New-home buyers, sellers increasingly rely on floor plans

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Lifestyle as much as living space is revealed; think big master bedroom, but small kitchen

Christina Symons

In the buying and selling of a new home in design-saturated North America, floor plans have achieved near Great Book’ status, almost as alluring, to buyers, as “sumptuous” finishes or ”sleek” appliances.

Skip the superlatives. Hand out the floor plans.

Both buyers and armchair connoisseurs are snatching more than passing glances. From decor magazines to condominium sales centres, audiences are demanding to study plans. And thanks to exposure to a wealth of home television shows, as well as educational features in design publications such as Dwell and Style at Home, new-home shoppers understand basic plans and engage in design dialogue better than ever.

At Metropolitan Home, last year’s decision by editors to drop floor plans generated more letters to the editor than any other single subject in the history of the internationally circulated, New York edited magazine. Readers were not impressed.

The magazine’s Michael Lassell — himself a former draftsman — explains why the consumer market is demanding more information this way:

“The world is generally, as we say in media, much more transparent. The Internet has made people more savvy about nearly everything and the explosion of home-design television-shows has certainly taught many viewers about plans.”

According to Lassell, who reviews piles of elaborate plans at the magazine, a floor plan reveals much more than the number of rooms and square footage. A plan can define the very nature of a home and its owners.

“Certainly it can tell you about size; which tells you a good deal about people’s life priorities as well as spatial priorities,” Lassell explains. “If the kitchen is tiny and the master suite enormous, you’re probably not too far off in assuming that not much cooking goes on in this house.”

At Dwell magazine, edited in San Francisco, floor plans get priority, senior editor Andrew Wagner reports, with readership split 50 per cent design professional and 50 per cent consumer.

Professionals demand them and the consumer audience appreciates the opportunity to be exposed to that level of design detail, he says.

“Plans reveal siting and details that photographs cannot convey but are absolutely crucial to the success of a structure,” notes Wagner.

In a modern home a floor plan will convey its openness, especially in the kitchen, living and dining spaces, says Wagner.

The use of floor-to-ceiling windows as well as walls that “disappear” mark simple connections to the outside world and are defining characteristics of modern designs.

“You will often see one room flowing seamlessly into the other with very little, or often no, definition,” notes Wagner.

Style at Home, edited in Toronto, is bursting with fun and practical stories about beautiful homes, small spaces, renovation projects, bathrooms, kitchens and gardens.

Editor-in-chief Gail Johnston Habs says floor plans are essential for her readers to understand the reality of these types of features.

“A floor plan, which offers a bird’s-eye view of a room or home, helps to explain the over-all design and layout, and how rooms relate to each other,” says Habs.

Habs notes that because space limitations mean the magazine cannot “play” floor plans, big elements are distilled to the essentials — walls, doors, windows, stairs, appliances, major furniture — for easy reading and understanding.

Coincidentally, these are the same kinds of plans often used in new-home sales packages.

“Floor plans show how rooms relate to each other,” notes Habs. “By revealing the significance and location of particular rooms. Is the living room small, while the family room or entertainment centre is large? Is there a kitchen/great room combo? A floor plan suggests the home’s lifestyle possibilities.”

And possibilities should be top of one’s mind when home buyers are contemplating a development that exists only on paper. Unlike fantasizing over drop-dead gorgeous magazine spreads, consumers are making one of the most important decisions of their lives, based predominantly on pictures, plans and brands.

Heather Harley, marketing manager of Vancouver’s Concert Properties, explains that with the acceptance of “pre-selling” as an industry standard, floor plans have become even more important to new-home buyers.

“The opportunity to actually walk through finished homes prior to making a buying decision has become quite rare, and floor plans are often the only means a buyer has of envisioning the flow and layout of their new home,” notes Harley. “As a result, consumers rely on clean and clear floor plans when making their buying decision.”

One of the most essential considerations when reviewing a floor plan is the “efficiency” of a suite. Harley notes that many consumers have questioned the ability of today’s developers to fit two bedrooms and two bathrooms into less than 800 square feet while other developers are offering the same layout in twice as much space. But for her, the success of any one plan boils down to how it’s organized.

“A 600 square-foot suite can feel quite small if a great deal of space has been dedicated to hallways, entries and unusable transition areas within the suite,” says Harley. “Alternatively, a 600 square-foot suite can feel quite spacious if the space has been efficiently planned and organized with little ‘wasted’ space.”

Patricia Glass, sales and marketing coordinator, Platinum Project Marketing, notes that it’s essential for consumers to select a floor plan in line with their particular way of life. If you enjoy entertaining outside for example, then a large balcony might be a deciding factor.

Glass agrees that efficiency is paramount, especially in tighter units. She suggests avoiding plans that show long corridors or other wasted space if you want the most from your floor plan. Corner units are always popular as the amount of natural light increases with the additional windows. Plus exposure to sunlight can be controlled by selecting a floor plan based on orientation of the unit.

But ultimately, it comes down to the sum total of how you want to live.

“People should look for what will best suit their lifestyle,” says Glass. “For example, for those who prefer to work from home, an enclosed balcony would convert to the ideal home office.”

Christina Symons is a Sunshine Coast journalist and development-industry consultant.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

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