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Functionally usable designs

Adding a second bathroom or garage to a house can really add to the value of the property. In general, anything that adds to the functionality and convenience of the property will have a positive affect on the value for sale or for rent. Of course, there are times when these investments don’t work out so well.

For example, take a look at the garages in the picture above. The builder of this small condo complex must have thought they were really adding something special here. What property owner wouldn’t love a two-car garage of their very own? But how functional are they? Consider that the garage opening is very close to the wall that marks the rear of the property line. The remaining space is the size of a very small alley. Tight, but enough for smaller cars.

But there is more. This builder also decided to add some nice decks on the rear of the property too. You can’t really see them in the picture, but they are pretty nice. As great as they may be, the support columns for these nice decks ended up being placed on either side of the garage doors. The result is nearly two additional feet taken away from the already small alleyway behind the property. I have a small car, but I think I would have a hard time getting into that garage. I can’t imagine how tight it would be for even a mid-sized car.

So what is the result of all this money spent by the developer? A virtually useless space. For parking anyway. Of course, this was an original building adapted for reuse so they couldn’t exactly move the building over, but one has to wonder what they were thinking when they made this design choice. I don’t want to say where this building is, but I do know that they have had a heck of a time selling these units. And they were available long before the economy started to sag. Could this issue be driving away buyers?

Other common examples of horrible functionality in properties are poorly laid out bathrooms, a lack of closets, inadequate duct work for efficient heating and cooling… I could go on forever. When you are dealing with an original setup in an old building you’re going to run into limitations, but I can’t tell you how many houses and apartments I have seen with these issues after a complete rehab. Its as if common sense didn’t exist. If you can’t add a usable second bathroom on the first level of a house, just don’t add it. You are going to waste more money making a failed attempt than you stand to lose at resale or renting without one.

If you’re using an architect and notice they are making some odd choices such as those mentioned above, it might be time to get a new architect.Likewise, if you have run into these problems on things you have designed yourself, it might be time to consider hiring a professional. Doing otherwise can land you in a nightmare scenario of profit loss and frustration. Its not enough to simply add a bigger closet or kitchen. If it’s not functional and efficient, the investment could be wasted.

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Matt Kastner

Matt Kastner is an Investment Real Estate Consultant at St. Louis Real Estate Society in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also develops properties on the side through Threshold Properties. When he isn’t representing investors in the purchase or sale of multifamily properties, rehabs, foreclosures and other income producing properties, he is often taking on rehab projects himself. He lives in South St. Louis and has been in the real estate business since 2004.

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