The Basement

By Sharon Naylor

April 17, 2013 6 min read

Before listing their homes, many homeowners look at their unfinished basements and wonder if they should invest the money, time and energy in making it a finished basement.

Those bare cement stone walls are unsightly, the washer and dryer are just sitting there next to the furnace, and it's cold, dark and creepy. While some sellers think, "If we don't finish the basement, the new owners can create exactly what they want in that space," many real estate agents disagree. When touring potential new homes, buyers may just see an expensive project ahead of them. They prefer move-in-ready homes and may not make an offer, or they may make a lower offer due to that unfinished space.

Anytime you can increase the square footage of your home, you increase the value of your home. And a finished basement counts as a room, while an unfinished basement counts as storage space and is not calculated in the square footage of the home. Municipal codes vary, and some basement bedrooms might not be able to be counted as a bedroom via the rules, but the square-foot living space may still apply. So by finishing your basement even basically, with walls, ceiling and flooring, you could potentially add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of your home.

Jean Allard, vice president of Keystone Real Estate Group Inc., says that when your home features a finished basement, buyers picture how they would use that area. The perks they imagine, according to Allard, are:

--"Room for the kids to spread out their toys and play. No need to frantically clean up before guests arrive."

--"A 'Man Cave' is quite a selling point for both sexes. Leave the big screen TV downstairs for hosting football game parties."

--"With the advent of computer stations and video games, a finished basement is almost expected in some areas."

--"Is there a wet bar down there? Now you're speaking to the buyers who like to entertain."

Allard also says that a finished basement inspires images of a great home office. A finished basement with an air purification system can reduce molds, mildews and allergens throughout the house, a big plus for buyers.

In addition to a home office, potential buyers may see in a finished basement a place to do their crafts and hobbies or use exercise equipment. And a finished basement can set that laundry area apart, providing organizing areas for laundry tasks.

And, of course, a finished basement may also be designed with built-in storage bins, shelving and furniture pieces -- a big priority for potential homebuyers.

Another big selling point shown off by a finished basement is that it's a dry basement, says Allard. "Expect savvy homebuyers to ask neighbors about the flood history of the neighborhood. If you've tossed up a quick basement improvement in hopes of papering over water damage or obscuring a history of flooding, you will probably be outed," says Joanne Cleaver, content and communications director for U.S. Realty.

*Small Projects With Big Results

If your budget doesn't allow for a full basement remodel, here are some ways to spruce up your basement area to present it in the best light possible. Many of these can be done as a weekend project of your own. When it comes to electrical tasks, however, it's always best to hire a professional.

--De-clutter. Invest in some plastic storage bins to organize all of your necessary belongings, donate what you don't need anymore, and clear away all clutter to present a mess-free space.

--Clean and paint the floor. Allard says that this is a top perk. Move everything out of the basement, and if you live in a moist region, consider hiring a company to apply waterproofing, sealant paint to the floors and stone walls. Choose a neutral, pleasing color like tan, which is a more welcome sight to buyers than orange walls.

--Remove old-fashioned wall paneling, invest in new insulation and drywall, and paint the walls a neutral color.

--Install sturdy shelving. At stores like Home Depot and Lowe's, you'll find install-it-yourself shelving units in different heights and formations, and also Martha Stewart brand closet organizing modular systems that can be arranged across a wall or in a space between two built-in bookshelves. Buyers like to see storage units that fulfill their wish for an organized home.

--Hire a professional electrician to fix any hanging wires or upgrade switch boxes as needed.

--Hire a professional electrician to install quality, flattering and energy-efficient lighting units in multiple places in the basement.

"Have on hand the paperwork proving that the project complies with municipal building codes and was inspected and approved," says Cleaver. "Many people don't realize that home inspectors who look over a house before purchase are not necessarily conversant with local building codes. So, the inspector may not catch an illegal improvement. If a municipal inspector subsequently flags it, you, the homeowner, are on the hook."

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