Basements have often been a place for kids to play on cold or rainy days, parents to set up a work shop, do laundry, or in fancier versions construct a man cave.
Then, for years basements were ignored—considered too dark and musty, and unlikely to provide a smart return on investment.
As housing sales stalled in more recent years and many homeowners stayed put rather than moving, they recognized that their lower levels could become potential living space, if improved, and for less than adding on to their first floor.
You already own the space, pay taxes, have a roof, walls, ceiling, foundation, and sewer hookups in place any way, so you might as well finish it nicely so you can enjoy spending time in the basement and add value to your home.
In fact, many architects and contractors put the cost savings of redoing a basement versus an addition at one-third to one-half less, depending on project scope, area of the country, and professionals hired, says architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put. Moreover, the payback could be good, and not making the change might be a deal-breaker, says Charles Barenbrugge, senior broker associate with Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty.
The last annual “Cost vs. Value” Report from Remodeling magazine put the average basement remodel at $61,303 with a 70.3 percent payback, which made it among the smartest redos, along with an attic bedroom, minor kitchen redo, deck, and new entry door.
The following are some tips to improve resale and cut costs.
Know that the appraised value of underground space is half what lies above—about $250 a square foot versus $500 in many cases, says Neil Salvage of Lending Tree Home Pros, which provides lead generation for borrowers and contractors. His advice: Don’t spend more than 10 percent of your home’s value on refinishing your basement; better yet, stay between 5 and 10 percent.
If payback isn’t a concern or you are planning to stay in your house for the rest of your life, you can convert your basement to a vacation paradise with bar, billiards table, gym, spa, sauna, bathroom, virtual golf, and access to an outdoor kitchen and plunge pool.
If you are concerned about payback, opt for uses that appeal to majority of people. Think casual family room, home office, or guest bedroom and bathroom. Walk-out basements also increase enjoyment if your property has the right topography. You can add a home theatre or a craft room.
If you notice signs of water or moisture, foundation cracks – resolve these problems first with French drains, a sump pump, back-up generator, or you may end up replacing furnishings. Be sure to have dehumidification and proper heating and cooling systems in place, too, for greater enjoyment.
Know local ordinances regarding required number and size of egresses, and if you are allowed to outfit a full kitchen.
Be sure to leave enough headroom if you add lighting, ducts, or a new ceiling; you do not want the height to be less than 7’6″ but preferably 8′ high, to make the space more appealing. In new construction, go higher to 9′ to 10′; however, to dig down to get a higher ceiling may be too expensive, and undermine footings or cause water problems.
Do not seal off the existing mechanical systems, circuit breakers, and future plumbing lines; professionals need access for maintenance and repairs. Soundproofing mechanical systems is a smart affordable fix.
Do not chop up space; better to keep it more open, a trend homeowners desire in main-level living space, says designer Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home (The Taunton Press). But be sure the walls being removed are not load bearing, which may necessitate consulting with a structural engineer, she says.
Consider non-wool carpet tiles that are easy to replace and warmer than vinyl, which tend to trap the moisture and humidity, says designer William Caligari. On walls and ceilings, use drywall or sheetrock for the same reason.
The jury is out on whether you should furnish a space in a style and quality consistent with your upstairs. Caligari says not necessarily; he renovated his basement as a work-out room for his cycle training. Grant thinks that doing the same quality will improve resale.
Be generous with artificial light, especially if windows are minimal. Few homeowners will spend time in a dark space, except for a theater.
Consider improving the staircase so it resembles a more traditional open one rather than remain narrow and confined. Paint treads and risers white and use a runner from a carpet remnant down the middle to enhance the appeal, says Caligari.