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What Does a Room Need To Be Labeled a Bedroom?

Q: We're planning to sell our house, and aren't sure whether to list it as a three- or four-bedroom house. My wife says it's three, because one "bedroom" doesn't have a window. Must a room have a window to be considered a bedroom? What other things are required for bedrooms?

A: At first glance your question seems fairly straight forward, but when we started calling around, we learned the answer is not as clear-cut as you might have hoped.

In a legal sense, your wife is probably correct.

According to the city of Medford, a bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in size, have an operable window or outside door, and be heated to at least 65 degrees measured four feet off the floor. The window opening has to be at least 5.7 square feet so a firefighter and her apparatus can fit through, and the window can't be more than 44 inches off the ground, according to Medford Permit Technician Kimberly London.

If you're building a new home or adding an addition, you'll have to follow these rules.

There are lots of older homes out there that have bedrooms with windows smaller than the code requirement, and they can most certainly be counted as bedrooms when you're listing your home.

It turns out the definition of a bedroom has as much to do with local custom as it does with the law.

Cliff Llewellyn, an Ashland appraiser, says a bedroom, in addition to windows and heat, must have a closet and finished floors to be considered a bedroom.

The city code is silent about the need for closets or floor coverings, but most appraisers require it.

Mark J. Baird, a Medford appraiser, says the question can get murky when you start looking at it closely.

As a general rule, a bedroom must meet two requirements, Baird says. It must meet the legal definition, which includes an operable window, heat and square-footage. Next, it has to meet the normal expectations of what the public calls a bedroom.

In the Rogue Valley, a room without a closet might be a den or an office or a hobby area, but it's not a bedroom, Baird says.

A bedroom must also have privacy, he says. If you have to walk through a bedroom to get to another bedroom, the pass-through room is not a bedroom by local appraisal standards.

Other factors can also enter the equation. For instance, if a rural property has a septic system which is rated for a two-bedroom house, and the owner has added two bedrooms with lots of windows and closets, it's still just a two-bedroom house, because that's all the septic was designed for, Baird says.

The real question seems to stem from a belief that your home might be worth more if you list it as a four-bedroom, which may or may not be true, Baird says.

Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To a couple without children, the difference between three and four bedrooms is probably meaningless. To a couple with two kids, an extra bedroom might be important.

"When you're talking about valuation in our area, there's not much difference between a three- and a four-bedroom, Baird says. "There's no rule of thumb on what a bedroom adds. It's a description that is used to compare properties, but you can't go just on that."