The Definition of a Bedroom
Working as a real estate agent, many people ask me what the legal requirement for a bedroom is. They are usually asking because they have a room in their home which may have the potential to be a bedroom.
While what defines a bedroom may seem obvious in most circumstances, when it comes to selling a home, the concept is not quite as clear. Home sellers naturally want to be in compliance with the law, which is why it is important to do some research on what a “bedroom” is in your area.
You may find that different people have different definitions – including home inspectors, Realtors, home appraisers, contractors and more. If you are selling, you cannot afford such ambiguity.
When marketing a home, it makes sense to get your bedroom count correct. The last thing you want is an angry home buyer suing you somewhere down the road for bedroom count misrepresentation!
Obviously, the amount of bedrooms in a home has a direct correlation to the price of a home, so you want to be very careful in providing accurate information. So when someone asks “what is legally a bedroom?” it is important to get the answer correct.
Keeping reading and you will see a complete explanation of the legal requirements for a bedroom.
Septic Systems and Bedroom Counts
Before I take you through the requirements of what you need to call a room and bedroom, let me explain first explain bedroom counts and septic systems. In Massachusetts and probably other states as well, you cannot say you have more bedrooms than what your septic system is designed for.
For example, let’s say you have a three bedroom septic system design. Sometime during your ownership, you add a bedroom addition to the property. Without also increasing the septic system capacity, you CANNOT market your home as a four bedroom.
To be clear, it is also possible that your home has what could be considered four bedrooms by definition. You may never have added an addition at all. None of this matters, however, if your septic system is not designed for four bedrooms.
Misrepresenting bedroom counts based on septic system capacity happens more than you can imagine. As a real estate agent and seller, you need to be careful about this. Lawsuits are happening right now where real estate agents and homeowners are being sued over bedroom count misrepresentation.
If you are a buyer and you purchase what you think is a four bedroom home, you don’t want to find out later on that you only have three. Lower bedroom count equals a lower home value. When a buyer goes to sell their home what they thought was a four bedroom is a three bedroom. You can understand why this would be disturbing.
A few of the better ways to know your accurate bedroom count is to refer to the “septic system as-built” which shows how the septic system was constructed or your Title V inspection. In Massachusetts, a Title V is required to sell a home when the buyer is getting a mortgage. Lenders want to know they are lending money on a property with a functioning septic system.
In some towns including, Hopkinton Massachusetts, the local board of health will require a bedroom count deed restriction that says the home cannot be marketed for more than the septic system capacity. They do this when homeowners are adding an addition or finishing a basement.
One of the big benefits of having town sewer is you don’t have to worry about septic systems and bedroom count misrepresentation.
An Addition But No Building Permits
There have been times over the years working as a real estate agent where I have seen people add an addition without taking out the necessary building permits. In fact, they may have the proper septic capacity to handle the additional bedroom addition. For whatever reason, however, some owners skip out on the building permit process. Whether it is just an inconvenience or they want to save a few bucks, it can be a big mistake when it comes time to sell.
Discovering construction that was not permitted by a seller can be a big negative for a buyer. There is no telling how the city or town will deal with this issue. There have been cases, although remote, where the local building inspector makes you rip out the non-permitted addition. Even if they don’t go to that extreme, they will more than likely make you go through the whole permitting process. Indeed a major inconvenience when you are in the middle of a real estate transaction.
A Lot More Than Square Footage – Rules For A Bedroom
Having more bedrooms makes a home more desirable – and more valuable – so it makes sense that homeowners would want to define every room big enough for a cot as a bedroom.
But laws all across the country are a little more strict with what a bedroom means, and you want to make sure you are not breaking the law when you go to sell your home. You also want to appeal to buyers with your listing, not drive them away with sketchy definitions of what you are offering.
For a room to be legally considered a bedroom, it generally must meet the following criteria below. These requirements will dictate what a bedroom is and isn’t.
1. Square footage
The main thing buyers are worried about is whether the bedroom has enough room for it to count as a bedroom. The law is concerned with size, too. Depending on where you look, you will find that a bedroom should be at least 70 to 80 square feet, or that it should be at least 7 feet in any horizontal direction.
A lot of sellers, particularly in urban markets, would like to label smaller rooms as bedrooms, but doing so is likely to get you into trouble.
2. Egress (A Way Out)
For safety, it is important that a bedroom – a place where someone would be sleeping – needs to have at least two ways to get out if necessary. The first means of egress is a door, the one that allows entry and exit into the room. For a bedroom, one of the means of egress needs to go to the outside of the building.
Think a window large enough to crawl through. Fire code dictates the dimensions of the window, so check your local codes to make sure the window in your bedroom meets local requirements.
For some general guidance, the International Residential Code says the window must have a minimum opening area of 5.7 square feet, a minimum opening height of 24 inches, and a minimum opening width of 20 inches. The furthest distance between the finished floor and the finished window sill can be 44 inches.
Also, the IRC mandates a minimum distance between the finished floor of the room and the window sill of 24 inches to prevent a child from falling out of an open window.
Any bedroom needs to have a ceiling that is tall enough for people to walk comfortably under, typically 7 feet high or greater. Height requirements mean you can’t label a crawl space a bedroom, or the space under the stairs. The height of the bedroom ceiling may not need to be 7 feet all the way round, depending on the room. Attic rooms, for instance, will have a slope. But at least half of the ceiling should meet minimum requirements.
4. Temperature control
A bedroom typically needs a way to heat it up or cool it down, depending on the area. A vent from the central heating or cooling unit is sufficient. Or you could include a window unit for air conditioning or a heating unit it colder climates. Either way for any room to be considered living space it is supposed to have a source of heat. For example, there are times real estate agents will try to label a three season porch as a room. It is not appropriate to do so unless there is a heat source.
The Question Of Closets
When buyers and sellers ask me what can be considered a bedroom, closets are one of the first things that they are thinking about.
Most buyers today are going to expect a bedroom to include a closet, but the law is not as specific. With older homes, a closet may not be included in a bedroom. In a newer home, a bedroom should probably have a closet to meet buyer expectations, but in older homes, you can usually get away with no closet.
Buyers of older homes will see plenty of bedrooms without closets and are not likely to expect every bedroom in your home to include a closet.
In some locations as long as you can include a bed and an armoire or something like it, you don’t have to have a closet for it to be considered a bedroom.
When marketing a home that does not have a closet but you’re planning on calling it a bedroom – it is always nice to disclose that upfront. Buyers appreciate knowing exactly what they are getting before looking at a home.
Making A Basement A Bedroom
If your basement meets all the requirements listed for a bedroom, you could possibly label it a bedroom. However, keep in mind that calling a basement a bedroom can get tricky. Doing so can confuse buyers and their agents, and making the windows in a basement quality as emergency egress can be difficult as well.
Depending on the height of the windows and the size of the window wells, you may need to make some substantial adjustments to the windows. It may be easier just to hype up the options offered by the basement – as a bedroom, studio apt or anything else you can think of – rather than try to define it as a bedroom.
It is much easier to label a room in a basement as a bedroom when you have normal size windows like you find on the first and second floor. This is why walk-out basements are considered far more valuable than having four concrete walls. Everyone likes natural light. Having the ability for a basement to feel just like the upper-level spaces can have a significant impact on value.
The bottom line is you can call a room in the basement a bedroom as long as it meets the criteria mentioned above.
What If Your Room Doesn’t Meet The Minimum Requirements?
It can be frustrating to realize that what you thought you could call a bedroom is not going to meet the minimum legal requirements. But all hope is not lost. You have a few different options. First, you can label the room as something other than a bedroom, but something that will still attract buyers. You might have an office on your hands or an art room. A nursery or a just an extra room might work as titles too.
Often real estate agents call an additional space a “bonus” room. The point is you have the extra space that you can market as a “flex space” that the buyer can use as they see fit. You can get creative, and still make it seem like you are offering an exciting bonus for buyers who choose your home.
Your other option is to do some renovating and see if you can make the room meet the minimum legal requirements for a bedroom. Renovations will only be appropriate in certain situations, but if you can have a contractor expand a window, add a closet or increase the square footage, you will get a lot of benefit out of it come sale time. Bedrooms are the significant factor in the value of a home, so an additional bedroom may wind up getting you a lot more money from your sale.
Just be sure though that if you are doing a renovation and have a septic system, you are complying with the law on proper bedroom counts. More and more real estate agents make this mistake without a homeowner even realizing it could be a major problem.
Before deciding to call a room in your home a bedroom make sure you understand the local and national laws regarding bedroom counts. Check with a local attorney or a qualified real estate agent, and I emphasize competent agent. Many real estate agents make a living flying by the seat of their pants breaking laws all the time. Certain agents keep the courts busy by making misrepresentations or improper disclosures. Don’t be a victim of sloppy work!
I hope this has been helpful for determining what can be considered a bedroom.
Other Helpful Home Selling Articles
- What is dual agency in real estate sales via Maximum Real Estate Exposure.
- The right way to determine home values via Kevin Vitali.
- Key tips for selling a family members home via Anita Clark.
- Common selling questions from homeowners via Kyle Hiscock.
- Home selling strategies the best Realtors use via Paul Sian.
Use these additional references to make informed decisions when you are selling a home.
About the Author: The above Real Estate information on the what is the legal requirement for a bedroom was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 30+ Years.
Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.