House hunters are accustomed to having real estate agents help them in their search for new domiciles. Agents can help buyers find dwellings with the right number of bedrooms, the optimal school districts and much more. Interior designers pick up where agents leave off. Their trained eyes can pinpoint houses with good bones, suggest renovations and décor items and spot the places with good long-term value.

Case in point? Bunsa Studio owner Jennifer Bunsa, a one-time New York City designer transplanted to Miami. Some clients bring her along to house showings in the Magic City, where homes she’s examined have ranged from those needing bath upgrades to others requiring demolishing. One buyer with whom she’s working wants to combat rising prices by seeking bargain homes able to be remade to the buyer’s exact tastes.

Bunsa can identify easy fixes like changing door positions on walls, replacing flooring and repurposing some areas. She can also spot more vexing changes like repositioning entire rooms, which requires a designer to weigh in on potential and costs.

“Being involved from the very beginning allows us to identify the best opportunities for designing to fit a client’s needs and to create value in the property,” she says. “Going with them on home tours helps us offer the full idea of what is required in a renovation or design, and offer an estimate of what it would cost to make the home fit their needs and become their dream home.”

Another interior designer accompanying clients on house hunting forays is Allen Saunders. The Miami-based award-winning interior and architectural designer provides his expert opinion on what will transform a house into a home. He can both foresee challenges and furnish creative and technical solutions unfathomable to average folk.

“Designers offer unique perspectives for home buyers; they don’t let cosmetic issues overshadow the things you can’t easily change like the bones, functionality and location,” Saunders says. “Because they can identify potential issues a lot earlier than your average homeowner, part of their value is that they can save you money on renovations in the long run. The average homeowner just doesn’t have the same expertise as a designer in [knowing] if something is going to work or not, and most homeowners will realize [this] way too late.”

Traffic flow

Among renovation suggestions designers may propose are space plan adjustments yielding improved functionality, he says. That might involve moving walls, windows or possibly location of entire rooms. A smooth flow enhances living and entertaining environments. “As designers, we also analyze the effects of natural lighting, where and how the light enters rooms and quickly identify and address the dark spots,” he says.

Designers are trained to examine spaces and identify their designed-in pros and cons, according to Saunders. A home’s design and functional potential is determined by its bones. Good bones offer potential for reasonably priced renovations, while bad bones present greater design hurdles, hiking renovation expenses. Strengths include function of floor plans and traffic flow, well-placed windows and doors, ample storage space and scale and structures appropriate to the physical contexts of their neighborhoods.

Among designed-in downsides are elements that can’t be easily altered, Saunders adds. These might include the home being positioned along a busy thoroughfare, sitting on a lot size too small to allow for renovation or suffering from low ceiling heights. Raising the roof to allow higher ceilings can be an extremely costly undertaking.

“Dark rooms universally are a turn off,” he reports. “Inability to add natural light should the dwelling be wedged tightly between adjacent buildings may be cause for concern.”

Return on investment

How do experienced designers provide good R.O.I.?  Significant return can flow from helping homeowners avoid costly mistakes in planning and executing renovations, which can sharply reduce home value and eviscerate the interest of future buyers.

 “A designer’s expertise goes far beyond the selection of furnishings and accessories,” Saunders says. “Designers develop functional space plans, select appropriate finishes and products, plan natural and artificial lighting effects and coordinate with the construction team. All [are] invaluable during the process of renovating a home.

“Retaining an interior design professional prior to the start of a renovation will provide a homeowner with the best prospect for success.”