Know the Style, Sell the House

When you describe the architecture of your listings, you help buyers appreciate their value. Begin with this simple checklist.

January 1, 2004

Every house, no matter how plain, has a style. Style comes in part from ornamental details like columns and moldings and in part from structural features, such as the placement of the windows and the pitch of the roof. Yet, identifying that style can be a baffling process. Is it Spanish Colonial or Mediterranean? Art Moderne or Art Deco? And, what about the newly constructed home that seems to break all the "rules'?

Relax! Most houses do not fit precisely into any one category. Older homes may have gone through many renovations, taking on the features of several different architectural trends. Newer homes often combine ideas from a variety of styles and historic periods. So, when you talk about the architecture of your listings, you are painting them with broad strokes, capturing important themes, and highlighting the details that give those homes character, a sense of history, and, perhaps, an air of romance.

Fortunately, you don't need to memorize a lot of complicated architectural terminology. Instead, begin by closely observing a few key characteristics. This simple checklist identifies standout features to look for. Although there are no pat answers, each of these features suggests styles to consider.

Style Checklist

  1. What shape is the house, overall?

    • Rectangular and symmetrical: National, Colonial, Neoclassical, Greek Revival, Italianate
    • Square and box-like: American Foursquare
    • L-shaped: Folk and National styles
    • Complicated and asymmetrical: Queen Anne and other Victorian styles, Chateauesque
    • Rounded corners: Pueblo, Art Moderne
    • Single story or 1½ story: Cape Cod, Ranch, Craftsman, Cottage styles
  2. Does the roof have any of these features?

    • Unusually steep pitch: Gothic Revival and other Victorian styles, Tudor
    • Unusually low pitch: Craftsman, Prairie, Ranch, Monterey, and Spanish styles
    • Flat: Italianate, Beaux Arts, Pueblo, Mediterranean, and Modernistic
    • Gambrel: Dutch Colonial
    • Mansard: Second Empire and other French-inspired styles
    • Hipped: American Foursquare, Colonial styles, Victorian styles
    • Salt box: Colonial
    • Flared eaves: French styles, Craftsman, Prairie
    • Round towers: Queen Anne, Romanesque, Chateauesque, French styles
    • Cupolas: Italianate, Greek Revival, Second Empire
    • Rounded parapets: Mission
  3. Is the house sided with any of these materials?

    • Adobe: Pueblo, Monterey, Spanish Colonial Revival
    • Stucco: Mission, Tudor, Spanish styles
    • Rough stone: Romanesque
    • Patterned wood shingles: Victorian styles
    • Half-timbering: Tudor, Stick, Queen Anne
    • Cedar shingles: Victorian Shingle, Craftsman, Tudor
  4. Does the house have any of these window types?

    • Multi-paned: Adam, Georgian, Neoclassical
    • Diamond-paned: Tudor, Prairie
    • Palladian: Adam, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical
    • Round or elliptical: Adam, Neoclassical
    • Oriel: Tudor, Gothic Revival, Chateauesque
    • Casement: Tudor, Craftsman, Dutch Colonial, Spanish styles, modern styles
    • Pointed: Gothic Revival
    • Rounded with "eyebrow' hoods: Italianate
    • Fanlights: Adam, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival
  5. Do you notice any of these details?

    • Dentil moldings: Georgian, Adam, Colonial styles
    • Garlands or floral ornaments: Federal, Adam, Beaux Arts
    • Turned spindles: Queen Anne, Carpenter Gothic, Folk Victorian
    • Zigzags or chevrons: Art Deco
    • Shutters: Cape Cod and other Colonial styles
    • Round, fluted columns: Greek Revival, Adam, Neoclassical, Beaux Arts
    • Square or trapezoid porch supports: Craftsman, Prairie, Mission, American Foursquare
    • Little or no ornamentation: National and Folk styles, Cape Cod, Ranch, Modern styles

Describe Your Listing

As you answer these questions, certain patterns may emerge. Perhaps your listing has features that are commonly found on Neoclassical or Victorian-era homes. With this information, you can begin to prepare a helpful and inviting architectural profile that could help you sell the house.

There are many reference works, both in print and online, to guide you. I've noted a few of my favorites below. However, even if the particular style eludes you, you still can discuss stylistic influences. Phrases like "Craftsman inspired,' "Queen Anne flourishes,' "French accents,' and "Tudor detailing' will help buyers visualize and appreciate the special characteristics of your listing.

Learn More

REALTOR® Magazine Online’s Architecture Guide. You’ll find descriptions and illustrations for the most common residential housing styles. This handy resource also includes an illustrated glossary of important architectural features such as roof styles and window types.

A Field Guide to American Houses
By Virginia and Lee McAlester
With more than 500 black and white photos and drawings, this hefty paperback includes many hard-to-identify styles not covered in other resources.

The Houses We Live in: An Identification Guide to the History and Style of American Domestic Architecture
By Jeffery W. Howe (Editor)
Glossy color photos and line illustrations give a comprehensive survey of American house styles from Colonial to Contemporary.


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