Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Building for resale value: closet space & jacuzzi tubs

Mr Big:  We're getting married.  Should we get you a diamond?
Carrie:  No.  No.  Just get me a big closet.

Conventional wisdom says if you're going to invest in home improvement, put your money in the kitchen and master bathroom.  It's what buyers notice the most and gets you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to resale value.  Conventional wisdom also says that a master bathroom should consist of double sinks, a toilet, walk-in shower and separate tub.

My first major remodel was a kitchen plus master suite addition to a three bedroom, one bath starter home I bought in Mountain View.  Being single at the time, I didn't need the space but wanted to add resale value to the house and was planning ahead in case that certain someone special ever decided to show up.  I was on a tight budget but on the top of my splurge-worthy list was a deluxe whirlpool tub with jets for the master bathroom.  I rationalized that like a great mortgage broker, a luxury tub would save me from having to pay for spa services and I fantasized about evenings filled with champagne, rose petals and romantic bubble baths for two.  Sadly, faster than you can say "Calgon take me away" my bubble was burst...
Despite being short on closet space, I knew I had a
keeper when Erika (far right) approved of Thomas.
"Don't waste your money, honey," warned my real estate agent, Erika Enos.  "The jets are loud, they require maintenance, age quickly and you'll probably only use it a few times a year.  Put in an extra closet instead," she advised.  
One of the many things I love about Erika is she's a shrewd and frugal immigrant who doesn't hesitate to tell me when she disapproves, especially when it comes to overspending.  Erika says no to about 95% of the things I want (the sign of a truly great agent), so when she approves of something, I know it's got to be good.  Erika's been stretching dollars for my family since 1984, when she helped my parents buy their first home in Palo Alto for a whopping $135,000.  In the nearly thirty years of working with her, we've always come out ahead on any Erika-assisted purchase, including a self indulgent downtown Palo Alto condo I bought during the peak of the dot-com frenzy in 2000.  After the market crashed I was sure that I'd never recoup my costs but when we sold it five years later, Erika orchestrated a savvy 20K kitchen and bathroom makeover that yielded a 186K return.  That's when I began to appreciate the value of a remodel done wisely and vowed to run all spending plans by my newly appointed Ukranian CFO.

Sadly, the jacuzzi tub did not pass the Erika test.  Unfortunately, I didn't entirely listen to her.  At the time I couldn't imagine why I'd need more closet space so I went ahead and installed a basic, no-frills soaking tub instead.  Fast forward two years and three bubble baths later when Thomas moved in and I realized that my walk-in closet was designed for a stubborn bachelorette (capacity: 1).  In the spirit of sharing, I cleared out precisely two linear feet in the corner of my closet for Thomas and generously offered the office closet for overflow.

Today is our two year wedding anniversary and it still bewilders me that he not only married the greedy closet princess, but he also vowed to give her lifetime hoarding rights (fast forward to 1:50 min in the video below for proof).  And all I had to do in exchange was promise to put away my laptop during dinner.  (Woohoo for iPads!)

Videography and Photography: Dave Getzschman, Erin Reed, Ben Chrisman
Video Editing: Vladimir Chaloupka

For our new house, I decided to defy convention and not put a tub in the master bath.  Sometimes building practical solutions for the way you live is worth making a resale value tradeoff.  Instead we will be using the extra space for his and her closets.  Happy anniversary, Thomas!  I got you your very own closet.  My love runneth deeper than a bathtub.

P.S.  This was your Valentine's day gift too.
P.P.S.  One of the sites that I love using when playing the tradeoff game is the SummerHill Homes Smart Plans (click on "View Floor Plans" to play).  The initial floor plan shows a layout that is optimized for bedrooms and resale value but the "Select Options" menu on the left lets you swap out rooms for a bigger Master or extra garage space or other tradeoffs.  It's a great tool for seeing how easily a room can be transformed to another use.  You can also apply different "Elevations" to see what the house would look like as a Craftsman or a Spanish style, etc.  The SummerHill developer is building 53 single family homes in Mountain View in a cool new neighborhood called the Enclave off of Grant Road.  There are five different floor plans loaded with options and green features.  The site is a great reference if you want to see how the big boys build for quality and resale value.  Oddly enough, they don't include an option to swap a bathtub for closet space.  Apparently the developer's wife is a more generous woman than I (either that or she doesn't have any say in the building plans).

Number one rule of making tradeoffs:  Happy wife, happy life!


  1. Happy Anniversary, Kay & Thomas! Hard to believe it has been 2 years...

    I have never used a tub more than now, with Maya, so I finally understand the value of them for families with kids. Just make sure the one in the Jack & Jill isn't too deep or you'll kill your back!!!

  2. Happy belated anniversary! I am reading this with a baby on one boob one eye open but even in this , I appreciate this . Happy wife, happy is the best ever. I feel so vindicated. closet princesses unite!

  3. PS I love that video!! I couldn't watch on my phone so I just watched with my hubs. Chills. As a person who appreciates great wedding videography and photography (I budgeted more for that than anything else in the wedding) I love love loved it! Beautifully composed still pics. The editing was fantastic and a lovely mix of the video and photographs. What a special day full of moments that were so beautifully captured.

    1. I think we were separated at birth. I knew my wedding photographers before even meeting Thomas. They rock my world and their blog is a must follow: