Bedroom or not?

What makes a room a bedroom?

May 2, 2013

The first time I watched The Apprentice, the challenge was to remake a 3-bedroom house on a budget to see which team could add the most value to their single family home. One team combined two bedrooms into one master bedroom making their 3-bedroom home a 2-bedroom home. I found myself screaming at the TV.

I was so disappointed with the real estate agents on that team. So was Donald Trump. He told them that the first rule in real estate is to add, never subtract bedrooms. The appraiser also agreed. That team’s home lost value because it was now priced among the 2-bedroom homes in the area. Never underestimate the value of a bedroom.

A bedroom or not a bedroom? That is the question.

It seems this issue is one that buyer’s agents are constantly explaining to home buyers, often because listings have bedroom counts that seem to be wrong.

Why are the bedroom counts wrong?Is this office a legal bedroom?

When pricing a home, sellers and their agents look at the most recent comparable sales to determine how much the home might reasonably draw from the market. If you have a 3-bedroom house, it should be priced in the range of the other 3-bedroom homes in the area. More bedrooms generally means the home is more valuable. So, if a you’re deciding whether a room is a bedroom or not, the higher prices can motivate sellers to ignore what really makes a room a bedroom and exaggerate the count in order to ask the higher list price. It’s human nature.

So, what makes a bedroom a legal bedroom?

In my experience showing homes to home buyers, there seem to be some universal beliefs about bedrooms. Most home buyers believe a bedroom should have a door, a closet, a window, a second legal egress and should fit at least a twin size bed. That seems simple enough, but it isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, there are no enforceable laws or rules in real estate regarding what can be listed or advertised as a bedroom. There are however, guidelines for builders and rules for appraisers that spell out what makes a bedroom a legal bedroom.

For a thorough explanation of these guidelines I direct you to a great blog post by Frederick R. Giebel, Jr. an appraiser who wrote about this subject on ActiveRain.

He writes that – “Per the International Residential Code of 2006, “Bedrooms have minimum dimensions, light, ventilation, heating and emergency requirements. No requirements for closets as furniture may substitute for such.” He goes on with a lot of great details about these factors.

Let’s go through the list and compare what home buyers think makes a room a bedroom to what is spelled out in a variety of building codes and appraisal guidelines regarding legal bedrooms.

The door Having a door means that you can go into the room and close the door for privacy. People should not have to cut through one bedroom to get to another bedroom. The bedroom door should lead to a common area. Sounds good, but a door is not required. Many listing agents will call a room a den if it doesn’t have a door, but our local multiple listing service does not have a field for dens so these rooms are often listed as bedrooms. Some agents then use the remarks field to mention that one of the rooms is actually a den.  

A closet – I’ve seen some questionable closets lately, but most home buyers I know think a closet is a floor to ceiling enclosed space of any width that has a place to hang clothes using adult size hangers. A crawl space that is three feet high is not a closet. As a lover of farm houses, I know that many older homes did not have closets. For these, I will make an exception. However a closet is not required for a room to legally be a bedroom. The code says that furniture can substitute for a closet.

Fits at least a twin bedI really think there should be no debate about this issue, but there are homes with rooms that will fit a crib, but not a twin bed that are listed as bedrooms. I’ve seen many home buyers lay on the floor to calculate this in small rooms. To be a legal bedroom, a room must be at least 70 square feet with no less than 7 feet in any horizontal direction.

The window – I haven’t met a home buyer who wants to put their children in a room without a window.  So I think everyone agrees that a bedroom must have a window. In fact, legal bedrooms require windows that have a total Is this a bedroom?viewing space that is no less than 8% of the floor space of the room and the window opening to the outside must be of a size no less than 4% of the floor space of the room.

Second egress– Having a second way of exiting a room is a crucial safety feature. That second exit or egress can be a second door or a window. For a window to provide legal egress, its bottom must be no higher than 44 inches from the ground. The window must also have a minimum height of 24 inches and a minimum width of 20 inches.

What about basement bedrooms? – A home that has 4 bedrooms on an upper level is more valuable than a home that has the same number of bedrooms, but 2 or three bedrooms on the upper level and others in the basement. Many basement bedrooms fail the bedroom test because they lack legal egress, but there is nothing wrong with calling a basement bedroom with proper second egress a bedroom.

How does the bedroom count impact home buyers?

Because there are no laws governing room counts in real estate listings, it is a situation of “Caveat Emptor” or Buyer Beware. Home buyers have expectations of the properties they choose to go and see. If a property has a bedroom count that seems higher than it should be, buyers are disappointed, and sometimes angry when they see the home. Home buyers can always pass on a property that doesn’t meet their needs. Or they can bid using the appropriate recent sales when writing their offer.

Appraisers will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the value of the home by appraising the property using relevant comparable sales. If an appraiser feels the house is listed incorrectly, they may give a lower appraisal value to the property.

If you have questions about the bedrooms in a property or are interested in buying a home and would like me to assist you in your search, give me a call to Get Started.

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