Does a Bedroom Need a Closet to Appraise?

Why People Believe Bedrooms Must Have Closets

••• Most people believe that a bedroom needs to have a closet, but an appraiser might disagree. © Big Stock Photo

It's not unusual for someone to wonder if a bedroom needs a closet to be considered as a bedroom. I wondered about that when I bought my first home all by myself. The home was represented by the listing agent and the seller as a two-bedroom home when I bought it. This did not concern me at the time because I lived alone and I used the second bedroom as a dressing area, a room for mirrors and dressers. I also utilized seller financing to purchase the home so no appraisal was completed at that time.

The entire home was less than 800-square-feet. Its original layout from 1916 consisted of a mud room, front porch, living room, dining area, kitchen and no hallway, just a bedroom off the dining room that led into the second bedroom, which was connected to the bath. My bed fits almost wall-to-wall in the second bedroom off the bath. The bedroom was big enough to hold only a massive waterbed and a small night table, measuring maybe 7 x 9 feet.

Each room had windows for egress, and the windows conformed to building code. When it came time to sell the home and the buyer's new lender hired an appraiser, I discovered the problem. The appraisal came back lower than my sales price because the appraiser could not appraise the home as a two-bedroom. I was stuck with a low appraisal. I thought it was because only one of the bedrooms had a closet, but that wasn't the reason the appraiser considered it to be a one-bedroom home.

That is when I learned that a bedroom does not need a closet to be considered a bedroom. Because my particular problem was not the missing closet; I was told that did not matter. Instead, it was the fact the bedrooms had no separate entrance to each room. They were adjoined without a hallway, by just a door. Even though they had a door separating the rooms, they were not considered separate bedrooms for appraisal purposes.

Now, every appraiser has a little bit of leeway when it comes to interpreting building code, but most agree that the International Residential Code (IRC) does not contain any verbiage requiring a closet in a bedroom. I cannot find any appraisal code that stipulates a closet in a bedroom. Where does this belief originate from then? It's hard to say, really.

Most homes in the old days, those built in the early 1900s, contained very small closets if they had closets at all. People stored clothing in armoires and steamer trunks. Not to mention, a hundred years ago, people did not feel the need for huge wardrobes and simply got by with fewer articles of clothing. It's astonishing how our human perspective has changed since then. Today we cannot pack our stuff into an overnight bag for one night away from home, yet many Ellis Island immigrants brought all of their personal belongings to America in one piece of luggage.

First-time home buyers clamor for more closet space, and there never seems to be enough. After I bought a few more homes and worked my way up the home-buying ladder by buying bigger homes, I eventually ended up with a four-bedroom split-level home, in which I also lived by myself. It really meant I had 3 more closets to hold clothing, plus a couple of hallway closets. I admit, it was a bit nuts.

I am left to conclude that the demand for closet space in a bedroom must simply be a fabrication in the mind of a person who believes she needs more closet space. Because if you ask authorities in building departments about the requirements, you are likely to hear about all of the conditions that must exist in order for a bedroom to be called a bedroom, none of which involve a closet.

What Are the General Requirements for a Bedroom?

  • Typically, the room must be of a minimum size.
  • The ceiling height from the floor must meet building code. Most municipalities agree the ceiling height must be at least 8-feet, but that requirement can vary.
  • Windows must meet specifications in minimum width and height, and distance from the floor.
  • Egress issues must be satisfied.
  • Most building codes call for electricity and heat.
  • A closet is not required.

A closet is a nicety but since it is not required, it means a room that is used as a den could possibly be considered a bedroom if it meets the minimum requirements. The way we skirt around the issue where I sell real estate now in California is we market homes as having a "range" of bedrooms. For example, a 4-bedroom home with a loft might be advertised as a 4- to 5-bedroom home. Who's to say a new buyer won't use the loft as a bedroom?

Appraisers will consider the tax records when appraising a home. Sometimes, in subdivisions that arose during the housing boom years of the early 2000s, builders, and their county officials were in such a rush to sign off on the paperwork that mistakes were made. Spaces that in some homes were converted into an extra bedroom option were noted as garage footage in error. The first thing to do before putting your home on the market is to check and correct these types errors in the public records. 

No matter how you look at it, a home with an extra bedroom is worth more.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, BRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.