What It Really Means When a House Has "Good Bones" (Plus, How to Tell)

Professional architects help explain this common real estate phrase.

If you're a fan of HGTV's many house-hunting and home renovation shows, then you've undoubtedly heard the hosts and experts describe a home as having "good bones." But what does this phrase really mean? And more importantly, how can you tell if the house you're interested in buying has good bones? To find out, we consulted the pros at the architectural firm Ike Kligerman Barkley, including Elizabeth Sesser, the interior design studio director, who is currently in the process of looking for a home herself.

"Buying our first home has been overwhelming and stressful," says Sesser. It's a feeling most people who have bought a house can probably relate to—but especially during a pandemic. "My husband, two-year-old son, and I moved in with my parents as soon as NYC shut down at the end of March. We left our apartment one Saturday morning with enough in our bags for two weeks away. Almost a year later, we are still here. We are so grateful for the helping hands and outdoor space, but if my mother reprimands my husband one more time for not sorting the recycling properly, I think he might just force us into the car and drive away, never to return. After a recently hurled hummus container, our timeline for leaving the city for suburbia was expedited."

What If Means If a House Has "Good Bones", home with blue front door
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Like many young families, they suddenly found themselves looking for a house in the height of a super competitive market. "Everyone says to find something with 'good bones.' But what are those anyway?" Here's what her colleagues at Ike Kligerman Barkley have to say.

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First, rule out the "bad bones."

"An easy place to start is to identify the 'bad bones,'" says Margie Lavender, principal New York studio director. These are major structural issues that are costly to repair. Some warning signs to look out for:

  • Cracks in foundation or masonry walls
  • Undersized framing in roofs or floors
  • Water in the basement
  • Termite damage
  • Evidence of mold
  • Obvious sagging in rooflines, floors, or exterior walls

"If you're not confident you can spot these on your own, keep in mind that before you close on the purchase of a home, you should insist on an independent inspection by a professional inspector. This will not detail every minor imperfection but should bring to light any serious concerns," explains Carl Baker, principal Oakland studio director.

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Consider the Layout

"Once you've sorted out the deal-breakers, you can focus on what constitutes 'good bones' from a design perspective," says Lavender.

Baker recommends first considering the layout of the house. Do the spaces connect in a way that makes sense for your family? Is it important to have a mudroom? Are there enough windows?

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Check Out the Doors and Hardware

"Hardware and interior doors can be an indicator of the quality of construction," explains Lavender. "A heavy solid door with historic mortised hardware that feels sturdy and functions smoothly is an indicator to me that what is behind the walls is also substantial." A little detail like hardware may seem insignificant, but it could be an indication that the house is well-constructed.

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Look at the Windows and Floors

"High-quality windows, like a sturdy double-hung, and hardwood floors are also good clues of a well-built home. Don't be scared away by sun fading or surface imperfections; a solid wood floor can usually be refinished beautifully," Baker assures us.

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