“Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.” – Iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright
These days, the word “luxury” is everywhere. The promise of high-end goods, services, and experiences is no longer reserved for the most affluent of Americans, but now available to just about everyone. We can easily buy luxury brands at the clothing store, drive luxury automobiles like Mercedes Benz and BMW – or similar facsimiles at fractional prices - and even buy a home that is described as ‘luxury.’
In fact, the L word designation is everywhere in advertising, as a recent survey approximated that the word ‘luxury’ comes up in 34% of real estate listing descriptions, up to 42% of appliance and furnishing ads, and 26% of clothing marketing. Googling a query like “How to write real estate descriptions that sell” will yield list after list including the words “luxury”, “distinguished,” “quality”, “exclusive”, etc.
So if we cast aside the watered-down marketing version of ‘luxury,’ what does it really mean? What should it represent?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘luxury’ as:
A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense;
An inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain;
[In Singular] A pleasure obtained only rarely
When it comes to high-end and top-of-the-market homes, what makes a home ‘luxury?” Is it merely having an abnormally steep price tag? Cavernous square footage? Fancy amenities that you don’t find in typical homes? All of those things may factor into luxury homes, but the certainly don’t define them – not in an age when high-end materials like vanity sinks and chandeliers are mass produced and offered at rock-bottom discounts at places like Home Depot and Ikea.
Too often, builders and home sellers take advantage of the public’s thirst for status and a superstar lifestyle, purposely including certain features that we associate with luxury, but are little more than a façade or marketing gimmick.
Likewise, adding expensive and frivolous features and fixtures to a mid or even up-market home doesn’t automatically propel it to the rarified air of luxury. Custom swimming pools, wine cellars and electronic self-closing blinds are great, but they are still no substitute for class.
But before we start defining luxury as a certain je ne sais quoi as the French say - that certain indefinable something - there are tangible elements we can pinpoint that most luxury homes enjoy.
The Locationx3 adage is a real estate cliché, but it’s also never been more true. You just KNOW when you’re in a luxury neighborhood – and so does everyone else. Over the last housing boom of the early 2000s, too many people bought into the dream of living in a luxury home and community by purchasing new(er) construction that had all of the bells and whistles. But research shows that established and mature homes and neighborhoods are actually of a higher building quality and retain their values better, as they have more long-time owners and a well-established exclusivity.
It’s very rare that luxury homes are homogenous with the rest of the homes in the neighborhood. They have unique characteristics, architecture, and design that set them apart and are hard – or impossible- to replicate. Beware of McMansions and “semi-custom” homes that builders slap up and then adorn with fancy facing and certain high-end amenities just to justify a higher price tag, but are basically still cookie cutter. When you are looking into any luxury home, it’s important to research the builder, ask around about their reputation, other projects they’ve completed, and make sure there is a unique “story” to the architect, the home, or the community that sets it apart.
3. The little things
If God is in the details, then take a close look at the small details in a home; if unequivocal quality extends to small touches like the millwork, doors, hardware, cabinets, fixtures, appliances, tile, grout lines, etc. then you know you’re surrounded by luxury. Our eye always gravitates towards signature show pieces like grand chef’s kitchens and dazzling room-size showers, but in a luxury home, the quality of construction and use of top-end materials and amenities won’t be compromised at all down to the smallest detail, even those people rarely see or use.
No matter where you are, most truly luxury homes have some sort of great view to set your eyes upon. Whether it be ocean and coastline, hills and valleys, a beautiful garden, park, or fountain, luxury homes that just stare out at the home across the street are almost unheard of. For this reason, authentically luxury homes are usually at higher elevations than their surroundings, or right on the waterfront.
Tune in for part two of this blog with the rest of the top 10 things to look for in a luxury home.