There are many ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives, but one of the most obvious is that it has contained us in our homes — maybe for months.
While life on lockdown will eventually end, a calamity of this scale means lasting, permanent changes in the way we work and live. Just as the Great Depression gave rise to a “waste not, want not” generation, the coronavirus has given rise to a “work from home” revolution that’s likely to stick around in one form or another. And that, among other factors, is likely to shape what buyers want in a home. Houston Agent talked to agents and stagers across the country to find out what will be important moving forward.
At the top of the list is a dedicated home office. Remodeling site Houzz recently polled its community of homeowners and design professionals and found that the majority of respondents (55%) have a home office, but a quarter (25%) work from their dining or kitchen table, with one in ten laboring from the sofa (11%).
According to the poll, top challenges associated with unexpectedly working from home in light of the coronavirus pandemic include: Finding a private or quiet location away from high-traffic living areas (30%), securing a computer with a strong Wi-Fi connection (25%) and creating a comfortable workspace (25%).
With that in mind, agents marketing homes without dedicated offices need to get creative, said Houston agent Amber Kuhl, with The Collection Real Estate by JLA Realty. “It’s going to be super important to fit in some sort of office space where there wasn’t one before,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged office, but you do need to stay at the forefront of what clients are looking for.” Kuhl and her partner Kelly Donawa, who offer staging as part of their concierge services, suggested the following home office hacks:
- Carve out an office space in a nook or entryway.
- Turn a hall closet into an office by adding built-ins.
- Install a vanity cutout on the periphery of the kitchen, in a pantry or wet bar area.
- Utilize unused space like an upstairs landing or underneath a staircase.
- Make the dining room do double duty.
- Reimagine the master bedroom as a multi-function room.
Private outdoor space
Showcasing outdoor space has always been important, according to Ilaria Barion, owner of Arizona-based staging company Ilaria Barion Design, but thanks to social distancing, it’s now a top priority. “Outdoor space defines the kind of lifestyle you can have,” Barion said. “We normally recommend staging as many outdoor spaces as possible. If you have to cut out anything, cut out the bedroom.”
Depending on the target market, Barion recommends focusing on one of two things when it comes to outdoor space: entertaining or family time. While family-friendly outdoor spaces outfitted with pools, fire pits and outdoor kitchens tend to sell themselves, condos and townhomes with limited outdoor space require a little more imagination.
“For a condo with a small balcony, I think having two chairs and a small table with a bottle of wine is nice. If you have outdoor space off the kitchen and facing the back of the building, then add a grill and eating area.”
Keep the furniture mostly neutral, Barion said, and add pops of color with pillows or cushions and flowers. “You’re not selling the furniture, you’re selling the experience,” she said. Outdoor lighting, rugs and plants will add a sense of luxury and help create an emotional connection that’s particularly important right now. “If someone connects emotionally, they’re less price sensitive. It’s also important to change the language in a listing to highlight outdoor space.”
Often the main point of entry between the garage and the kitchen and a depository for coats, shoes and sports gear, the mudroom has taken on new importance during the COVID-19 pandemic as a decontamination station and place to stash potentially infected packages, grocery bags and even takeout bags.
But what if there’s no mudroom? According to Rachel Cristobal, owner of Staging Sells in Chicago, an easy solution can often be found in the garage.
“I would suggest putting in some type of a bench with cubbies for boots and shoes as close to the doorway as possible along with some disinfectant wipes for door handles,” she said. Installing a pegboard wall is another cheap and easy solution. “You can hang bins to hold packages, install shelves and get as creative as you want.”
While the garage is probably one of the best places, if that’s not available, try to carve out some space on the front porch or front entryway, she said.
Throughout history, how we inhabit physical space has been a primary defense against epidemics, and this time is no different. “We’re going to see people come out of this with a much better understanding of lifestyle and awareness of what they’re looking for in a home,” Kuhl said. “Learning to rework space makes all the difference in the world. It can be a simple re-tooling. That’s what agents are going to be tasked with moving forward.”