From installing skylights to reinforcing floors to consulting "The Rule of Sevens," renovating an attic is a complicated affair. But understanding the potential costs is the first step to making sure it’s profitable.
An attic can be a dusty nook where you store old photo albums and boxes of unwanted clothes. Or it can be valuable found space that, if converted to a bedroom, will substantially increase the value of your home.
Anyone who’s tried to buy or sell a home knows that the greater the number of bedrooms in a house, the higher the price. Most people also think of a house’s number of bedrooms as a fixed quantity, largely because the cost of building an addition to an existing home is so expensive that it’s often a money-losing proposition. But attics and finished basements can be converted to bedrooms for much less money than it costs to build a full addition.
However, like any major home renovation, the key is to make sure it’s profitable. For example, a home renovation that increases the sale price of your home by $50,000 may sound like a no-brainer. But if it costs you $60,000, it’s not a net gain.
Let’s look at some of the average costs of an attic renovation and some of the main considerations you have to think about before you undertake that attic makeover.
The Benefits of an Attic Renovation
According to a report from the National Association of Realtors, the median cost of an attic renovation is $75,000. However, the average amount recovered in resale is only $40,000, which comes out to a 53% cost recovery.
This isn’t a great cost-benefit ratio, but the project begins to look more appealing when you look at other measures of satisfaction. The NAR survey of homeowners who renovated their homes found that their finished renovations resulted in extremely high levels of homeowner satisfaction, with all projects averaging a stellar 9.6 out of 10. So if increasing the resale value of your home is your only consideration, an attic renovation might not make sense. But if increasing your quality of life is something you prioritize, it’s safe to say an attic renovation will accomplish that.
So let’s say you decide to go forward with an attic renovation. What are some of the factors that could complicate your renovation and lead to increased costs?
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4 Factors That Can Affect Your Attic Renovation
The Size of the Attic
Some attics are large loftlike spaces with pleasantly sloping ceilings, while others are cramped, stuffy crawlspaces. The size of your attic is going to go a long way towards determining the cost of your renovation, especially when you consider that building codes require a minimum vertical clearance and a minimum floor space.
The requirements usually come out to at least seven feet in ceiling height over 50% of the floor space. The general rule to follow is the "Rule of Sevens," which states that a potential attic renovation should have at least seven feet of vertical clearance, be at least seven feet wide, and have at least 70 square feet of square footage. If your pre-renovated attic doesn’t meet these requirements, expanding it to meet code could be prohibitively expensive.
Light Sources and Fire Egress
Whether you’re renovating the attic into an extra bedroom or a sitting room, you’ll need some windows. If there aren’t existing windows already, you’ll need to cut through the roof to install windows or skylights, which will significantly increase the cost of the renovation, since it can affect the integrity of the roof and the home's insulation.
Even if you’re prepared to accept a windowless living space, the building codes in most cities require a finished attic to have access to the roof in case of fire.
How Will You Physically Access the Attic?
Many unfinished attics are accessed by a ladder. If you’re thinking of converting your attic to a bedroom or living space, you’ll need a staircase for it to truly feel like an integrated part of your house.
And if you’re renovating the attic with an eye towards increasing the resale value of your home, you’ll definitely need to install a staircase, or expand the existing stairs, if they’re cramped or rickety. Even the most luxurious bedroom will have limited appeal to buyers if it can only be accessed by a ladder or an uncomfortable, insecure set of stairs.
How Strong Is the Floor?
Many attics weren’t built for full-time occupation. Before starting any attic renovation, have an engineer or other expert inspect your attic to make sure the floors can support only multiple occupants and heavy furnishings like beds or sofas. If the floor can’t safely support that kind of weight, you’ll have to reinforce it, which can become quite costly.
If you’re a home seller considering an attic renovation, or any other major renovation, your first step should be to consult with an experienced real estate agent. A great agent will know exactly how much different types of home renovations cost in your area and how much those renovations are likely to increase the resale value of your home. Taking advantage of the experience and expertise of a real estate agent can take a lot of the risk and uncertainty out of your home renovation decision.
Clever Partner Agents are top performers in their respective markets and brokerages. Whether you’re thinking about converting your attic to a spare bedroom or turning that unfinished basement into a deluxe man cave, a Clever Partner Agent can advise you on the best way to maximize your home’s value, as well as every other aspect of the home selling process.
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