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Additions that just don't work

Posted by Rona Fischman September 24, 2012 01:50 PM

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“I am SO confused” That’s what a buyer (a stranger, not my client) said as he went down a spiral staircase into another finished room in the basement of a house extension. Really. Verbatim. He said: “I am so confused.” I generally don’t talk to other buyers at open houses, but I was in a mood. This was the last house of five that I showed this Sunday. I said, “If you think this one is weird, you should see [name withheld.]” The stranger said he drove passed it.

I wrote about this before, in 2008. Those houses are still out there, obviously. And I’m still seeing them.

I see strange layouts mostly in older homes. When homeowners make changes, it is generally an improvement for them, so they don’t always notice how awkward the end product is.

When a room is added or a porch converted, doors get stuck in odd corners, hallways get maze-like or there are sudden steps up or down. Then there are those “captured rooms” where you cannot get to the room without going through another room. It’s particularly odd when you must pass through the bathroom to get to a bedroom or to the basement or into the house from outside.

Then there are the non-room rooms. These are “bedrooms” too short to put a bed into. Attic “rooms” with doors, but ceiling heights about five feet – these are sometimes called “study nooks” when they should be called “storage.”

These houses are sometimes called “Frankenhouses.” They are not normal because parts are added willy-nilly, like this.

This weekend, I saw three Frankenhouses. So, by the third one, I was a bit punchy.

One was a ranch with an added second floor and a converted two-car garage. By connecting the already long, narrow house with the garage, it made it way too long and way too out of proportion. All the rooms were narrow because of the central hallway. Where bedrooms used to be was now a dining room because it was too narrow for couches or normal living room furniture. The living room was in the ex-garage, which felt like it was miles from the dining room, which was at the other end of the house. In its defense, the upstairs was actually pretty nice.

The other two also suffered from over-extension. However, they were somehow worse than the one that was simply too long. These were disorienting. Both had large, multi—level extensions with additional stairs and/or doors. They felt like an M.C. Escher picture. In both places, rooms had exits on two or more sides that lead into other rooms, creating a maze-like feel. That is where I met the confused stranger.

Have you seen Frankenhouses? Did you live in one and get used to it?

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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