Market Odd Spaces

What do you say to buyers who look at a listing’s floor plan only to focus on the large space labeled “dining room” that they know they’ll rarely use? The fact is, buyers and sellers may have vastly different perceptions about how they want to live in the same home. But that doesn’t have to be a deal-killer.

Part of the problem stems from how architects and builders label rooms on plans, says Chicago-based commercial interior designer Mary Cook. “Rooms get designated and labeled for specific purposes, so it’s difficult to break that perception and think about them as spaces that are something else,” she says.

But as a real estate professional, you can help make a difference with the descriptions you write in your marketing materials and with the way you talk about space in a listing. Clever copy can provide just the right inspiration for buyers who might have otherwise turned away.

A huge log-burning fireplace dominating a living room can be recast as a “built-in entertainment center to gather around,” suggests designer Lonnie Unger of Fredman Design Group in Chicago. Just be sure to make concrete suggestions that buyers can visualize, even before they zoom in on photos or step through the front door.

Whether you’re working with sellers who have outdated notions of their listing’s assets or with buyers who can’t imagine how they’d use a space that doesn’t seem to apply to their lifestyle, we’ve amassed some talking points that can help you smooth out the conflict. Here are five examples to inspire you to help your clients imagine what can be, rather than allowing what is to become a deal breaker.

1. What it is: Oversized walk-in closet

The big closets that came along with the McMansion trend were often outfitted with shelves, rods, cabinets, and even storage islands and seating space. As conspicuous consumption falls out of favor, these spaces may seem like a waste for some buyers, who’d rather spend their square footage elsewhere.

What it can be: “Practical laundry space adjacent to master bedroom.” Because large walk-in closets are usually well illuminated and may even have a window for daylight, they offer numerous possibilities. How about an upstairs laundry by the bedrooms? After all, this is where most of the dirty clothing originates, so why should home owners trudge down to the basement with their hampers? If the space is large enough, a built-in ironing board or folding counter could work well, and closet shelving can be repurposed as a place to keep laundry supplies. If there’s leftover space, home owners could carve out a corner for crafts. Jennifer Ames, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago, notes that this idea is often appealing because few home owners want to give up a whole bedroom for such activities these days.

2. What it is: Built-in kitchen desk

As kitchens became gathering hubs with more equipment, counters, and seating, many home owners wanted a desk with wall plugs and phone jacks where they could pay bills, schedule family activities, and place a large desktop computer and landline. But the downsizing of computer equipment, greater use of laptops, tablets, and cell phones, and the pervasiveness of Wi-Fi throughout a home has resulted in fewer people demanding this feature, says designer Leslie Lamarre of TRG Architecture + Interior Design in San Mateo, Calif..

What it can be: “Bonus kitchen storage space with universal design counter.” Because desk space is usually lower than traditional counters, it can be an awkward space to stage. But as more home owners look to open up the cooking experience to the whole family, they might benefit from having a prep space that can be used by kids or adults who may be more comfortable sitting. Have sellers pack up that old desktop and stage the space with colorful ramekins and a playful, sturdy cutting board. Desk bookshelves can be transformed with a few nice cookbooks and cabinets can easily be reimagined as pantry storage space, since there’s rarely enough of that in most kitchens anyway, Lamarre says. If sellers want to make some easy upgrades, they might consider adding pull-out racks that permit easy access to kitchen gadgets and dry goods. A light can be installed to switch on automatically when the pantry opens, which is always a nice touch.