Thursday, May 18, 2017

Convert Your Garage to a Bedroom? Probably Not!

Should you convert your garage to living space?  Probably not.

Converting a garage into living space often can detract from the value of the home.   A lot of people do this and yet don't really need the space.   Why bother spending money to convert a perfectly good garage into a bedroom, living room, or dining room, when you already have rooms you don't use?

It is tempting to covert a garage into living space, and I have to say, as a disclaimer, that I did it once, myself.  Our house in New York had a garage in the basement, which was made redundant by the previous owner adding a 2-1/2 car garage (really with room for four cars!) to the side of the house.   We didn't really need a 5th parking space, so we converted the garage into a bar.

Did we need the space?  No.   Did it "add value" to the home?  No again.  Did it cost money?  Yes.  Did it look like a garage that was converted to living space?  Yes, most do, which is part of the problem.

It is hard to convert a garage to living space without people immediately thinking, "Oh, I'm in the garage now" because of the nature of garages and their architecture.   Also, people tend to "go cheap" on conversions and thus make the conversion painfully apparent.

To begin with, there are levels.  Due to codes, most garages step down from the main level of the house, so right off the bat, you realize you are in a garage, because of the stepdown.   Fixing this isn't cheap - you'd have to frame up a new floor or pour a lot of concrete.   It is a lot cheaper to just lay down carpet over the concrete and live with the stepdown.

The other problem is the "phantom driveway" which occurs when people leave the existing driveway intact - going right up to the wall of the house which is now a picture window or bay window (a common choice) and letting everyone know the "room" was clearly a former garage.  It costs money to jackhammer up a driveway - or at least the last 3-4 feet between the former garage and the driveway.  And maybe one reason people do this is they harbor ideas of converting back to a garage later on the future.

(Some folks think they are clever and put a brick or stone planter in front of the old garage, thinking this will hide the phantom driveway.  It does not, but rather draws attention to it).

This is exacerbated when the brickwork or siding clearly outlines where the garage door was.   Again, it is more expensive to re-brick the entire wall or match the siding to the new windows or openings.  It is a lot cheaper to just install sliding doors or some other window feature to fit the opening (more or less) making the conversion more painfully obvious.

The main problem, of course, is that unless you build a new garage, you have no garage on your house, and often garages add value to a house - more value than the new "playroom"or "den" or "home theater room" that is now where your garage was.

Garages are useful because they make your car last longer.  They are also good places to store things, have a workshop, keep the garbage cans, the litter box, or whatever.   They can also be a laundry room, as is the case in our house.  Once you remove your garage and replace it with living space, you lose this useful feature of your home.  Your cars sit outside, getting acid-rained on and stained with leaves and pollen - and baked by the sun.   Your house looks less attractive as it now looks like a used car lot.   And now you have no place to store your bicycles, kayak, tools, and camping gear.

And the space you gain - did you really need it?   That is the big question.   Some friends of mine bought a house with a garage converted to a "playroom."  A new garage was built out back, but since you have to drive on the lawn to use it, they rarely put their cars back there.   But they do use it for other garage-y purposes.

He decided to use the converted garage space as an office.   But since it was adjacent the kitchen, it was quite noisy when the grandkids or guests visited.   It was kind of a useless space, not really used for much of anything, but a junk collector.   He decided to move his office to a guest bedroom, which they have three of.   Was the garage conversion really necessary?   Did it improve the value of the home?   Did it result it real usable living space?    The answer to all three questions was "probably not."

If you have a garage and are thinking about converting it to living space, think hard about it first.  It will cost you money and not add value to the house, but likely detract.   Are there other rooms in the house you are not using that might provide that same space you "need"?   And do you really need the space?    There are a lot of houses here on the island that are three or four-bedroom houses with only two people living in them.   Yet people board up their garages, convinced they need the "space" for one reason or another, when two or three bedrooms sit empty, collecting dust.

Just something to think about before you get out that credit card to "improve" your home!