Spring selling season makes us think about getting the details right. Which makes us think of the oft-quoted line ‘God is in the details (architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is credited with the phrase though he’s probably not the first person to use it). Truth is, paying close attention to the details is a large part of what makes a home appealing to buyers. If the clever and memorable touches known as memory points make a home stand out from the crowd, it’s more like this: the deal is in the details.
“You don’t want to get lost in the next bunch of houses,” says builder Sean Ruppert, principal of OPaL LLC in Cabin John, Md. “You want them to be in the Honda Accord, on the highway, talking about your house.” Ruppert doesn’t stop with details; he makes sure his salespeople make good use of the comments those touches elicit from potential buyers (i.e., of a reading nook, “Can you imagine sitting here on a snowy day?”). Ruppert says he spends $2,000 to $5,000 per house on memory points, a fraction of the home price, yet “people think they’re worth a lot more than what you spent on them.”
Joan Marcus-Colvin, senior vice president at the Aliso Viejo, Calif.–based New Home Company, says that “the most successful memory points are the ones built into the floor plan,” citing rooms like a walk-in pantry, a wok kitchen, or a large laundry room with a built-in desk. “It’s part of the structure and the merchandising budget,” she adds.
But proceed with caution, advises architect David Kenoyer, principal at KDK Design in Raleigh, N.C., who designs production homes. “When you start worrying about Italian marble before you get the bones right, there’s a problem,” he says, adding that expensive items plugged in won’t compensate for mediocre design and won’t make for memory points. Plus, details haphazardly used can come off as cartoony. Like Marcus-Colvin, Kenoyer says the best memory points are a part of the plan, like a mudroom outfitted with handsome hooks, beadboard walls, and shelves with baskets. “I struggle with convincing builders that it’s not OK to enter the house through the laundry room,” he says of the back entrance. “But there’s a way you can market that space.”
When it comes to clinching the deal, enabling potential buyers to imagine living their lives in a house is one of the most powerful sales tool of all. “Special details create an emotion in people,” Ruppert says. “They leave that home with a feeling they didn’t get in any other home. It reflects in sales and what people are willing to pay for a house.”