As an Architect who lives and works in the Hamptons, I am well aware of the churn in the real estate market, the buying and selling that sometimes seems to define this place to the exclusion of anything else. It’s hard for me to ignore. A lot of hype disguises some REALLY junky houses, though.
In a second home-driven market such as the Hamptons there are those buyers, agents, contractors, etc. who are always looking to cut costs and skim services, because with its share of schemers and dreamers, everybody is always looking to sell and make the most profit. Architects are strange bedfellows with this group, because we craft bespoke projects for real people, above and beyond the churn.
An architect can certainly assist a future owner with the house purchase process, even though you might not have thought of that initially. here are the top SIX things to be aware of when purchasing a house in the Hamptons that I have come up with in my patented BEWARE/BE AWARE list, in no particular order:
1. BEWARE of listing plans drawn by real estate offices – have your agent check the Certificate of Occupancy on file at the Building Department for the actual number of bedrooms in a house you are considering. Any room that does not have a closet and a window/means of egress is not technically a bedroom, in spite of whatever the plans tell you. Real basement bedrooms have egress window-wells. Note that if a house needs additional bedrooms to make it your dream home we may need to redo the septic system as part of our project together.
2. BEWARE of flood plains – check the FEMA map for the house’s location. If it is Zone AE or X, you are in a FEMA regulated zone. This means that if you plan to do substantial work to the house, you will be required to lift the house and its mechanical systems up on pilings to the freeboard height the FEMA maps and local Town have agreed upon. This can easily double the price of a home renovation. Visually locate adjacent wetlands to a property you are considering, which could impose a no-build zone on your property. More generally, if the house is situated in a location that seems like water would run towards it instead of away from it, or there is obvious water damage to the foundation, or evidence of flooding, you may want to consider another home.
3. BE AWARE of basic zoning regulations. For example, swimming pools are not allowed in in front yards. You cannot build up to a property line. There is often a pyramid law that means you cannot build higher than a 45 degree line struck into the property from the property line. On small lots, built coverage dictates how big an addition may be. You cannot build within ten feet of a septic system. Everything beyond what is allowed by letter of the law will be considered a variance, without a sure outcome and requiring additional fees. Have an architect determine when purchasing a house if what you want to do to it would be As-Of-Right, meaning, within the limitations of site and zoning laws.
4. BEWARE of party houses!! This is not a joke. All over the Hamptons, certain unscrupulous owners use AirBnB or other online services to rent out their houses on weekends to as many people as possible. These owners find that the cost of noise and other violations imposed by Town code enforcement officers is merely a cost of doing business and doesn’t affect their bottom line enough for them to stop. If you are the unlucky homeowner who has purchased a house next door to one of these places, you will be stuck with noisy weekends with strangers parking all over the street and sometimes even passing out on your property. Interview the neighbors of a prospective house you are considering to see if there are any party houses nearby.
5. BEWARE of junky houses. Houses of any age often have features that make renovation more difficult, a legacy of the previous builder's shortcuts and the toll of age. Things I have personally found in houses include the following: leaky, cracked foundations, no footings below the foundation walls, no subfloor below the finish flooring, slab-less dirt crawlspaces below the joists, cracked slabs, no insulation between the studs or joists, undersized roof framing, walls that are not straight, sagging floors, roof leaks, single glazed windows without storm windows, omitted critical roof beams and girders, and the list goes on. There is a lot of crap out there to sort out that even a solid home inspection during closing does not ferret out. Sometimes these issues are only discovered during the renovation, if they are closed in.
6. BEWARE of nonconforming work that was never permitted by the current homeowner. This tends to include outdoor showers, interior renovations, decks, kitchens and kitchen plumbing in accessory structures such as pool houses (which is forbidden), garage apartments, neighboring structures such as sheds, garages, decks over the property line. You don’t want to inherit a mess that the buiding department goes out of its way to penalize you for once you are the owner.