Steps. Some people seek to avoid them in their housing choices, preferring one-level living, while others insist on having sleeping quarters on a second level. And, the reasons for either preference can be quite different.
When I was very young, maybe five or six years old, I had a recurring dream of tumbling down an endless flight of steps, but they were of a rubbery consistency and I just bounced like a ball the entire way. Maybe my subconscious had absorbed the story my mother had told me about how as a toddler I miraculously survived a fall down the steps to a concrete basement floor.
The experience never dampened my enthusiasm for a beautiful staircase, however, from the time I discovered that I could enjoy a bumpy ride down the bare wooden steps on my romp from our second floor.
When we moved from a two-story row home in Philadelphia to a ranch-style home in the south, I remember, even as an eight year old, that it seemed strange that, when it came time to climb to my weary trundle bed, there were no steps to climb. It just didn’t feel right that I was sleeping on the same floor where I ate. From my experience in real estate, I’ve found that many people feel the same way.
Let’s face it, steps are a necessity in most housing situations. While it may be easier to build a one-story house, it makes more sense economically to have two stories rise above one foundation and to be tucked in under one roof. Then, there is the argument for the raised ranch, which is basically a two-story involving a split staircase, and the split-level also involving steps, but not in one long run.
While early in my real estate career, I thought that only senior homebuyers would have a preference for avoiding steps, I found many young buyers with the same avoidance issue because they had young children and were afraid either of their injury falling, or of being too far removed if the master bedroom was on the first floor.
Older buyers may prefer homes without steps, and indeed for many with mobility issues, the need for level floors is inarguable. But assuming one must live with stairs, is there any benefit to having them?
A set of stairs in the middle of the home might be an annoyance for people who aren’t used to them, but I have lived with them for most of my life. There were times in New York City when I have lived in four and five-floor walk-ups and in the country, I’ve lived in a two story home with laundry and storage in the basement. I’ve looked at the stairs as part of my exercise routine. In fact, the workout that comes from regular stair climbing may help to keep us young.
As a case in point, I think of my mother-in-law. My wife was initially relieved when her parents, upon retiring to Hyannis, Mass., selected a single story bungalow to live in. Her relief turned to irritation, however, on the first visit. The house was indeed a single story… with a basement. This dim lower level was deeper than the first story of the house was high, with a steep set of rough-sawn wooden steps leading straight down into it, and my petite mother-in-law flew up and down those stairs several times a day.
With every visit my wife would try to firmly make some suggestion to her mother that she not use the basement so often, but then “Mamytė” would run off again, carrying down laundry, bringing up line-dried linens (she had both outdoor and indoor clotheslines), putting food into storage, or bringing up the good dishes for the many parties she hosted. Occasionally she would even make an extra trip down to use the rowing machine she had set up by the dryer. Well, it drove my wife crazy, but her mother lived to be nearly 92, and she was able to keep using the stairs up until her last few years.
Even without the involuntary exercise stairs give us, they also benefit homeowners in other ways, whether by helping shape the design of a home or patio into a hilly property, offering a means to build up on a smaller parcel of land, or helping keep the bedrooms away from the sounds – and smells – of the first floor.
Yes, steps are here to stay, whether we can make them on not and, lately, as I feel an occasional twinge in one knee or the other, I wonder when my day will come.
There is a song by George Gershwin called “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” Notice that he didn’t say he’d get there by just strolling across to it or taking an elevator.
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.