Choose a home with good bones! It’s great advice to a buyer but how do you know that a home has good bones? “Good bones” might be one of the most overused phrases in real estate. Prospective home buyers and sellers, and their real estate agents, are constantly talking about homes’ “good bones.” But what does it even mean when a home is said to have good bones? What should you be looking for as you try to find your dream home? You can figure out how many bedrooms or parking spaces you need but how do you determine whether the home you are looking for will stand the test of time. Here are some helpful hints for what to put on your search list.

Look at the Infrastructure

No matter how beautiful a house looks on the surface, you want to know what the infrastructure is like before making a purchase. One of the easiest ways to choose a home with good bones is to make sure the infrastructure is sound.  The infrastructure is like the skeleton of the home.  If you notice sagging beams or cracking plaster, for example, that could be a sign of problems with the foundation. You’ll also want to take note of when the various systems were last updated, such as plumbing, electrical and heating. If there is a basement, give it the sniff test.  Do you smell moisture? Is there visible mold or flacking paint in the basement.  That could be an indication that there are foundation issues or there is water infiltrating the house.

Take a quick peek at the corners of windows, stairs, doors, and other openings. In these areas, large, diagonal cracks indicate that something is stretching unusually and may need significant labor (and money) to fix the fault.

There is a big difference between a home that needs a new coat of paint or new appliances and one which needs to be jacked up so that you can shore up the foundation.  The first gives you an opportunity to increase the value of your home through sweat equity while the second makes your home into a hole in the ground that you pour money into!

Of course, you will get an inspection.  After all, many aspects of bad bones are hard to see. For example, cracks may be difficult to find if they’re in the interior of the building but will cost you lots to fix. However, even before the inspection, you can tell a lot about a home just by taking off the rose colored glasses and looking at it carefully!

Is the Floor Plan Right?

When you visit Colonial Williamsburg, you might notice how small most of the individual rooms are.  A big room is hard to heat with a fireplace so the colonists were content with smaller rooms.  We aren’t colonists however so we generally want rooms that are open and big enough for our purposes.

Choose a home with good bones and a floor plan that suits your life style.  Floor plans are usually a good indicator of how well a home was designed. Ideally, there’s a sense of flow throughout the home and each room feels appropriately sized to serve its specific purpose. If it’s easy to envision decorating and how you’ll use each space, that’s usually a good sign because you won’t have to make any significant structural changes to accommodate your lifestyle.

Sometimes a home is so badly designed that rooms are inaccessible except through other rooms or the kitchen is so small and badly placed that it can’t be renovated into a useful space.  While square footage can certainly be added onto a home, it may be more difficult to increase the size of individual rooms – particularly bedrooms.  This is not a home with good bones!  It is a problem.

It’s important to have both public and private space in homes, and the right balance between the two will differ from family to family. The best layouts will offer some flexibility, but will preserve both types of space.  Rooms should be big, but not too big, and ceilings should be high, but not too high. Too-tiny spaces are cramped, but too big spaces feel cold and cavernous.


Architectural Details

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, like tall ceilings and crown moldings. While these may not be the top features on your list when looking for a luxury property, they are important characteristics because they contribute to a home’s unique sense of character.  Look for other elements like exposed beams, beautiful paneling, baseboards, chair railings, intricate moldings, and elaborate fireplace mantles when deciding if a space has good bones.

While a sound foundation and structure are vital to the long-term durability of a home, having good bones can also mean that a house is filled with character and charm. Features such as floor-to-ceiling windows, ornate architectural trim, and high ceilings lend personality and charisma to a home. When they’re in good shape, desirable features like these are definite selling points.

Solid Quality Materials

When you pay attention, you can usually tell if a high level of quality and craftsmanship went into building a home. For instance, consider how thick the walls are and what type of wood was used for the floors.  Look at the joists in the basement or the rafters in the attic.  Are they far apart or appropriately close together.  If there is a deck, how is it attached to the home?   If a home has been renovated over the years, was it done so using high-end materials?

Lots of Natural Light

A house with good bones has lots of natural light and big windows to enjoy that light.  Remember that cutting down trees to let in more light is very expensive and can even be illegal in some jurisdictions.  If light is important to you, it is easier to buy right than to try to fix a problem later.

Good Drainage

Good drainage is another indication of good bones. Water can wreak havoc on a house so be sure to look for possible drainage issues, especially if the home is on a sloped lot.  Inspect the basement or other below-grade rooms for signs of water intrusion.  In the DC area we have a lot of clay soil that does not drain well.  Water frequently stands on the property for longer than is appropriate after a heavy rain.  Sometimes, it flows down the side of the foundation and then into the house.  Even if the foundation is intact, that constant flooding can be a nightmare to a homeowner.

A Home with Good Bones Can Be Updated

Even though charming features can be an indication of good bones, don’t get too wrapped up in decorative details. Things like grungy carpeting, paint, and wallpaper can all be replaced without spending too much money. Don’t be deterred by a kitchen full of dingy, avocado-colored appliances. Instead, look at what lies beneath the surface, particularly the home’s foundation and structural and mechanical aspects.

I remember when my parents bought our house in Washington DC.  The elderly owner had loved wallpaper and placed several heavy layers of wallpaper on top of each other.  As she and the house aged together, the wallpaper began to lose its grip and fall away in festoons.  When I read Great Expectations in high school, I could imagine what Miss Haversham’s home looked like!  When we moved in my mother removed all the wallpaper, gave the home a fresh coat of paint and the results were lovely.

If you would like to talk about your home search with

Talk to Lise

I have been a realtor for over 33 years, specializing in helping buyers and sellers with all their Bethesda and Northwest Washington
real estate needs. In addition to being a realtor with many years’ experience in all kinds of markets – the good, the bad and the ugly, I also am an attorney admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia.  While I no longer practice as such, I think that my years of experience as a lawyer also work to the advantage of my clients.

In addition to a deep knowledge of the market and the ins and outs of the real estate transaction, I bring to my sellers a real commitment to technology in general and its absolute necessity in marketing properties.  My buyer clients also benefit from my technology skills because I am constantly searching all the hidden corners of the real estate market looking for that perfect home for them.

If you want an agent who always puts your interests first, then you should call me and set up a time for a cup of coffee, a little pastry and a lot of conversation.   Let me show you Howe Real Estate Should Be.  I am at 240-401-5577 or   Looking forward to talking with you!

View All Buying Posts