I Love Unique Homes, But Here’s Why I’m Buying a Cookie-Cutter House

published Feb 8, 2021
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When my fiancé and I started looking to buy our first home, our real estate advisor (my mom) offered the following refrain: “Don’t pick anything weird.” At first, I thought this was just another one of her trademark pieces of advice. Unsurprisingly, she knew what she was talking about: when it comes to real estate, being too far outside the box might hurt you financially. 

How much this pertains to you has to do with your resale timeline — whether you plan to stay in the home you purchase for a long time (as in a “forever home”), or whether you’re hoping to resell it in the foreseeable future. If you’re in the latter category, as we would probably be, you’ll be best served (financially at least) by squashing your nonconformist instincts and marching to the beat of a more conventional drum.

“If you’re thinking, ‘Okay, I’m only going to hold onto this for five years,’ you want to prioritize having as many future buyers as possible. For that, you want something that will have broad appeal, and that’s usually something that’s kind of cookie-cutter,” says Katie Cummings, a real estate agent in New York City. 

Of course, what’s cookie-cutter depends on where you’re looking. In New York City, Cummings explains, buyers tend to like “simple, clean looks,” particularly in bathrooms and kitchens. “White subway tiles are the ultimate example,” she says. People’s preferences for exteriors vary too. For example, you may think that an ultramodern facade looks cool, but if it’s in a neighborhood of brownstones, it’s likely that future buyers will come to that neighborhood looking for brownstones, not ultramodern facades. The same goes for a neighborhood full of ranch houses or Victorians.

Though some of this seems counterintuitive (at least it did to me: Why wouldn’t I want a house full of amazing, one-of-a-kind architectural touches?!), most of it can be explained by the real estate principle of functional obsolescence. In essence, homes can be considered functionally (i.e. economically) less valuable when they’re too dissimilar — in style or quality — from the other ones around them. 

This rule applies to changes you might make to a home you already own, too. If you’re planning to do renovations just for you, and don’t really care how they’ll affect resale value, go buck wild. But if you have an eye towards a future sale, it will pay to be more conservative. 

It’s important to remember that what’s popular does vary, though. Leading Massachusetts realtor Debi Benoit explains that in the suburbs of Boston, where “old homes with character” tend to reign supreme, mid-century and other contemporary-style homes are flying off the figurative shelves.

“Houses that are 25 years old and younger have become more popular because they have the basic floorplan of contemporary houses: open concept, master suite, en suite bathrooms, higher ceilings, big basements,” Benoit says. 

Cummings believes that, for suburban homes, these kinds of preferences are here to stay. 

“For the younger market, the younger families, the taste for beautiful old homes that don’t have central air and have a million rooms — people don’t want that anymore. I don’t think that’s just a fad,” she says. 

Alas, I may just have to give up my dreams of moving into this incredibly ‘90s home in Minnesota, but only so that I can afford a bigger, weirder one in the future.