Down in the depths of your home, there may be a gold mine just waiting to be tapped. Indeed, transforming an otherwise bare and banal basement space into a luxurious lower level starts with the right finishing strategy – one that could pay dividends for your family as well as your bank account when it’s time to sell your house.
Ask Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction, Inc. of Castle Rock, Colo., and he’ll tell you that finishing a basement is worth the investment for most homeowners – especially if the project makes your house a better size for your needs, provides extra space you can use and eliminates the need to purchase a larger home.
However, in terms of returning your investment dollar for dollar, in general finishing a basement may not be as good an investment as, say, a kitchen re-do, Bennett says. “It’s not like a ‘fix-and-flip’ property where you make upgrades specifically to get more in sales price. A basement finish is for the owner, not a future buyer.”
Adrienne van Dooren, national marketing director for MyGreenCottage.com and author of “The House that Faux Built: Transform Your Home with Paint, Plaster and Creativity” (East Cambridge Press, 2007), says that it’s a good idea to finish your basement because, ultimately, it adds vital square footage to your home.
“In my experience, it has paid for itself or added value,” she says. “Most people want more space – whether for a family room, office, guest room, separate kids play area, or workshop or craft area – and the main part of the house seldom meets all these needs. To get more in resale, you should finish the basement as heated, drywalled space.”
The experts have witnessed an upward evolution of the lower level over the decades.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, homeowners started to view basements as extensions of their houses, and often finished them with drywall and carpeting. Basements started to become truly usable for recreation, kids or adult playrooms and additional family room space,” says Bennett. “In the 1990s and 2000s, finished basements have become expected features of many homes. They often serve as vital parts of ranch houses, and walk-out basements have become popular in many areas.”
Today’s basements feature a good blend of recreational and functional living spaces, Bennett says, with the majority of modern lower levels being tall and deep enough to accommodate both.
Bennett says the most common requests he gets from customers seeking a finished basement are to design more storage spaces, an extra bedroom and bath, play areas for children and – where there’s adequate square footage – an in-law suite that includes a bedroom, bath and possibly a living/dining area and kitchenette.
Van Dooren says that basement theater rooms are increasingly in demand, as are wine cellars, game rooms, party rooms with a bar, and dedicated pet washing areas.
“Whimsical designs are popular,” says Bennett. “Many people like to make at least part of the basement a fun escape from the rest of life.”
An extra bedroom in the lower level, however, can work wonders for a family with multiple kids, especially those with an adolescent male, says Suzy Minken, a space-design consultant and founder of Every Day is Feng Shui, Westfield, N.J.
“If you have a child whose height is fast approaching your own, chances are that the smaller upstairs bedrooms have become cramped,” says Minken. “By aligning the cave-like nature of the basement with a teenage boy who typically enjoys spreading out with lounge furniture and video games, parents finishing the basement to make a bedroom will find this to be a wise remodeling project. And the new basement bedroom creates an opportunity for the family to solve space constraint issues by moving a younger sibling into the teenager’s old room.”
According to Bennett’s criteria, “finishing” a basement typically requires completing the floors and walls of at least one downstairs room and adding a bathroom. Minimal finishing, in his opinion, includes building real walls with drywall (foregoing paneling altogether, which can be a poor choice for sound transmission), completing appropriate electrical work needed (additional wiring and outlets), adding on to the existing heating system to ensure adequate climate control, and installing an appropriate flooring material. Bennett recommends against hardwoods, which can be damaged by moisture seepage; interlocking rubber, carpeting or tile are better choices in the basement, he says.
van Dooren’s basement finishing checklist also includes waterproofing, radon testing, properly insulating, attaching appropriate lighting fixtures, and decorating with tasteful materials like mirrors, which can add light.
“I also recommend using decorative plasters such as Venetian or Lusterstone sparkling plaster, which bounces light and makes the space less dark,” van Dooren says. “Also, staining concrete with designs such as a faux carpet are becoming popular.”
The price tag to finish a basement will vary greatly depending on the region, contractor and cost/availability of the needed materials. van Dooren says you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or more, based upon the quality of your finishes. A basic lower level with 1,000 square feet comprising one bedroom, one bath with pre-roughed-in plumbing, a play area and a storage area, plus drywall and carpeting, could run $30 per square foot, according to Bennett. A new bathroom that requires plumbing to be roughed in would probably alone cost approximately $8,000.
As for how elaborate and detailed you should go in the “below,” compare your home to others on the block and in the neighborhood, van Dooren says. “If yours is already the largest, it may not pay. But if most of the houses already have finished basements or your house is small, it could definitely be a plus. However, you should talk with an agent or appraiser and get a solid idea before you start the project.”
If you’re going to hire a remodeler/contractor to do the job, be sure to do your homework, Bennett says. Consider enlisting a design/build specialist who can handle both the design and construction phases. Get referrals to reputable professionals from people you trust, and research their reputation via the Better Business Bureau.
© CTW Features