Years ago, when I was at that stage of life where I read books to my children every night at bedtime, one of our favorites was The Very Best Home for Me.
In the story Miss Kitty and Mr. Pup, Brown Bunny, Little Chick, Fluffy Squirrel, Pokey Turtle and Tweeter Bird all lived together in the same small house in the woods until one day they realized they would be happier in separate new homes of their very own. So everyone except Fluffy Squirrel (who was now able to fill his house with nuts) set out to find the right home for them.
Just as the animals discovered, many variables influence the decisions we make regarding our homes and communities in our efforts to balance the function, cost and delight of where we live, according to designer and lecturer in the fields of real estate trends and housing Marianne Cusato who is the author of the newly released Just the Right Home (Workman, 2013).
“It’s about finding the sweet spot between something that works, that you enjoy and costs what you can afford,” Cusato said. “Right now I’m especially fascinated to watch everything that’s going on in housing. With the low levels of inventory from sellers who don’t want to sell and the fact that new construction is coming back so slowly, it feels like this frenzy.”
As she states in the book, which was written with Daniel DiClerico, senior editor at Consumer Reports covering the housing industry and home products and also a former writer/editor with Martha Stewart Living and This Old House magazine,
Cusato believes moving today means more than changing addresses – it’s an opportunity to assess how you really want to live.
As a means to that end, The Just Right Home smartly blends the essential personal finance and real estate know-how needed to successfully navigate the landscape of the housing market today. Plus, it gives you the confidence to listen to your heart and ultimately follow your gut, according to Cusato.
In light of everything we’ve learned over the last several years, she stresses the importance of being true to yourself about your realities so you can keep your priorities in check.
“My hope is that this book will help you understand all of your options and assess your true needs, so that you will be able to make informed and educated decisions about where and how you want to live,” she states in the introduction. “And in the end, live the life you want to live on your own terms.”
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture who was raised in Anchorage, AK and is now based out of Miami, FL, Cusato worked with New Urbanist planner Andres Duany early in her career. Later, in October 2005, Duany invited a team of architects that included Cusato to design alternatives to the FEMA trailers which were being used as temporary housing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Cusato’s 308 sq-ft cottage design, “the little yellow house,” earned numerous awards, and she was subsequently named the fourth most influential person in the home building industry by Builder Magazine.
Also the author of Get Your House Right, Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid (Sterling Publishing, 2008), Cusato originally set out to explore the next chapter in the American Dream Home on the heals of the demise of the McMansion.
“Oftentimes homebuyers are not realistic about what they can spend or in tune with what they want,” Cusato explained. “I kept hearing the same thing over and over at the end of my talks – ‘I wish I had heard this before I bought my house,’ That’s really how the book evolved from being design based to a more deeper look at the process of how we make decisions when it comes to our homes.”
Cusato breaks down the process of achieving your goals and finding the right home into three key steps: preparing, searching and deciding. Some of the “new “ rules of real estate that she uncovers along the way include the fact that live-in value trumps resale value, proximity trumps location, it’s not a good deal if you can’t afford it and home ownership is not a given.
She doesn’t think it’s important for you to worry about what the next people will want, because odds are, if a home has good live-in value for you, it will be the same for the next person. Similarly, location only matters if it is in proximity to something you need.
For example, check out the neighborhood grocery stores. According to Cusato there are several Publix in her area, but the one closest to her home has integrated organic choices in the individual categories, which appeals to her. Another location just a little further away, has only a small organic section with far fewer choices.
“It’s also important for people to realize that setting a budget involves more than just the price you are able to pay for a house,” she added. “You need to look at all the other costs like heating and cooling, caring for the landscaping needs, transportation and so on. We’re seeing a new austerity, but in a good way. People are looking to live within their means.”
The Just Right Home is loaded with practical checklists, quizzes and cheat sheets that make it an invaluable tool for potential buyers and real estate professionals alike.