- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Garages have grown in size and significance over the years. No longer just a small space required to park a car or for extra storage, current trends for garages call for parking for two or three vehicles along with sizable space for a “power room,” with customizable options such as large work spaces and built-in storage cabinets that help homeowners stay organized.

For potential home buyers, garages have become one of the most critical requirements: The 2007 National Association of Realtors Buyer Home Preferences Profile shows that garages are now ranked as the second most important feature in the home, second only to central air conditioning.

The biggest change between the survey conducted in 2004 and the more recent study is that, in 2004, only 6 percent of buyers would pay more for an oversize garage; 56 percent of buyers now say they would be willing to pay extra for a gargantuan garage.

Real estate agents say that, in this contentious market, a garage is an asset that can help sellers stand out among the competition.

Joseph Himali, a Realtor with Best Address Real Estate in the District, says a garage is a unique feature in the District that some buyers would consider worth the additional price.

“In some areas, like Georgetown, a garage is a luxury hardly imagined,” he says. “It is worth a premium.”

Mr. Himali says the garage has “become the power room for men,” who may use the area to store their tools and work on various hobbies.

The garages in the historic areas of the District, however, have not kept pace with the current need: Mr. Himali cautions buyers considering purchasing homes in these neighborhoods to first verify that they can park their car in the garage, as the size of newer cars has outgrown the space.

“They need to ensure that their car can fit - even a Honda Accord,” he says. In addition, buyers should realize that many garages are not electrified, meaning that they can’t use an electric garage door opener.

A garage is certainly not a requirement for all buyers, says Amy Musher, a Realtor with Prudential Carruthers in Bethesda.

She says her buyers have a variety of perspectives on this part of the house: Some of them may forgo this room if their priority is the location and price, or if they are relocating from areas where a garage is not a necessity. Others seeking a home worth $1,000,000 and more won’t even consider a house without a three-car garage.

Regardless of buyer’s priorities, Ms. Musher says a house with a welcoming garage can command a higher price and may sell more quickly.

Ms. Musher recently experienced this: She has a listing for $599,000 in Kentlands and, at the same time, another home right next door with a garage was being offered for $640,000. Both homes had the same floor plans, and both feature fireplaces, but the house with the garage sold more quickly and for more money, while her listing continues to linger. “A garage can add to the value of the home tremendously,” she says.

Ms. Musher says that a recent trend with the biggest “room” in the house is to make it more structured and streamlined by getting all items off the floor and hanging them up, and to give it a completed look by finishing the walls and putting in quality flooring.

Locally, builders have started working with organizing experts to take advantage of this new direction. They are now offering garage options that allow buyers to create a new kind of room, not just a blank space with concrete floors used to store the car, but a multipurpose zone considered an extension of the home.

Pulte Homes Inc. is one example: In the Del Webb Corp. Celebrate active adult community in Fredericksburg, Pulte is partnering with GarageTek of Virginia, which offers modular storage solutions for garages.

Phil Rappoport, franchise owner of GarageTek of Virginia, explains that GarageTek comprises panels, coming in all sizes, that attach to the wall and allow the owner to hang all types of items, from cabinets to bike racks. The system offers over 100 kinds of accessories, from tool holders to baskets to sports racks that can hold golf clubs and all types of sports equipment.

Once buyers purchase a home in the Del Webb neighborhood, they contact GarageTek, which will come in and install the storage system in the garage so homeowners can have instant storage ready for them when they move in.

A large segment of GarageTek’s customer base is active adults, many of whom are downsizing to a smaller home and need to make the best use of their limited space.

Mr. Rappoport says the company wants to help homeowners do this by picking up the clutter from the floor, focusing on the walls and transforming the garage into an attractive room that can become the primary entrance to the house.

“It can be a nice-looking room that can be conquered at any budget,” he says.

Mr. Rappoport says that in the current market, more builders are showing interest in GarageTek, which offers a distinct advantage that can make their communities more enticing and add to the resale value of the house.

“Our phone has been ringing more than ever before from builders,” Mr. Rappoport says.

Beazer Homes Corp. is another builder that has decided to focus on this once neglected area.

Nationally, it has teamed up with Monica Ricci, an organizing expert, member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and consultant for HGTV, to help create SmartDesign homes that offer key elements to make the home more livable, including a well-designed garage.

“In order to have the home they love, they can’t ignore a massive piece of it,” Ms. Ricci says. “Most people come through the garage every day. It has become valuable square footage.”

Ms. Ricci’s expertise is helping people simplify so they can reduce the strains of every day life. She says a chaotic, disordered garage can stress homeowners out as they waste time searching through boxes and bins to find important items and are unable to use the garage for its basic purpose. “Fifty-five percent of Americans can’t get even get their car in the garage,” she says.

Beazer works with Ms. Ricci to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to facilitate efficient arrangement of items in the garage. Buyers purchasing a Beazer home can select from alternatives to meet their unique needs. Families with children might need hooks to hang cleats, helmets, tennis rackets and labeled bins. A homeowner who likes to tinker with tools and work on projects in the garage could select a flat work space, cabinetry, an outlet and strong lighting.

Selecting a SmartDesign home is a worthwhile investment, Ms. Ricci says.

One long-term benefit is being able to recap the hours that would be wasted if the garage were disorganized, requiring constant searching to find the items one needs.

“It pays you back forever for as long as you live there,” Ms. Ricci says.

Buyers can anticipate even more aesthetic alternatives and a concentration on the garage in the future, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Mr. Melman attends a builder show each year, and the 2007 conference focused on the “New American Home.” Garage-related topics being examined included installing premium flooring, improving the steps from the garage to the home and the door itself - for example, to make the door more thermally efficient - and addressing security and the landscaping surrounding the area.

Mr. Melman says there has also been an increased effort to redesign the garage door from the front of new homes to the side or rear.

In addition, the measurements of garages are catching up with the size of today’s cars: According to NAHB’s “Home of the Future” survey, 84 percent of experts in the field anticipate two-car garages to increase from 20-feet-by-20-feet to 24-feet-by-24-feet for upscale new homes. Some 31 percent anticipate that dimensional growth for average-sized homes.

“People are thinking about garages much more,” Mr. Melman says. “The materials being used today are much better and more diverse. You would have not seen this 30 years ago.”

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