- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

The basement has become a hub of activity for all family members. It’s an escape for sports fans who want to watch the game uninterrupted, a place where scrapbooking and other hobbies have a space of their own, and an area where children can play freely and not worry about “messing up” anything.

Valued for their coveted square footage, the basement is often an escape from the main level that has become filled with people, family pets and large pieces of furniture. It’s also a space that’s relatively easy to remodel without having to add a structure to the home or knock down walls.

“Wet bars, gyms and home theaters are very popular,” said Tom Hummer, founder and president of My Builder Inc. in Manassas. He said that egress window wells are often added for safety and that other popular features include laminate floors, accent walls with custom colors, and wine cellars, which are gaining in popularity.

In fact, most homebuilders now refer to the basement as the “lower level,” which indicates less of a windowless, underground room used for storage and more of an extension of the rest of the home.

The popularity of options available when it comes to remodeling a basement has some family members clamoring to find a space of their own. Mr. Hummer said that while some basements are wide open, others are sectioned off into rooms with different functions.

“Men like wet bars (like pubs) with pool tables and theaters,” said Mr. Hummer. “Women like kitchenette-style wet bars that are against the wall instead of pub style.” He added that when remodeling a basement, women also tend to prefer gyms and recreation rooms that are light in color and open.

“Basements are really a regional phenomenon,” said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

While they are common in the Northeast, experts say that basements have become more popular nationwide as a means of creating extra space.

In 2007, 75 percent of new single-family homes in the Northeast had a basement, compared to 74 percent in the Midwest, 10 percent in the South and 19 percent in the West, according to NAHB.

“People love basements,” said Mr. Ahluwalia. “Most are not finished by the builder, but after moving into the home, people generally finish it by adding a bedroom, bathroom, bar, wine room and, in more upscale housing, a home theater.”

A report, Trends and Opportunities in the U.S. Basement Remodeling Market, released this past winter by market research publisher SBI, stated that basement remodeling will grow. New product developments associated with waterproofing, insulation and controlling mold and mildew have contributed to the growth of the basement remodeling industry.

Multimedia rooms, game rooms, home offices, gyms and spas are among the trendy transformations that professionals say are the most popular basement projects.

Homebuilders often boast model homes that tout finished basement recreation rooms at reduced prices or free with the purchase of a home. These lower levels typically include a finished bedroom and full bath, tile or carpet flooring, a built-in serving bar and cabinetry, and sometimes even a fireplace.

David Merrick, president of the Washington-area chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and president of Merrick Design and Build Inc., said that while the upgraded entertainment and recreational options for the basement are nice, homeowners are more focused on the basics right now when remodeling the lower level.

“This economy has people putting off the things that they want to do and doing more in-law suites and adding bedrooms and finishing bathrooms,” said Mr. Merrick. “They’re doing things they need to do for some compelling reason.”

Whether making it a playground of sorts for all or sticking to the basics, Edith Pulscak, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Fort Washington, said that homebuyers like to see basements.

“In newer homes, it’s an absolute must,” according to Mrs. Pulscak. She recalls an older Colonial-style home she listed that didn’t have a basement but was in nice condition and well-priced. However, the fact that it didn’t have a basement turned off some homeowners who were looking for the extra space.

Buyers who like to see basements in homes also prefer that they are already finished, according to Mrs. Pulscak. She adds that buyers have a hard time imagining unfinished spaces.

“One of their primary concerns is that they also want an exterior exit and some of type of daylight in the basement,” said Mrs. Pulscak.

She advises homeowners in the remodeling process to make sure that their basement doesn’t leak and to invest in a sump pump along with a battery backup in case of a storm.

Realtors and contractors agree that when remodeling a basement, an extra bedroom can help recoup the cost.

“An official bedroom is the best value for your investment,” said Mr. Hummer. “This requires a large window that satisfies the building code.”

Mr. Merrick advises homeowners to hire a reputable contractor who will be there for the long haul. When looking for a remodeler, he said that buyers should call the National Association of the Remodeling Industry to find professionals that have proper licenses for the jurisdictions they’re working in and meet a specific business criteria and code of ethics.

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