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At home with work
Homeowners turn extra space into a home office -- even if they already have one

By Dan Rafter
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Michael Gibbs and Hope Katz Gibbs moved this August, one house in Arlington rose to the top of their wish list: a remodeled and expanded ranch home. The big selling point? The house had enough flexible space that both of them could both set up their own home offices.

Both Hope, owner of the District-based Inkandescent Public Relations, and Michael, an illustrator, work from home. And they needed a house that would allow them to create two home offices. The ranch house in Arlington fit.

The couple have since turned their new home's large basement into two separate offices. The space also includes a dance studio for their 14-year-old daughter, Anna.

"This is nothing new for us. We've each worked from home since we got married," Hope said. "It enables us to both work as much as we do and still take care of our children the way we want. I remember when the kids were babies: I'd work, and he'd hold a baby. Or I'd be nursing one of the kids and be interviewing people on the phone. We couldn't have done it without both of us working from home. I think that working moms have a tough time when their husbands work incredible hours and are out of the home all the time."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, 21 percent of employed people did some or all of their work from home. The bureau also reported that 2.5 million workers -- not counting the self-employed -- counted home as their primary workplace in 2008. This workforce shift is driving the need for more home office space.

It's not unusual today for people to seek residences with space that can be used for a home office. It's far less common for them to need a home that has space for two. But local home builders and real estate agents say that residences that have enough flexible space for more than one home office are in demand throughout the region.

Mickey Glassman, an agent with RE/MAX Premier in Fairfax, said she often sees clients converting unused space into offices. The more available flexible space in these homes, the better, she said.

"There's a lot of spaces in homes today that people don't use," Glassman said. "Most buyers have no use for a living room. Some buyers, if they have just one office area, might convert a living room into an office so that they have an additional workspace in their home. It's functionally obsolete to have living rooms. A lot of my clients, though, work at least part of the time from home. Even if they go into an office, they still want spaces in their homes where they can work."

This doesn't mean, however, that homeowners should keep two home offices set up when they're trying to sell. Glassman recommends that even if they do have more than one home office, they convert one back to its original use or make it a bedroom before they their put the home on the market.

"However, when I'm advertising the home, I'll make sure to let people know that this is space that they can convert into another office," Glassman said. "People, when they're looking at a home, they want to see it staged more traditionally. Then they can do what they want with it once they own it. I think in the D.C. area, there's more demand for home offices. Everyone here is so uptight. We are so hustle and bustle. Everything is work mode. That just seems to be how it is here."

The trend hasn't gone unnoticed by home builders. Lee Golanoski, director of design for Toll Brothers, a national home builder, has seen a growing demand in the past five to 10 years for home office space. He's also seen a growing number of buyers request space for more than one office.

Toll Brothers homes that are 3,000 square feet or larger come with a study that most buyers use for an office, Golanoski said. Some clients ask the company's designers to create a second office. Many clients will use space in finished basements for this extra office, Golanoski said, especially in models with walkout basements. In other models, company designers add extra space to the garage side of the home, which buyers can use for offices.

"What the numbers are of customers looking for this kind of extra space, I don't know. But I do know that we have been asked over the last five years to create more of these extra office spaces," Golanoski said. "These rooms on the garage side of the house have especially become popular over the last five years. I look at society in general: People are able to work remotely now because of technology."

Cynthia Herberg, director of marketing with Bethesda's Winchester Homes, said buyers are becoming more creative in their efforts to create workspaces in their residences. Winchester now includes docking stations in most rooms so that it's easier for owners to plug in computers and other electronic equipment for instant home offices.

"We see a lot of clients who buy homes with an extra bedroom," Herberg said. "They decide what they need for extra office space, and they buy homes that have enough extra bedrooms to allow for this need."

Herberg said she expects the trend of multiple home offices to continue to grow.

"We are seeing a lot of instances where you have two people in the household with jobs that are in two different locations, and the house is in the middle of these locations. They then telecommute half the time and go in their opposite directions the other half," Herberg said.

Michael O'Hearn, senior remodeling consultant with Bethesda's Case Design/Remodeling, has worked on projects in which homeowners have needed to carve space for more than one home office. O'Hearn points to the economy: Working at least some of the time from home makes good economic sense.

Workers cut their commuting costs, he said, and companies can save on office space. Then there's another factor: the challenge of finding quality and affordable day care.

"Having to work in an office all the time and juggling day-care schedules can be a real challenge," O'Hearn said. "It's getting to be outrageous. It's becoming more important to more people to have a flexible schedule, to be able to work at least part of the time from home."

Dual home offices is not the only solution available to households with two at-home workers. O'Hearn recently worked on a remodeling project for Amy Friedlander and Mitchell Waldrop. The couple -- Friedlander works as a program officer for the Council on Library and Information Resources, while Waldrop is an editor for Nature magazine -- needed to create new office space in their Glover Park home. Waldrop works from home on a daily basis, while Friedlander does so part time.

As part of the remodeling project, which finished in September, workers transformed an old porch that was poorly insulated and wasn't level into a new home office. The office is large enough that both Friedlander and Waldrop can work from it at the same time, something that happens on the one or two days a week that Friedlander works from home.

The arrangement works well for the couple and frees up space in their row house for other uses.

"We've both worked from home on and off for years," Friedlander said. "We knew when we were working on the designs for the remodeling that we had choices. We could have had two offices somehow. We looked at the trade-offs. We wanted a space in the house where we could have a big-screen TV. We were willing to make a trade-off in the form of having just one home office to have that extra space."

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