A Multi-Family Home

Where Do the Bones End and the Cosmetic Features Begin?

by Arnold Gomez

Saying a house has good bones means, typically, that the house itself needs a lot of work — but the core structure of the house is in good shape or can be easily brought back into good shape. However, even new houses can have "bones," and when you check out new homes in your search for a great place to live, it can help to distinguish between those bones that signal a place is a good buy and the cosmetic things that you can safely ignore in your decision to purchase.

Permanent Structural Features

Any permanent structural features, such as the walls, framing, stairs, and foundation, count as part of the bones. If you see a new home that has sturdy walls, good insulation, solid stairs, and so on, you're looking at a place that is well-built and that can last a long time. If you notice hairline cracks in the walls (and there hasn't been an earthquake recently), slight water stains on the ceiling, and so on, then those are indications that the bones of the house may be more unstable and could cause an expensive problem later on.

How Easy It Is to Change Something

Not all of the bones are permanent, but the ease with which you can change something determines if a changeable feature is cosmetic or not. For example, cabinets and countertops can be changed rather easily, relatively speaking. They really aren't part of the bones, and if you see a house that seems fine except for those ugly cabinets, no fear; you can replace them after you buy. However, the roof would be part of the bones of the house, even though it can be changed. You just wouldn't change the roof on a whim, and if the roof is in good shape, it's likely to stay in place for years.

Health and Safety

Features that affect health and safety — plumbing, wiring, insulation, and so on — are also part of those bones you need to look for. You can change and upgrade all of these, but they form an integral part of the structure of the house. A house with good walls and a good foundation, but terrible wiring, chewed-up insulation, and leaking plumbing, may not be the best buy unless you get a stellar low price.

The Floor Plan Is a Special Case

The floor plan of a house is kind of a special case. You can change the floor plan in much of a house by taking out (or adding) non-load-bearing walls, but the layout is still part of those bones. If you don't like the layout of the house, it might be worth it to keep looking at other new homes with your real estate agent.

For more information about new homes in the area where you want to buy, contact a local real estate office.