condo spaces look appropriately large, select furnishings that
match each room’s scale.
Once thought of as that first step to
finding a "real home," condominiums are competing for home
buyers who no longer consider them a stepping stone to buying the
proverbial house with a yard and a white picket fence.
According to real estate experts,
condos are outpacing single family homes in construction and running
even in pricing. They say the market no longer distinguishes much
difference in the value. But to maintain that equity, it is essential
to make their residence a true home rather than a glorified apartment.
The right move
It starts with finding the right
property, says Jim Young, sales director of Shorewest Realty’s
"There’s something for
everybody, including single professionals, couples, families and
retirees," he says. "All of these people are looking and
that’s what Milwaukee figured out."
Young says the lifestyle-driven condo
market now offers everything from traditionally smaller
apartment-style spaces to multiple level and loft spaces featuring
several thousand square feet, and access to outdoor living makes it
essential that buyers carefully consider their home lifestyle.
"Someone who is looking to
downsize from a very large home may not be the perfect buyer for a
three-story condo because they may not want to deal with the
steps," Young notes. "But someone who wants to create a home
and give everyone a personal space likes the idea of three floors
where you have enough room to really stretch out and not constantly
run into family members.
"I just spoke to someone who is
moving here from Illinois because of business," Young adds.
"He wants to keep his house in Illinois and buy downtown because
he doesn’t want to live in temporary housing. For him it’s about
getting something that will be his own place and increase in
Young knows there’s "no one
right answer to making a condo a real home. That’s why it’s really
about sitting down with the buyers and asking the right questions and
listening to what they want. It comes down to three categories: the
must haves, the ‘gee, I’d like to have’ and the absolutely don’t
He adds that split-level floor plans
fit when someone has guests on a regular basis. Those who don’t want
to give up their love of gardening can continue tending plants on
balconies and courtyards. Garages also come in several styles, Young
notes, adding that nothing feels like your own home more than an
attached garage with immediate access to your own personal space.
Want to feel even more like you’re in
an individual home? Young suggests looking into duplexes that have
been "condo-ized." He calls them "twindominiums,"
and notes the advantage of making building improvement decisions with
just one neighbor. There’s one last piece of advice — "Like
all home buying, it’s all about location, location, location."
Condo owners want the best built-ins
focusing on baths, kitchens and other luxuries once thought of as
attainable only in a single family residence, says Christine Celley,
co-owner of Custom Craft Construction in Brookfield.
"These are people who really want
to enjoy their spaces," Celley says. "They start out by
saying they are not happy about the way something looks or the
locations or something is dripping. Then their eyes are open to the
possibilities. They don’t want the tub with the shower surround
unit; what they really want is a luxurious shower with some jets on
the wall or a handheld shower head with a bench. Other people really
like to cook and entertain so they are building gourmet kitchens.
"These people are not afraid to
think outside the box," she adds. "They approach it like,
‘This is our place and we want it to feel like us and not be
concerned about what will someone say if they come to buy this home.’"
Celley says this thinking is universal,
whether condo buyers and owners are young professionals, couples or
Personalization favorites, Celley says,
are the use of windows or movable panels suspended from a very high
ceiling that can help give oversized rooms a feeling of intimacy. When
it comes to condo association rules, she adds that some buildings
allow personalization of space just outside a unit’s front or rear
Essentials of décor
Ridding a space of an apartment feel is
a matter of planning and creativity, says Greg Holm, an interior
designer for Peabody’s Interior’s in Whitefish Bay.
"The idea is to not leave the
interior the white box apartment shells that a lot of them start out
with and to make it their own by adding architectural elements like
crown moldings and baseboards," Holm says. "In kitchens and
bathrooms, add nice finishes to counters and nice appliances. In the
construction phase, you can use a designer to help you determine how
to open up some walls so that instead of having three smaller
bedrooms, we can take one of the bedrooms and open it up to become
part of the general living space."
He adds to use reflective materials’
lighting to help make rooms look larger. Long hallways can be made to
look larger or more dramatic with strategic lighting and
Overly large rooms can be scaled down
with overstuffed furniture, dividers and darker colors, he notes. Holm
also suggests that a condo can be refreshed rather inexpensively by
re-painting walls while keeping the same furniture. Taking everything
out of one room and reorganizing it in décor and furnishings also can
give new life to a living space.
"We ask clients questions to
determine whether they prefer traditional, contemporary or modern —
a softer form of the more trendy contemporary style," Holm adds.
"We have them tear out pages from architectural publications so
we can see their style preferences. That’s the best way we can help
them create their own space — one that will suit them and make them
feel at home."