New construction corner

Tom Corbett

Take advantage of buyer’s market to negotiate high-quality finishes

Market times have grown in Chicago during the last year, and the consensus seems to be that we are in a buyer’s market. That’s bad news for home inspectors, but good news for homebuyers. An overstocked market means more homes to choose from – and more freebies offered by anxious developers.

Buyers should take advantage of the slower market and try to get more bang for their housing buck.

How? Learn the difference between high-quality fixtures and finishes and their inferior counterparts, and negotiate with developers for the superior finishes that add value and aesthetic appeal to a home.

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the number of new homes on the market. Recognize when the quality of a condo or home is inferior and walk away. Here are some things to avoid in a new home – and others to demand.

Unworkable floor plans. Say goodbye to a home that has an impractical floor plan because there isn’t much you can do to fix it. This problem is particularly acute in the condo market, where every square foot counts.

Next time you walk through a new unit or look at the developer’s floor plans on paper, ask yourself if there is enough space to comfortably open and shut doors. In the kitchen, is there at least three feet between the refrigerator door and the countertop so that you can close the fridge without slamming it into the granite? Will the shower door open without banging into the toilet?

Also, consider whether or not the unit is configured to fit your recreational needs. Is the living / dining room (the two inevitably morph into one in new condos) shaped to accommodate a dining table and a couch? If you’re thinking of buying a unit in an older building that’s been rehabbed, check to see if the second bedroom has a private entrance. If it’s accessible only through the master bedroom, you can forget about having any privacy.

Cheap materials. Most developers install high-quality solid-core doors at the front of the house, but many cut costs by using hollow-core doors inside the home. How can you spot the difference? Tap on the door; if it hurts your knuckle and emits a sharp, high-pitched sound, it’s probably made of solid wood or has a solid core. If your knuckles don’t sting and your knock sounds muffled, the door is likely hollow. Ask the developer to install better-quality doors throughout the home.

In the bathroom, choose brass fixtures and faucets rather than plastic, because brass is easier to repair and lasts longer. If you like the look of silver finishes, ask for chrome- or nickel-plated brass.

The bathtub may look welcoming, but don’t let looks deceive you. Ask the developer if it’s made of cast iron or pressed steel. Cast iron is better because it transmits less sound and retains heat longer. I once heard a guy take a bath in a pressed metal tub, and it sounded like he was a drummer auditioning for a rock band.

In the kitchen, look for – or ask for – energy-efficient appliances, which usually translate into lower utility bills. Granite countertops are ubiquitous in the Chicago housing market, but all countertops are not created equal. If the countertop has a granite veneer but is constructed from plywood, ask if you can upgrade to solid granite, which is more durable.

Poor craftsmanship. Scrutinize the hardwood floors. Are there gaps between the boards? If so, they were poorly installed and are likely to splinter and cut your feet.

Shine a flashlight on the drywall. Was it applied smoothly or can you see inconsistent brush strokes and particles of trapped dust? Drywall is expensive to replace, so if you don’t like what you see, ask the developer to reapply the drywall before you agree to purchase the property.

However, if sloppy workmanship is evident throughout the home, forget about it. Move on to the next development – after all, there are plenty of new homes to choose from in a buyer’s market.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc., (312-475-0835), a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work. E-mail your construction questions to Tom.

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