The Weird Stuff People do to Their Austin Houses

I’ve been showing and previewing lots of homes in central Austin neighborhoods lately, and taking note of some of the horrendously dumb things people do to their house. Often, these are do-it-yourself remodel projects or (apparently) paid projects that fall into one of 2 main categories.

Category 1: What in the world were you thinking?
Category 2: Cart before the horse and/or, blind designer?

In the first category, I saw an added bath with a tub and a commode. Anything missing from that list? Yep, a sink. Someone added a half bath to the house that has a tub, commode and NO SINK! There is no space to add one either.

Still in the “what were you thinking?” category, someone cut out a door directly from a bedroom into the kitchen. This took me and my buyer a while to figure out because we first walked into the kitchen and noted that there was a bedroom door located in an odd place. It just didn’t seem like the right placement. Upon entering the room, a second door to that room led to a hallway. Standing in the hallway, all the rooms seemed like normal hallway rooms and we surmised that, for some reason, someone just wanted a quicker way from that particular bedroom into the kitchen. Luckily, as weird as that was, it would be an easy fix to restore the flow of the home back to the original layout by returning the wall to a wall in both the kitchen and bedroom.

Finally, in the first category, the add-on with the 6′ 8″ ceiling. I know it was 6′ 8″ because the standard-sized door frame allowed the door about a half inch of clearance. I’d need to check with City of Austin code, but I’m petty sure the minimum ceiling height for residential dwelling space is 7″2″, so that room addition is totally out of code and would have to officially be considered a closet or “storage”. This one’s a head scratcher because someone would have had to cut the 2×4 wall studs down to the shorter size on purpose when constructing the add-on. I checked the exterior and there was no roof-line issue that would have forced the shorter ceiling height. Someone just built it that way as a short add-on. That entire room is worthless from a price-per-square-foot price standpoint. Not only that, if I was doing a market analysis for a buyer, I’d subtract out the demolition costs of that add-on and/or a rebuild/fix. But for most buyers, why bother. Just move on to the next house.

On to Category 2: Cart before the horse and/or, blind designer?

Example 1: If your slab foundation is obviously settling, crooked and out of whack, don’t lay ceramic tile on the entire ground floor without first making a permanent repair to the foundation. This house had a sloping foundation, cracked bricks on the exterior, but what appeared to be a rather recent installation of all new tile flooring throughout. All that tile is going to crack when someone someday repairs the foundation. The tile job was a complete waste of money and devalues the home because removing it (which costs about $1.00-$1.50 per square foot to demo) is much more difficult, costly and time consuming than ripping up carpet.

Example 2 – making each room “its own”. This one is Sylvia’s, remarking on a house she saw in which the owner intentionally picked a different bright colored carpet and wall paper for each of the 4 bedrooms. Not a good idea. Homes should have a consistent theme and decor throughout, accent areas excepted.

In summary, the most important thing to remember when you decide to make changes or upgrades to your home is that you don’t want to create something that will make no sense to future potential buyers, and be costly to undo. You want buyers to be falling in love with your house as they walk through, not trying to figure it out, and especially not mocking your design choices and bad remodel job.

On remodels, there is an order of operation to observe. Fix structural/mechanical issues first, then the cosmetic and optional items next. Don’t lay ceramic tile on a bad foundation. In fact, don’t do anything expensive to a house that needs foundation work. Fix the foundation instead.

Don’t add on a room, bathroom or living area without getting a reality check from at least a few friends, and maybe even a designer or architect if you’re spending a lot of money. Poorly conceived and/or executed add-ons are pure deal killers for most buyers and their agents.

And if you’re a buyer looking in central Austin at homes built in the 1960s and earlier, expect to see a lot of these kinds of bad decisions. If you come across a defect in a house you otherwise love, figure out if it’s a curable condition or a chronic condition. By chronic, I mean it ain’t going away with some paint or minor repairs.

Almost everything can be reduced to a dollar amount, though not always. Multiple chronic conditions should be walked away from. But usually, if you really love the house, you just convert the curing of the defects to a dollar amount and factor it into the price you’re willing to pay. Many of the homes 50+ years old in Austin have had something done to them over time that you might not like or wish hadn’t been done that way. But just think of the great location you’re getting and make sure you don’t go into denial about the severity of any defects and you should still be able to find a home you can love.

4 thoughts on “The Weird Stuff People do to Their Austin Houses”

  1. Hi, Steve:
    When my wife and I were looking to move out of our Loft in Chicago, we looked in a suburb called Oak Park. It was close to my wife’s work and had some houses in our price range. They were your fairly typical homes built between (probably) 1940’s-1950’s. 3-4 bedrooms, one bath room – remember these?
    In one home, in order to add a “second bath room” – they put one in the basement. Sort of. When you opened the door to the basement – that’s where the commode was! On a landing, in a narrow stairwell to the basement. To get to the basement, you had to put your hand on the seat to navigate the turn + steps.
    Then, if you wanted to wash your hands, you went down to the sink. And the “Shower” was under the stairs – literally, a standing shower pan with a curtain in the middle of part of the basement, with the sewer drain running over to it from the commode(over the drain, most likely). Needless to say, we went elsewhere.
    Love this stuff!

  2. Steve, was that bathroom without a sink and the bedroom that leads to the kitchen in the same house? If so, I think we might have seen the same central Austin property. That one looked great in the photos but was pretty much a disaster with the layout!

    Another one in the same neighborhood had a bathroom that had access to the hallway (original door) and a door to access the family room. This door lined up perfectly with the sliding glass doors to the backyard. In essence, if your bathroom door is open, and your blinds are open, people in the yard can see right into your bathroom. Why do you need 2 bathroom doors? This isn’t a jack and jill configuration.


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