The stories behind the home building and home buying process are not dominated by chapter after chapter of Joy. They are often more like a bumpy, confusing and even heartbreaking saga of anxiety and regret. In a recent survey, Homes.com found that one in three Americans ended up crying during the home buying process. In fact, of the 2,000 home buyers surveyed, 13 percent of respondents cried “a lot.”
Why does this happen? It’s a story that starts like a coffee table book and quickly morphs into part physics text book part legal desk reference. Mired in complexity and told with words that only obfuscate the process it can be a nightmare for beginners. Consider first time homebuyers. (Maybe you have been one, or are hoping to be one.) Terms like “escrow,” “appraisal,” “equity,” “encroachment,” hit you from the financial side. Move up from a builder grade project to higher performance sustainable construction. Then you get acronyms and words like “SEER,” “ERV,” “Tonnage” from the mechanical side and “U-Factor,” “Solar Heat Gain” and “Visible Transmittance” from your window brand and it goes on and on. Sadly, most people just don’t know what they are getting into and most brands don’t curate the complexity well.
When this wave of terminology hits the novel customer, they can a) shut down and go back to looking at countertop choices, b) commit to a lot of research — in the lumpy fragmented and digitally immature homebuilding industry — or 3) pick a 3rd alternative like renting or in a more likely Next Normal paradigm shift, think more about the humans you are going to shelter inside the structure, what their needs and activities look like and craft a better home design methodology. It could happen…imagine this semi-fictional account of prospective home buyers:
Meet Alicia and Jeff Lopez. Alicia is 38, works as a Sr. Manager at a large bank. Her husband, Jeff is a high-school Physics teacher. They were pre-approved for a $700,000.00 mortgage in LA which would get them ~ 2,000 SF on a corner street where Compton and Long Beach meet.
At the time they were thrilled with the prospect of home ownership. It was part of their “American Dream.” Then the Pandemic hit. Their buying power actually went up with all the economic stimulus, and they realized they could, perhaps, if they left L.A., build their dream home in an area near water for about the same amount of money as the “project in Compton” as Jeff called it once. They turned to “flyover country” in Google Maps and joined the real-time migration away from urban centers like New York and Los Angeles.
As the children of immigrants, both Jeff and Alicia were fiscally conservative, but they were also keen on sustainability. Alicia had a quote on Pinterest that she often revisited:
“Development is sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
At the end of the day Alicia and Jeff wanted a healthy (pandemic proof) home, a good night’s sleep, low energy bills and enough space to raise a family. They both were well-educated and had decided that the drive from L.A. to Nashville in two weeks would be the time to finalize their requirements for their new home. Alicia volunteered to take lead and dove into research online.
“I’ll drive.” Jeff offered. “Just remember at the end of the day we are building a structure that will spend most of our lives inside” Jeff teased. “It all comes back to Physics, and the home must accommodate for the flow of heat, air and moisture in and through the structure.” (Jeff so loved this “explain it to anyone definition of Building Science” he could not resist the shameless plug.)
With her own sustainable polestar and Jeff’s tactical guidance top of mind, Alicia started reading about green building, mechanical system design, high performance windows, and even bought a book called “Architectural Science and the Sun”after listening to a podcast about home design. After about a week of this research she was frustrated beyond repair:
“This is ridiculous Jeff, it’s all gobbledygook, there are bits and pieces that are brilliant, there are a hundred different ways to build a home and no one approach really rises to the top. There are all these different rating systems that seem to be rooted in efficiency metrics but there just isn’t one place to go to guide us to our smart, healthy & efficient dream home. I’m just going to take a break and finish my Mary Kondo book.” Alicia said.
Ditching her iPad for the hardcover she bought in the Denver airport a few months back, she went back to an underline from page 3 of the Introduction:
“A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”
And then something magical happened. A light went on. Alicia was NOT a construction expert, but she gets the piece about joy, understands how her family operates and what they wanted for a sustainable structure where they would shelter, play, work and learn for a long time.
“I’m just going to pretend Mary Kondo is designing our new home. Hear me out.” Alicia asserted.
“Ok, but isn’t Mary Kondo the woman who mostly teaches people how to fold their clothes?” Jeff poked.
“Go up one level Mi Amor.” Listen to her: “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.”
“Let’s think about the life we want to live now — now that we ride bikes everywhere, want to have friends over for outdoor dinners, and are thinking about homeschooling Josh and Miguel.”
“This rule is one of my favorites.” Alicia noted. “To truly cherish things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”
“Out goes the formal dining room!” Jeff chimed in.
“Exactly,” retorted Alicia “It was one of the biggest rooms in our last house and we used it, what, maybe four times last year?”
“Who even uses fine China anymore?” Jeff added with a smirk.
“Agreed! I would take ½ of the dining room square footage and add it to the pantry and the other ½ and add it to the kitchen. I envision a double sized pantry that can have a deep freezer for extra food storage” Alicia responded. I would put this room off the garage for ease of unloading items and allowing us to have a “dirty” bin for anything that may have been exposed to bad stuff.”
“Inside we go for an open floor plan. I want a big great room and kitchen combo with sliding glass doors so that we can really let the outside air in when it’s warm.”
“Sounds good.” Jeff bantered. “I will go for an oversized garage off your Pandemic Pantry” I want space for the bikes, two cars, and a garage gym. Don’t worry, I will add a locker for all my stuff. That will keep us organized and give me something of a man-cave retreat.”
“Don’t forget an a good ventilation strategy for year-round comfort.” Jeff continued. “You can buy ERVs on Amazon now: http://amzn.to/2oHr1vu of course, don’t let me install it. I just know it’s an important component for comfort.”
“If we really go all out KonMari method let’s get rid of the things we loved least in our old place: dust, and pests.” Jeff continued.
“Oh, I own this one,” Alicia said, “those things all get in the house through holes and all homes have holes in them. A healthy home builder knows how to handle the biggest holes and make them into smaller holes. It’s called “Draftstopping” There are a bunch of great articles from a guy they call the “Dean of Building Science” — He writes more like a half drunken sailor than an engineer so it’s straight forward and quite captivating.”
“When we start interviewing builders we just have to ask the builder about his approach to air tightness. If he can explain the big hole theory then we keep him on the list. The smaller he makes all of the big holes the tighter the house will be. Add in a proper ventilation system and the air quality will be JUST RIGHT.”
“Also, there is a very cool certification to make sure we deal with allergens in the home. It’s called the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Remember the last time we were in Lowes and were looking at washers and dryers? LG is the only brand that I have seen with that certification. The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is unique because it is the certification program to focus on building products and to consider biological contaminants, in addition to chemical ones.”
Maybe it will help Josh with his allergies?
“Well Goldilocks, sounds like you have got this mostly figured out. Maybe you are even ready to be a Momfluencer?” Jeff said, half-jokingly.
Stay tuned for more to see if Jeff and Alicia build the home of their dreams and lived happily ever after…