RealEstateFilter: Remodeling basement to add legal bedrooms, worth it?
March 7, 2021 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I am *removing* an above-ground bedroom in my house renovation; now help me decide whether to add 1 or 2 legal basement bedrooms?

We are remodeling a house that currently has 3 (small) above-grade bedrooms and 1.5 baths. We plan to remove one of the above-grade bedrooms in order to create a master suite, and we'll be doing this regardless of ROI because it's necessary to make the layout liveable for us -- that leaves the above-grade count at 2BR/1.5BA.

The finished basement has a large open area that's much deeper than it is wide, plus a full bath and two bonus rooms (no closet or egress window). Should we:

a) Remodel to add 2 legal basement bedrooms and a smaller family room open area, which requires moving the bathroom and obviously more $$$.

b) Remodel to create 1 legal basement bedroom, leaving the awkward open space and a small bonus room as they are. The larger bonus room can easily be converted into a legal bedroom. The smaller bonus room could *maybe* have both a closet and egress window added, but it would be a tight squeeze approaching the 80sqft minimum bedroom size.

We're working with architects to bring everything up to code. Location-wise, this is a prime neighborhood with mostly smaller lots and older homes in a LCOL-ish city that is turning into MCOL. Inventory is extremely low in the neighborhood (realtors keep waitlists of people who want to buy in) and very few houses have a master suite, so adding one with nice finishes isn't the craziest idea even at the price of reducing from 3BR to 2BR above-ground. We're just trying to figure out what to do with the basement and how much layout change is "worth it". Option (a) is the ideal but pushes us to the top of our renovation budget.
posted by serelliya to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would not push to the top of the renovation budget to create extra bedrooms that I didn’t need myself. Let the next owner do the basement upgrade if they need 4 bedrooms. I feel like the finished basement with one bedroom would still be good for a lot of families - maybe even better if they prefer a large get space for a workout room or rec room, with bonus room set up as a home office or hobby space.
posted by Kriesa at 2:36 PM on March 7, 2021 [20 favorites]

How long are you going to live there and how does the location do property assessments? Where I live, if you pulled a permit for this work, you'd then get a reappraisal which might make your taxes go up, potentially way up with a bunch of extra bedrooms. I think if this were me I'd leave the basement alone except to maybe zuzh up the basement rooms so they look lovely when/if you decide to sell.
posted by jessamyn at 2:42 PM on March 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: For reasons sort of similar to Jessamyn's I'd suggest the ROI of adding more bedrooms than when you bought it, especially with the space the way you've described, may not pay off. But doing that one bedroom to stay a 3 brdm is probably a good idea. It might be something you address by putting the egress window in (a good idea in a basement, especially if there isn't another way out at that end) but not putting the closet in before you're closer to selling the house.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:52 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

After your remodel, the upstairs will have 2 bedrooms and 2.5 bath, correct? If that's the case, I would leave the basement as-is unless you anticipate needing an extra, legal bedroom for a growing family or for a parent who needs to come live with you at some point. I wouldn't sink money into renovations that you don't really need just based on perceived resale value increases. It sounds like the basement already has a layout that could easily be converted to add bedrooms, and for many buyers, that's enough.
posted by quince at 2:53 PM on March 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't sink money into a renovation you don't need in hopes of be recouping it down the line. Just putting the money into the stock market is probably a better investment. If creating the extra bedrooms would make the space more usable to you as home offices, craft rooms, etc. it's worth considering.

One point that might make extra bedrooms more compelling - are you in an above average school district? That's the main thing that makes a lot of bedrooms interesting to people. Either that or living in an area where cost of living is so high that people right out of college have to share a house to keep costs down, though usually that's restricted to 3 or 4 unrelated people to cut down on overcrowding.
posted by Candleman at 3:04 PM on March 7, 2021

I would do it before you sell.
posted by slidell at 3:34 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

We split up our long basement with essentially IKEA storage bin walls, custom-staining the wood boxes to complement the room, using open space for display, and also to maximize guest sleeping space with convertible/comfortable sofa/recliners.
posted by childofTethys at 3:38 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is your house & you're the ones living in it. Do the renos that make your lives better & don't spend a whole lot of money trying to guess what some hypothetical future buyer might want. If you're going to have contractors in anyway, you might want to just have the basement egress window(s) installed? that'd be a good fire safety thing no matter what the basement ends up being used for & would leave all the options open.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 4:01 PM on March 7, 2021 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with warriorqueen and Mary Ellen Carter. Putting in an egress window while you are doing other things makes sense. Maybe putting in a closet to preserve your current bedroom number, but I wouldn’t carve up the space unless it’s something that you want.

It sounds like the awkward open area is probably not aesthetically pleasing so I might spend some time figuring out a configuration for that space that would make it useful and nice while you live in the house.
posted by MadMadam at 4:37 PM on March 7, 2021

Location-wise, this is a prime neighborhood with mostly smaller lots and older homes in a LCOL-ish city that is turning into MCOL. Inventory is extremely low in the neighborhood (realtors keep waitlists of people who want to buy in)

Do you know what the profile of the typical household looking to buy in is? My wife and I (DINKs, no kids, I work at home a lot even when there's not a pandemic and could really use an actual home office) would LOVE a 2 bed house with a nice master suite and the ability to kit out the basement for comfort for our occasional overnight guests (especially with a full bath down there) without having a full bedroom down there that we're not using most of the time. On the other hand, if it's mostly households with kids moving in, the renovations might be worth it.
posted by joycehealy at 4:38 PM on March 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the points above. I'll add: listing your house as 4BR when 2 of those are basement (and one of those is barely even) will push it to the very bottom of its competitor cohort, when people are looking for a 4BR houses. That's another reason not to go with adding 2.
posted by Dashy at 7:04 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Inventory is extremely low in the neighborhood (realtors keep waitlists of people who want to buy in)

You mention remodeling to get a layout that works better for you, but since the inventory of homes in the neighborhood seems relevant to you, I'm assuming selling soon is a definite consideration.

I would contact a realtor who works in your area and talk to them about what options you are considering and what the differences might be in the eventual sales price.

You might also consider that hot markets like yours don't stay hot forever, and if you should put the house on the market without the renovations.

Or if you don't want to sell your house, ignore what the market is currently like and make the decision that is best for how you want to live in the house.
posted by yohko at 11:40 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Put in the egress windows so the bedrooms are possible but configure the space so you want to live in and use it.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:13 AM on March 8, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the thoughtful replies! Right now we're leaning towards putting in both egress windows and making one legal bedroom in the basement, but leaving everything else untouched. Being able to easily add a closet to the bonus room later is a great point I hadn't thought of.

We are DINKs with no plans for kids, and our use case is very similar to joycehealy's -- we will have a master suite on the upper level, use the main floor bedroom as an office since it doesn't have a full bath on that floor anyway, and host overnight guests/hobby space in the basement. But my assumption was that most homebuyers outside of big cities would be families with/planning to have kids, so ideally we wouldn't completely limit the future target audience with a very specific renovation.

Financially, the best decision would probably be to sell right now without doing renovations and live somewhere else. But we like this neighborhood for the same reasons that everyone else does, and we have the home court advantage of having inherited a house in it, so we're keeping it ;)
posted by serelliya at 2:43 PM on March 8, 2021

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