Onyx? No, Thanks!
This week on the Riviera Maya my wife and I toured several terrific beach houses available for rent on SoIiman Bay. At one of them, the owner/manager devoted substantial time to pointing out unique features: the single slab marble dining table, the custom capiz shell chandeliers, the iron wrought and installed onsite. As we toured, we both had the same thought – “So what?” For a rental of a week, or even two, how do capiz lighting fixtures enhance my experience? I was reminded of the gulf which always exists between the owner and the prospective tenant or buyer.
Owners tend to be heavily invested in the choices they have made. The unique pattern in the parquet flooring. The blue marble in the boy’s bathroom and the pink in the girl’s. The Sherle Wagner dolphin faucets in the powder room. And the more personal those choices are, the more the owner cares about them and the less likely it is that a buyer will want them. This creates no problem provided the buyer is not expected to pay for the seller’s taste. Lamentably that is often not the case.
I have always recommended that owners make simple renovation choices. Go neutral with the appliances, the countertops, the bathroom fixtures and colors, especially if you have a five or six-year ownership window. Be bold if you wish in your decorating and color choices, but with the understanding that those choices will need modification when it’s time to sell. I have read several articles recently lamenting the blandness of staged spaces. My reaction: yes, that is precisely the point. Staged rooms contain furniture designed to create a sense of scale without being intrusive. Such rooms convey information about the space, not the owner. They facilitate the buyer or renter’s ability to project her own life and possessions onto the relatively blank canvas which the property now represents.
The piece de resistance in this particular house was the master bathroom, a 14′ by 16′ room with a vast, inconveniently shaped one-ton onyx soaking tub angled in the middle. Unless one has vast quantities of space to spare (and in New York City how many of us do?) neither onyx tubs nor bedroom sized bathrooms make too much sense. Today’s buyer, at almost every price level, wants high quality materials in a sleek and simple design. Sellers need not conform to this format when renovating, but they should be aware that most buyers won’t pay to recoup a seller’s investment in very particular style choices. They don’t care what it cost if they are planning to rip it out.
In renovation, as in staging, keeping the look simple and yes, maybe a little bland, widens the pool of prospects for whom the property feels right. The more unusual the property, the simpler should be the design, so the good bones shine through. Less is usually more.