garage are typical places, make sure its legible from the curb.  It may be necessary to place another set on your mailbox or on your landscaping nearby as it needs to be functional as well as aesthetic.

door knockers, antique brass, door hardware, hinges

5. Landscaping & Hardscaping

Flowers and landscaping is usually what most people think of when they think spring house projects outdoors.  Many people enjoy adding the bright colors to pots and along their walkways and driveways.  Don’t think you have a “green thumb”? You don’t have to be an avid gardener to plant a pot of flowers.  Start simple with one bright color in one pot on your front step.  When starting out, look for two things on the flower’s label: 1) amount of sun needed and 2) duration of flowers.  You don’t want to buy a flower that requires all day sun that stops blooming in June when you have a semi shady spot and want color all summer long.  If you’ve planted flowers before start analyzing your arrangement style.  Do you want more height or like trailing flowers that seem to overflow?  Hanging baskets and window boxes allow for the trailing feel on porches, while planting spike plants in the center of pots creates a sculptural feeling and provide height.  Consider colors that coordinate like your clothes but also add drama from the curb.  Consider your house color as a backdrop for the flowers and choose contrasting colors to add drama or similar colors for a more serene, calmer feel.

When it comes to hardscape, price quickly adds up.  Paved patios of rock and brick can become pricey.  Many revered English gardens use basic gravel for walkways, trailing into simple stone steps then disappear into the lawn.  Trimming the edge of a perennial garden with bricks or stones end to end can create a crisp border line and ease lawn mowing.  Build your garden slowly, maybe the first season you plant a couple of trees and outline the flower bed with some bushes, then add some perennials and a couple of potted annuals by the front door, finally adding the trim, decor and details.

colorful planters, purple flowers, petunias

English garden, landscaping ideas, park flowers

6. Fencing & Mailboxes 

Whether for safety or privacy, the aesthetic of the fence you choose is important.  Cost directly correlates to the material chosen.  Are you dealing with an existing fence or a mixture of fence styles? Consider adding tall shrubbery to the side you don’t like or want to block and open style pickets or rails to the side you want the view.  Specific rules need to be considered when installing a fence in consideration to the neighbors and location on property line.  Generally, the “finished” side faces the neighbors and the “back” side faces you.  Fence companies in your area should be familiar with these courtesy rules as well as your local building department regarding fence permits and allowable styles.

Finally, your mailbox should be considered.  This is the first thing someone notices when pulling into your driveway, don’t just stick a box on a post in a bucket of Quikrete and call it good.  If your mailbox is leaning and peeling, or the numbers are faded or missing its time for a face lift.  Also consider posts with planters included.  Flowers at the mailbox add obvious curb appeal because its…at the curb!

fencing, white lawn furniture, day lilies, mixed fencing ideas

mailbox ideas, flower pot mailboxes, yellow flowers, curb appeal


Using all or any of these six areas can get the creative curb appeal juices flowing.  Plant a flower, add some new numbers and paint your front door.  Maybe you spray paint your old patio furniture, replace your mailbox, and throw down some fresh mulch.  The point is to refresh and revitalize your home.  The exterior of your home takes a beating from the weather and needs care.  Landscaping needs grooming and the painted finishes need refreshing.  The curb appeal of a house is like a person’s face, make sure its smiling.

Next month, I’ll move back inside as I focus on what to look for when you’re shopping for a new house.


Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner & Interior Designer

Daricilar Design Studio    –    Medway, MA

Check out my previous blog regarding preparing the inside of your home for a showing here.

Join in April: “Buying the Right Home.

Preparing your house to show

real estate in Massachusetts homes for sale in Medway, interior designers in Medway, MA,

As spring moves into summer another season starts to bloom, house selling season!  In some parts of the country this season seems to come at the end drop of the last icicle melting.  So here you are, getting your house ready for the realtor to take the photos for their website, plant that powerful “For Sale” sign in your front yard, then commence the feverish constant upkeep for showings with an hour’s notice.  For the sake of this article let’s assume you’ve already raided the internet for tips on “staging” your house.  Now, let’s move beyond that.  This is what to do in that “power hour” before buyers come for a showing.  Let’s get extreme!

As an interior designer, I can help provide additional tricks after you’ve exhausted the typical tips on curb appeal, white slip covers, and removing knickknacks.  For example, have you rearranged your closets? I thought not.  Take a look at your closet, if it were a store would you shop there? If no, then get cracking.  Start by arranging your shirts by sleeve length and then by color.  Separate your bottoms into pants and skirt groups, fold your sweaters like they do in boutiques (sleeves inside), arrange purses along the top shelf, hang belts and scarves, and for the biggest visual impact face everything in the same direction, including the coat hangers.  Move on to the linen closet and repeat.  Fold towels into thirds with the ends facing the back, grouping colors together.  Turn all toiletry labels facing front (called “facing” in retail), and place all remaining miscellaneous items in a basket on a high shelf.  The same facing idea pertains to the cereal boxes and eye level goods in your pantry.  Your goal is to portray to the potential buyer that storage is not only not a problem but a joy in this house, its house eye candy.

Another trick, (this one’s more for you to live in this now immaculate house) is how to reign in your mail, bills, cell phone cords and miscellaneous life stuff that floats around the kitchen counter.  If you have space above your fridge, place a large high sided basket atop. This will become your hide away spot to throw all that stuff when its 30 minutes to show time. Lift it down, fill it up, and then raise it up out of touring eyes.  Awesome, right?

Bathroom remodel, interior designers in Medway,

Let’s go to the bathroom now.  At the half hour call to show time, tidy the bathroom.  Check your toilet is clean, wipe your faucets of water drip marks, pull your blinds open, straighten your towels (into thirds if possible), place your toothbrush/toothpaste under the sink and wet wipe down the counter and sink.  Toothpaste smears will not sell your home.  Straighten your shower bottles, fluff up your shower curtain, and tuck your trash back by your toilet.  For bonus effort, make a clean tidy tear on your toilet roll.

living room, colonial home in Medway, Interior Designers in medway, MA

Move to the the living room, you want to portray life energy can be possible, but not currently occurring.  Imagine your house like a snapshot of the potential of living there, that’s what you’re selling.  Straighten your pillows, refold your blankets (tuck your ends in), tidy up your magazines, fluff your curtains out allowing the windows to show.  Remove all shoes from the front entry.  Somewhere in this room hide a vanilla air freshener, make absolutely sure its not visible.  You are creating an atmosphere, not giving away the magician’s secrets.

white modern kitchen, kitchen remodel, interior designer in Medway, MA

For the kitchen, if you have a double sink, place the dish drying rack in there.  Better yet, take your dish scrubby brushes, rack and tuck them under your sink.  Your dishes do themselves, remember, create magic!  Place your basket o’stuff above your fridge, straighten your chairs and stools, wipe the faucet like you did in the bathroom, open any blinds, and take out the trash.

By this time in your preparation, you should be approaching an hour.  Spend the last 10 minutes scanning the major rooms and tweak minor adjustments (like focusing your photo frames to all face the same direction).  Your beds are already made (start adopting that morning habit and you won’t need to do it during your power hour.)   Now, take a fresh look at your home like the buyers will be doing. It looks pretty sharp!  Straightened, shiny, tidy, focused, and organized items all help convey the message that this home has been cared for, its a joy to live in, and its ready for them.

You CAN do it!  I believe in you.  Let your house shine, its been good to you.


Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner & Interior Designer, DDS

Millis, MA