Boot car from the garage and reclaim valuable living space

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Friday, February 11, 2011; 1:04 PM

When was the last time your car saw the inside of your garage, anyway?

If it's packed with old paint cans, tools and toys, a thorough purge could free up enough space for your wheels. Or you could take the next step - and permanently kick the car to the curb, reclaiming that square footage for living space.

Converting the garage can cost a fraction of building an addition to your home because the basics - walls, foundation, floor and roof - are already there. But you need to give careful thought to how the conversion will affect the appearance of your home - and its resale value - before you proceed.

There is no consensus among real estate professionals and homeowners on that score.

"It's the kiss of death [on sales] in Fairfax County not to have a garage," said Mary Wharton, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. "Out-of-towners, especially those from the Northeast, really want a garage."

Then again, sometimes it's the non-car potential of the garage that attracts home buyers.

A detached, partially converted brick garage "was the deciding factor for us," said Heidi Christensen. She and her husband, Gene Kendall Jr., purchased a 1926 house in Alexandria in November.

Hilary Lavine, an agent with Weichert Realtors, said, "When I've taken clients to homes where garage space was converted to living space, comments are usually regarding the possibility of adding a garage, or converting the new living space back to garage use. But, when the converted space results in a spectacular kitchen, or a bright and airy multipurpose room, I've seen clients react quite positively to an otherwise nondistinctive property."

Sue Bowers, with Suburban Appraisers and Consultants in Oakton, said, "It works out as a wash, value-wise." But, she said, "marketing time would be shorter having a garage."

Jim Garner of the Lumpdog home-renovation company in Alexandria said: "Consider what shape the structure is in."

Added value can be found through garage conversions, said Stephen Melman, director of economics and housing policy at the National Association of Home Builders. That's especially true, he said, "in choice, older urban neighborhoods where living space is at a premium and public transportation an option."

But Chris Call, chief executive of AREAS Appraisers in Springfield, notes the high value attached to parking in some neighborhoods. "In D.C. and Old Town Alexandria, parking is at such a premium that it would not make much sense to convert a garage to a living area," Call said.

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