Does a Room Need a Closet to Be a Bedroom?

The answer often surprises sellers, buyers, and even agents

A bedroom without a closet

Big Stock Photo

Contrary to popular belief, a room does not need a closet to be considered a bedroom.

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. They do involve other features, however, as enumerated by building codes, which appraisers rely on to classify and evaluate residences. Read on to see what officially defines a bedroom.

General Requirements for a Bedroom

Every appraiser has a little bit of leeway when it comes to interpreting building regs and requirements. But most agree that the International Residential Code (IRC), to which all 50 states in the U.S. conform, contains no verbiage requiring a closet in a bedroom. Among the things the IRC does stipulate, in its definition of a bedroom:

  • Typically, the room must be of a minimum size—70 square feet.
  • The ceiling height from the floor must meet building code. Most municipalities agree that the ceiling height must be at least 7 feet, but that requirement can vary.
  • Windows must meet specifications in minimum width, height, and distance from the floor.
  • Egress issues must be satisfied: There must be at least two exits, either doors or windows.
  • The room must have an installed heating system.

In other words, a closet is a nicety but is not required. A room that is presently used as a den could possibly be considered a bedroom if it meets these minimum requirements.

A Closeted History

Where, then, did this "mandatory closet" concept get its start? It's hard to say, really. Up until the early 1900s, most homes contained very small closets if they had closets at all. People stored clothing in free-standing pieces: armoires, dressers, even steamer trunks. Or they hung garments on wall pegs or racks, or wooden trees. Moreover, a century ago, most people (aside from the very rich) simply got by with fewer articles of clothing.

Clothes-hanging closets became more common as the 20th century wore on. The growth of cities and of city dwellings (apartments, townhouses, semi-detached houses), with their smaller rooms, made massive chests and bureaus less practical. Closets, on the other hand, were great space-savers. Meanwhile, the hanger, though invented around 1870, developed its familiar open-triangle shape during the 1930s, making it much more versatile for all sorts of garments.

These trends all accelerated in the post-World War II building boom. Developers of mass-produced houses and sub-divisions found that closets were key to maximizing space, and a handy way to delineate to prospective buyers gazing at blueprints the different functions of different rooms. It was probably around this time that having a bedroom closet became a standard thing—so standard that it eventually became a mandatory thing in the public's mind.

Other Closet Considerations

Appraisers consider 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 of errors in the public records.

The way agents and brokers skirt around the issue now is to market homes as having a range of bedrooms. For example, a four-bedroom home with a loft might be advertised as a four- to five-bedroom home or a "flexible four-bedroom." Who's to say a new buyer won't use the loft as a place to sleep in?

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

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