Lew Sichelman

No newly constructed house is perfect. Perhaps a bathtub is scratched during construction, or a floor tile gets broken. That’s why builders employ customer service teams to go back after customers move in and rectify whatever issues have popped up.

For the most part, these problems won’t interfere with your daily life; they are just nuisances until they’re fixed. Likewise, flaws in the home’s floor plan won’t cause the house to fall down – but unlike minor repairs, you’re stuck with them if they weren’t addressed before construction.

Builders make many types of mistakes in their plans, according to Terri Faulkner, a floor plan design expert in Rocklin, California. But she says the most common ones have to do with doors.

Sometimes a door’s location interferes with the room’s purpose: They might open against other doors, appliances, fixtures or cabinet faces, or they don’t open as wide as necessary.

These issues are irritants, but they’re probably ones you can live with. Harder to accept, though, is a door that was placed in a way that doesn’t provide sufficient visual privacy for a bedroom or bathroom.

Also on Faulkner’s top 10 list of the most common layout problems: closets that aren’t deep enough for clothes to hang properly. In fact, at the recent International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, Faulkner said that she sees all kinds of spaces that aren’t sized appropriately.

In the all-important kitchen, for example, she said work zones are often ignored and there’s insufficient knee space for seating at the island. And in the bathroom, spatial allowances for shower and toilet compartments are often insufficient.

The Laundry Room Needs a Look

Experienced homeowners may be able to spot these and other design flaws, depending on their degree of experience. But first-timers certainly aren’t equipped to notice them until they’ve lived in the house for a while. Perhaps that’s why more than a third of new-construction buyers told Clever Real Estate last year that they wished they’d picked a different plan.

Along those lines, the trade magazine Builder reported last fall on some of the issues buyers of new homes wish they had confronted when choosing their layouts. “One of the most common complaints,” the article read, “… is that the laundry room needs more love.”

One gripe is that the space needs to be located closer to the bedrooms. Another is that it needs to be outfitted better: maybe with cabinets, a sink and something on which to hang wet clothes.

Some owners wish their houses had been more appropriately oriented on their lots – perhaps for a better view, more efficient drainage, better protection from prevailing winds or more sunlight. “Considering placement from all angles and scenarios is good advice,” the magazine said.

Other owners decried their home’s lack of electrical outlets. Almost two out of every five buyers told Clever Real Estate they wished they had more outlets and/or ones that were placed better. That’s another issue you’re not likely to notice until it’s too late – namely, when you’ve moved in and can’t plug in a TV or lamp where you want to.

So take a look before signing off on a floor plan: Putting an outlet every 6 feet is a good rule of thumb. Don’t forget to add some inside closets, the garage, the basement, exterior walls and even in the floor of any large, open spaces.

Lack of Light and Storage

A lack of lighting is another frequent sore spot – either not enough, or not where you need it. You’ll want plenty of natural light, and that takes larger windows, especially if you have high ceilings.

Kitchens call for plenty of light, hopefully from a string of windows. And if you can afford it, consider ambient, task and decorative lighting to meet different requirements at different times of the day and night. Also think about recessed lighting, ceiling fans with lights to draw heat down in the winter, dimmer switches and built-in night lights.

Another deficiency: storage space. Homeowners can never seem to get enough, whether it’s for detergent, an ironing board and stepladder in the laundry room, or for pans, dishes and gadgets in the kitchen. You’ll also need a linen closet for towels and sheets, as close as possible to the bedrooms, plus a pantry for dry foods and maybe a utility closet. And don’t forget space for leftover paint, tiles, flooring and other materials, which you’ll want on hand down the road when small repairs are required.

You may be able to find additional storage in your garage. The garage is the least expensive part of a house to build, yet builders sometimes make them too small. Make sure the doors are wide and tall enough for your vehicles and that there’s ample space for any yard equipment and other outdoor or seasonal items.

Make sure the garage and kitchen are on the same side of the house, too. Otherwise, every time you bring groceries home, you’ll have to lug them across the house – while wishing you’d looked more closely at your chosen floor plan.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.

Spotting Design Flaws

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 4 min
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