What is it that makes a house appear high end? Is it the color palette? If we gray out a house in the most modern style, will that make it high end? Is it the ceiling in a living room? If we add a bunch of trim to it, will someone walk into that room and proclaim it to be high end? Better yet, will they quietly think it is? And if we choose the nicest pattern of tile, the one that we saw on that television show, will the addition of that tile make out laundry room high end? What exactly is High End, anyway?
In the new market we find ourselves in, there is much confusion on this subject. Flippers are flipping homes, installing the things that might look high end but are, as a point of fact, anything but. Spec homes are doing the same, both big ones and small ones. Stainless steel appliances, pattern tile in the showers, gray wood looking boards on ceilings. Is this what makes something high end? After all, if you took a snapshot of a home adorned in those desirable things and failed to look closely, it may, indeed, appear to be high end. Or are we mistaking trends for finishes? Is a gray wood ceiling high end, or is it just what the magazines and Restoration Hardware have told us are on trend?
It feels as though we’ve made a tragic mistake when attempting to identify what is high end, and what merely matches the preferred style of the day. It’s not the fault of the makers and contractors and homeowners who are choosing this style of finish, it’s the fault of the market for not understanding what is nice, and what just looks nice. My position as Lake Geneva agent to the stars affords me plenty of opportunity to review homes that fit into both of these categories. Once in a while I show primary homes, and those homes generally fall into the latter category. They must fall into that category, because who would install a real Waterworks faucet into a $400k home? No one, that’s who. But the $5MM homes? The $10MM homes? The $750k condominiums? This is a very different story.
That story, unfortunately, begins and ends with a simple understanding of high end. A shiny brass chandelier is indeed on trend. But what makes that fixture, and the house it calls home, high end is the make of the fixture. I can find a brass fixture at Home Depot for $199 and install it in a home. If it’s up high enough, you might just assume it’s a nice fixture. But if I want to sell you a house for $5MM and that fixture is in the foyer, then it better be a maker that carries some panache. We’ll settle on Visual Comfort, that’s a nice line of lighting. Increasingly, Restoration Hardware fixtures are both on trend and high end. If a fixture looks pretty from a distance, that’s fine for a $500k subdivision home. But if it’s in a $6MM lakefront? Well then it better be expensive.
Is that really all “high end” comes down to, cost? I suppose, in a way, yes. A lakefront home recently, privately, sold, and it sold for a considerable sum of money. That home had toilets in it, as does every other lakefront home. But those toilets cost $6000 each. Necessary? Of course not. But undeniably high end? Duh. I was in another home recently, one listed for many millions of dollars, and the toilets had plastic flush handles. Plastic. No make or model could be identified from a cursory look at the tank. Is that high end? Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t just about fixtures and toilets and faucets, but those few things do go very far in determining whether or not you’re standing in a high end home, or one that’s just dressed up like one.
While there is no definitive list of the things that must be included to bring a home to High End status, the make of plumbing and light fixtures is very important. Why? Because it signals the care taken in selecting these visible features, and the combination of high end fixtures goes a long ways towards lending credibility to the rest of the structure. Flooring is the same. Have guest bedrooms in your house that are carpeted? Wool is the way to go. Need countertops for a bathroom or kitchen or laundry room? If so, skip the tan patterned granite. Why? Because we all had that granite in 2002, and we all know it was the cheapest option. Need a kitchen sink? Sure, if it’s a white farm-style apron sink, that’s on trend. But I expect to see a Shaw mark or a Kallista emblem. If it says American Standard, it’ll work for washing dishes, but don’t try to sell me that the house is high end.
Kitchen cabinets are a curious thing. On one hand, a $500k house just needs to have cabinets that hold pots and pans. On another hand, a $5MM house better have cabinets that hail from some pedigree. Give me Woodmode or Plato or DeGiulio. I need to see something here, because if you’re skimping on the kitchen cabinets, what else are you cutting on? I expect divided light windows, SDL are fine, and the roof shouldn’t be asphalt. Please don’t make it asphalt. Give me cedar or give me slate, or give me a synthetic slate, that’ll be fine, too. But you’re going to sell me your $7MM house and it’s going to have asphalt shingles? If so, the land better be pretty spectacular. I don’t even need to mention appliances, but if you have refrigeration it better be from Sub Zero, and if you have an oven it better be from Wolf or Viking, et al. Just don’t try to sell me Kitchenaid, because it’ll bake a frozen pizza just fine but you’re not getting $5MM fro the house that surrounds it.
This isn’t actually an advertisement for brand name fixtures and appliances, it’s just a post about the state of our market. If someone is selling you something that portends to be high end, make sure it actually is. Don’t be caught up in the visual aspect of the finishes. Don’t be lured in by cheap and shiny. Instead, be sure the caliber of the finishes matches the price range, and the best way to do this is to look beyond the surface and make sure that kitchen faucet that looks sort of like the Regulator Faucet from Waterworks is actually the Regulator Faucet from Waterworks.
Above, my $729k Bay Colony lakefront listing. Looks high end, is high end.