Definitive Portland Basement Remodel Guide

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Are you considering finishing a basement to improve your home value, add living space or create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for housing-hungry Portland? Check out our definitive Portland basement remodel guide.

As a Portland real estate agent, I think it’s a great idea with potential for a positive return on your investment — as long as you can keep the project in a specific budget window, get it properly permitted, and keep resale value in mind. In fact, taking a good hard look at your basement is always a good idea before listing a home in Portland. Don’t worry, this post will help!

Belowground Possibilities

Here are a few common uses for the space below the main living area of the house:

  • Workout room
  • Home office (Fewer distractions, more productivity)
  • Den/“Man Cave”
  • Playroom (Send the kids down on a rainy Portland day)
  • Spare bedroom/guest suite
  • Laundry room or extra bathroom
  • Game room (Foosball, anyone?)
  • Bar (No, not a speakeasy, just a place to hang out with your friends)
  • Studio/craft room
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit (rental opportunities!)

For any of these projects, an unfinished basement will need to be assessed for suitability. Sometimes the placement of heating units, pipes, supporting beams, etc. would make a living space impractical. Ceiling height may be an issue, but some basements may be dug deeper.

What about seismic retrofitting? “Seismic” meaning, in the event of a seismic event, i.e. earthquake; and “retrofit” meaning going back in and making something that’s unsafe, safe. This is where a basement remodel can be a two-for-one for your Portland home value. More and more homebuyers are concerned about earthquake safety. In many homes, seismic retrofitting can be as simple as bolting or strapping the home to its foundation, which would happen either on the inside or the outside of the basement. If you plan on finishing the walls inside your basement, this should definitely happen first. Before you begin, consult with a licensed contractor.

How much should you spend?

There are plenty of financial advantages to finishing a basement. If you’re considering putting your home on the market soon, even just having one finished room down there that can be used as storage will be a nice little bonus to your home value. On that note, just clearing out junk from the basement before you show your home will allow potential buyers to see the possibilities there.

Before you design your luxury man cave with mahogany bar, set a budget. The experts at HGTV suggest no more than 10% of your total home value. (Before you pop over to Zillow, contact your real estate agent. We can give you a more accurate estimate and help you figure out what the market is doing in your neighborhood.)

Why just 10%? Because of the lack of natural light, most basements appraise for less per square foot than aboveground space. On the other hand, your dollar will go further in your basement than in, say, adding an ADU that you have to build from scratch. Your basement is already there – with easy access to plumbing and electrical, and little possibility of being annoying to your neighbors.

According to Remodeling magazine, the average basement remodel costs homeowners $61,303. Their latest annual “Cost vs. Value” Report showed a 70% payback, putting it near the top of the list for smartest remodels, along with an attic bedroom, minor kitchen redo, deck, and new entry door.

Permitting Basement Remodels in Portland

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Converting an unfinished basement to a living space does require a building permit, and certain codes apply. First of all, the ceiling must be at least 6’8”, and stairs leading down to the basement might need to be rebuilt to meet living area standards. Basement walls must be insulated and ventilated. Always check with the city to verify the most recent building code rules before you begin.

Fees are based on the value of the project. While it may be tempting to skip the permit, especially because basements are so well tucked away, you’ll regret it when and if you put the home on the market. The home buyer may not want to purchase unpermitted work, and getting the permits after the fact could mean you’ll end up paying more (or it might not, but it is certainly a risk).

Deciding on a Basement Project for Resale Value

If you’re looking to get the greatest bang-for-your-buck out of your basement because you’re going to be listing your home on the Portland real estate market soon, my advice as a real estate agent is to leave the options open, finish the space and make it as flexible as possible, or go all the way and make it an ADU, a complete separate permitted apartment that is legal to rent out. Don’t get too specific or you’ll reduce the home’s potential buyer reach. Finishing the basement adds a lot of value, finishing it as a legal ADU adds even more. Finishing the basement to center around your pool table, won’t bring as much.

One of the first things to assess is the possibility that the basement might have water problems. Having the basement flood after you spend tens of thousands in remodeling, is a nightmare that has happened to many Portlanders. We know lots of good basement contractors that can even provide a guarantee, a warranty that the basement will not flood. Another item to check off the list at the start, is conducting a proper radon test. Again, we know the professionals that will be able to take an accurate reading for you. It likely will cost less to install a radon mitigation system before you do the remodel, than afterward. Not sure why radon is a big deal (it is), please read our radon article here.

In any basement remodel, plentiful lighting is key. There probably aren’t many windows, and even if the space does become a storage closet, it will show so much better if it’s well lit. If there is the option to install a bigger windows for a reasonable cost – do it. Also seriously consider installing an egress window, an escape window that lets in a lot of light and also is necessary to consider any bedroom in the basement as being built to code. Recessed lighting does great in small spaces. For floors, carpet is great because it creates a cozy feeling in what can otherwise be a rather uninviting space. Also, it translates well to most uses, from playroom to spare bedroom. Another popular flooring type to consider, especially if you have relatively low ceilings, is epoxy. The right coating on your basement concrete can make it look modern and feel comfortable.

Skip the mahogany bar and fun paint job. Instead, do a quality job getting the space ready for whatever the home buyers can imagine. An empty room with white walls is a whole lot more enticing than a room that does something your home buyers would never need. Some people want to have friends over, some want to escape the world. Some would love a home gym, others would rather use the space for storage. Some want an extra apartment to rent out. Finishing the space will help with the home value (as long as you do it right) and will significantly help the home appraise for the price you want.

Ready to talk home values? Contact your Portland real estate agent team today!

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