Does a Basement Count as a Story?

By Chris Wilson


Does a Basement Count as a Story?

The answer to this question is not so easy to figure out. Whether you want to sell your home, or you are just curious, you need to understand that no one answer applies to every situation. This post will help you figure out whether your basement counts as a story.

Does a Basement Count as a Story?

What is a Story?

A story is any level part of your home with a floor that you can use for living, recreation, storage, working, and other purposes. If you are selling your home, for example, a finished basement will encourage most home buyers to place an offer. To add to a home’s total square footage, however, a basement must meet specific criteria. The question of whether a specific basement counts as a story causes a lot of confusion for people looking to buy a house.

What is a Story?

Is a Basement Included in a Building’s Square Footage?

According to ANSI and Fannie Mae, if a finished or unfinished room is below ground level, it cannot count towards a home’s square footage. Basements, however, can still add a lot of value to your property, especially finished basements. Generally, appraisers and listing agents do not count basements towards the overall square footage of a home.

This is especially true if the basement is completely below ground level. Whether a basement counts as a story ultimately depends on the state you reside in. It all depends on your local county assessor’s office, which will determine whether property assessors can count the basement, finished or unfinished, as part of the gross living area.

Is a Basement Included in a Building’s Square Footage?

Meaning of Finished Basement Bedroom

This is a subjective term that varies widely among homeowners and real estate professionals. According to some people, a basement divided into rooms, even if they lack insulation, is finished space. The ceiling may be open to ductwork and pipes, and the floor may lack any carpet or vinyl.

A finished basement should have a bedroom to allow for a pleasant sleep environment. To meet the building code, however, the basement bedroom needs a legal egress window to act as an escape route in case of a fire. The window must be big enough to allow for escape or for firefighters to gain access into the house and easy to open.

Failure to meet these standards means that the basement space is not safe and cannot count as a finished bedroom for resale purposes. You may need a construction permit from your local building department if you plan to remodel your basement space. 

Walk-Out Basements and Overall Square Footage

In states where assessors include basements in the square footage of the gross living space, there must be ingress and egress. One of the reasons for this rule is that you cannot have a legal bedroom in a room situated below ground level without fire evacuation access. This access must be separate from the rest of the building.

When Does a Basement Count as Living Space?

The answer to this question depends on the layout of your home. If your finished basement matches the overall flow of the above-ground section of the house, assessors may count it as a story. The same applies if enough of the basement space is above ground.

Most basements will not qualify as living spaces; however, there will always be those that do. You may want to hire a local appraiser to do an evaluation, which will help you determine whether your basement counts as a story.

Property Value

A finished basement counts as living space when it comes to the property value. However, this space rarely counts towards the overall square footage of your home. Nevertheless, it is an asset to your home’s value. Some of the ways a finished basement adds value to your home include:

·         You may be able to add one or more rooms to a finished basement space, thereby increasing the size of your home.

·         Although it may not count as a story, a finished basement offers a great return on investment.

·         You can add another bathroom in the basement space.

·         A finished basement is a great way to add functional space to your home if zoning laws prohibit other additions.  

·         It can allow you to add a rental unit, as long as you have approval from your local zoning department.

·         A finished basement is a great way to add storage, recreational, and guest space to a house.

Simply put, a basement will not count as a story if it is unfinished. It will also not qualify if it lacks heating or is completely underground. These rules appear straightforward; however, there are variations and nuances when it comes to their application.

 

Chris Wilson

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