Mary Weichert, a real estate agent in Chatham, New Jersey, for 20 years, has seen a shift in expectations for finished basements. They’re no longer just a nice-to-have feature for your home – they’re a must-have if you want to put your house on the market.
“Buyers expect to come down to the basement and open up to a nice room,” Weichert says. “They like their basement to be additional living space.”
With this change in attitude, the basement is moving beyond its traditional role of storage or laundry space and expanding to become everything from a lower-level suite with a guest bathroom and kitchenette to a home theater or office.
“It really is a space that should be developed,” Weichert says.
Nearly three-fifths of homeowners say their top reason to remodel a basement is to “add features and improve livability,” according to the most recent basement remodeling impact study by the National Association of Realtors and National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Over four-fifths of homeowners say they “have a greater desire to be home” since finishing their basements.
“People are putting more money into the basement,” says Dennis Gehman, owner of a design remodeling company in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, and a Master Certified Remodeler. His firm gets inquiries about basement projects about once a week and completes about five to six a year.
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Keep water out
With the basement below ground, the No. 1 thing homeowners should do is make sure the area is professionally waterproofed, Weichert says.
Weichert also advises installing a dehumidifier to keep moisture out.
What’s your budget?
Gehman, who’s been in the remodeling business for decades, says his company has handled basement projects that range from a kids’ playroom for under $40,000 to a furnished home theater in an 1,800-square-foot space outfitted with a bathroom and bar. The price tag for that? About $250,000.
“Talk with your contractor or designer to decide what budget you have,” he says. “Start with your dream and work back down. Maybe do phase 1 here one year and phase 2 the following year.”
The midrange of basement remodeling projects cost an average $71,000 nationwide, according to Remodeling Magazine’s most recent Cost vs. Value study on basements. It estimates that homeowners could recoup 70% of their costs when they sell the house.
Brighten it up
Lighting is a critical component of an inviting basement, so industry experts advise plenty of recessed LED lighting as well as accent lighting or side table lamps. Homeowners can also replace existing small windows with larger ones to let in more natural light.
Good lighting will make a basement “feel like a natural living space,” says Lucy O’Brien, an interior designer in Philadelphia.
Mirrors, as well as metallic or any other “highly reflective” wallpaper on the ceiling, also are good tricks to reflect light and liven up a basement space that’s “usually dingy and not very interesting,” she says.
If homeowners want to make their ceilings feel higher, they can skip a dropped ceiling and leave the electrical wiring and existing structure of the wood beams exposed and paint them white, Weichert says.
“That would give you the illusion of a higher ceiling,” she says. “You go with a very industrial look with exposed ceiling. You want everything as light and bright as possible.”
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Even though carpet has traditionally been used for basement flooring because it’s “softer and warmer,” Gehman says luxury vinyl plank or vinyl tile flooring is “taking off.”
“It looks really good and it’s pretty inexpensive compared with tile or wood,” he says, adding that most of the vinyl flooring comes with a lifetime warranty for residential use.
Hardwood isn’t recommended for a basement because of moisture that may lie underground, he says.
Flow with the house
Approach decorating your basement as you would the rest of your house.
“Add textiles, pillows and that warmth that you’d put in your upstairs living room,” O’Brien says.
If a house’s design is open concept, homeowners should follow the same plan for their basement, Weichert says. People “want to walk downstairs (and) feel it’s an extension of the first or second floor.”