Start At The Bottom

By Sharon Naylor

April 1, 2011 6 min read

There's no question that potential buyers are more impressed by a property's finished basement than they are by a home with an unfinished, unattractive basement. Some unfinished basements -- with their musty smells, concrete block walls and dim lighting -- can be downright creepy and can erase all of the beauty buyers have seen upstairs, causing them to walk away in search of a home with a basement they could use.

Don't let your basement scare away potential buyers. By taking a few affordable steps, you can make your basement an asset, offering extended living space, a potential organized storage area, or another workable zone that buyers could see themselves utilizing. And that adds both financial and emotional value to your home.

You don't have to spend $20,000 to turn an unfinished basement into a magazine cover-worthy family room or a home theater with surround sound, a pool table and a wet bar. It takes far less to transform a creepy, overstuffed basement into an attractive space that invites buyers to dream of their own use for it.

First, remove the clutter. Buyers can't see the size of your basement or the floor's condition -- which is a big consideration for buyers who wish to avoid foundation problems, evidenced by cracks and slopes -- if your entire basement is filled with piles of boxes, bikes, clothing racks and unused workout equipment. Stash what you can in the attic in plastic storage bins, and consider renting an outside storage unit for a month or two to remove some of your family's accumulated possessions and holiday decorations. An unfilled space looks bigger and more inviting.

Next, get more light into your basement. If windows are covered by thick curtains, take those curtains down and let the light in. If you have exposed light bulbs on your basement ceiling, invest in no-frills light covers to give a more finished appearance. An electrician can install additional simple lights, done to code, in the four corners of your basement, as well as over the laundry station. You also may be able to find free workshops at your local home improvement store to learn how to install your own track lighting system and learn about important code information. This simple investment adds great value to your basement space.

People are more impressed by finished walls than they are by concrete brick, and a quality craftsman can create a smooth, finished room with all-important insulation behind the wall materials. Bear in mind that the gypsum wallboard used in the 1980s or earlier is considered out of date. According to Alligator Basements, it's better to install greenboard drywall. "Greenboard drywall is the same as regular drywall except for two things: 1) Greenboard drywall has a water-resistant paper covering. 2) The paper covering for greenboard drywall is, as the name implies, green." Standard drywall tends to absorb moisture, leading to mold and mildew problems.

Alligator Basements goes on to say that 1990s-era wallpaper placed over basement walls is also out of date. And older wall materials also fail to provide protection from fiberglass insulation materials leaking into the air. More modern wall materials contain insulation with eco-friendly living in mind. The experts at Energy Star say that you might be able to enjoy a tax credit for installing Energy Star materials in your basement, which would help defray the cost of installing walls and insulation.

Choose a neutral paint color, such as a very light yellow, to reflect the room's light and make the space appear larger. Dark paint colors have a room-shrinking effect. Don't attempt to beautify the room with murals or wallpaper, because buyers want to personalize their own space. Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green," says, "Keep green building standards in mind by using eco-friendly, non-VOC paints in your basement paint projects." In addition to making painting safer for you, this choice can be added to the notes in your home's listing, attracting eco-minded buyers.

If possible, line your basement walls with empty storage racks so that today's downsizing homebuyer can envision this area as having plenty of organizing storage space.

Ask your real estate agent to bring in stagers, or have your upstairs home stagers also focus on the basement space. They may be able to bring in those storage racks or an organizing system -- even area rugs, couches and tables -- to show the space as a viable living area. Some stagers even decorate basement areas with live plants that don't need a lot of light, providing personal, natural touches to give basement areas impressive accents.

Finally, don't cover anything up. If you put down cheap carpeting to try to hide a cracked or unpainted basement floor, buyers get wary. It's better to show minor, fixable flaws than have an inspector peel back carpeting and reveal them, which could lead buyers to wonder what else you're hiding in your home.

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