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“I’m trying to do a basement renovation and torn if I should do a 1-BR or a 2-BR?”

by Prince Of Petworth June 14, 2017 at 1:15 pm 74 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

I’m trying to do a basement renovation and torn if I should do a 1-BR or a 2-BR? It’ll be roughly 800 sq ft, and I’m giving up an area in the back to be their patio that’s roughly 12×20 ft. Hoping to get feedback from basement dwellers (past and present) and landlords as well. Thanks.”

  • womp

    a patio?! i’d love to be your tenant. on first glance, both options appear to be very well thought-out!

  • dangerous dave

    2 Bed no contest as it gets far more in rent.

    • anon

      Yeah, you lose the window in the main room, but gain a second bedroom. One gets priced into the property far more than the other. 2br is the value maximizer.

  • LCinDC

    What is the difference in cost and how long do you intend to hold on to the property and rent the basement out? Likely makes most sense to go for the 2br and get a few hundred dollars more a month in rent…better investment in my opinion. If your concern is whether or not it leaves enough living space when you do 2br, it looks like it does and I would also consider that most basement dwellers are willing to give up having hangout space to host people in exchange for a little cheaper rent/not dealing with a big building.

  • ArchaeoG

    As a former basement dweller I vote for 2 bedrooms. A previous apartment was about 800 sq. ft. with a dining room instead of a 2nd bedroom – I never thought the use of space was particularly good, despite the size. Is there a reason the closet in bedroom 1 doesn’t extend out fully to meet the wall (in the 2nd drawing)? You’d give tenants more closet space and could run shelving/handing rods along both walls, with shelves at the back.

    • lizcolleena

      Agreed on the closet if you go with the 2 bedroom! Make the closet entrance flush with the wall.

  • navyard

    Two Bedrooms. No one who lives in a basement cares about a fancy dining room. That seems like a complete waste of space to me.

    • maxwell smart

      Um excuse me. I live in a basement apartment and have a dining room with a table for 6 people.

      • kitty

        Agreed. I’ve never lived in a basement, but I’ve rented forever and I’d love a dining room. Renters have friends over for dinner too.

  • houseintherear

    That’s a tough one! I would think 2 bedrooms would be a tight squeeze… also, just a note: if I were a renter, the lack of natural light in the living room of the 2br would be a deterrent.

    • LCinDC

      Valid, but I think those looking at basement apartments aren’t prioritizing light.

      • textdoc

        They might not be _prioritizing_ it, but I’d think that having no natural light at all in the living room would be a dealbreaker for many people who would otherwise be willing to live in a basement apartment.

        • crayons

          Put a few strategically placed mirrors and reflective surfaces on the walls to bounce light throughout the place.

        • maxwell smart

          +1. Sure, I’d love to live above ground with a ton of natural light but when it came down to it, the basement apartment offered more space, better finishes and was cheaper.

        • Anonnomnom

          This is a good point. When we were looking, we included (and ended up getting) a basement unit solely because it still had light and full windows. I can be 100% certain we wouldn’t have included it in our search if it had a windowless living area!

          That said, OP’s choice is hard… I think they each have pros and cons.

        • Renter

          Lived in a two bedroom basement unit set up like this one with no light in the family room for three years, it wasn’t that bad.

    • former_basement_dweller

      Completely agree. No windows whatsoever in the living room for the 2bd option….

    • lucie

      Yep! That’s what I would say. You’ll probably get just as much money having a sunnier living space in 1br as you will having a cramped, dark 2br.

    • liz

      Yeah, I would not like this. I lived in a basement unit for 4 years, but the living area got a lot of light and really made a difference. Hard to image waking up and having breakfast in a dark living room.

      If the bedrooms get a fair amount of light, you could use doors with windows in them (with opaque glass or a blind) to let more light into the living space.

  • MeMe

    I’d go for the one bedroom option. It seems like the living/dining room in the two bedroom option would get zero natural light. As a renter, this would be a deal breaker for me.

  • James

    I like both designs however I would go with a 2 bedroom so there is somewhere for out of town guests to sleep. Also, if your tenant(s) were expecting a child now they don’t have to move because there was 1 bedroom.

    • anon

      OR the tenants would be two couples or (more likely) two singles. I don’t think renters are particularly keen on renting a space with more bedrooms than they currently and constantly need. Not saying it doesn’t happen, of course.

  • Anon

    I know bathrooms are expensive, but I’m curious about the decision on the one bedroom to go with only one bathroom instead of an en suite and powder room. For me that would be the best use of the space rather than a second bedroom.

    • garden level, not basement

      I think you’re misinterpreting these drawings. Perhaps you’re thinking this is a two-level reno, when actually these are two possible options for a DC rowhouse 1-level basement apartment. Two bathrooms in a one bedroom unit is unheard of and unnecessary.

      • textdoc

        It’s not unheard of, but it’s certainly not very common.

    • dcd

      Not from a rental income standpoint it wouldn’t. Not even close.
      I’d definitely do the 2 BR, for all the reasons others have said. The natural light point is a valid one, but I have a feeling plenty of people will be happy to trade a couple hundred bucks a month for a lack of natural light. And as a light sleeper who has spent a fortune on blackout shades, wouldn’t mind a little less light.

      • textdoc

        Right, but to _really_ get less light, you’d need to sleep in the living room.

  • Accountering

    Definitely the two bedroom. You will get a couple hundred more a month in rent, it will likely rent quicker (you are looking for two people paying $900/each instead of one for $1500 or whatever, and it is more valuable at resale. You don’t need a dining area in a basement apartment :)

  • garden level, not basement

    Renovated my basement into a 1-br. It’s been great, and I’ve had great tenants, mostly couples, occasionally a single person, but wish I had just made it 2. I would be making more $ every month, in perpetuity, and builds more equity if you ever want to sell. If you plan on reclaiming the space later as part of your house for playroom/mancave/in-law/au pair, then go with 1 br. the two-br will absolutely be noticeably more cramped.

    • MtP

      +1 to this exactly. If you ever want to bring it back into the main house, stick with 1BR, but if you just want to make more money, go with the 2BR

      • textdoc

        This is a good point (whether the OP might ever want to use the basement for his/her own use someday).

    • Easyenough

      Best comment.

  • ExWalbridgeGuy

    This is easy as a business decision. There’s just no doubt whatsoever that the 2-br apartment will rent for more. If it’s really a window well there’s likely not very much natural light in the living room design for the 1-br… But even if it was a lot of light, the math is simple… it’s going to be easier to find two people who can pay $1300 each month than one person who loves the sunglight in the basement so much that they’ll pay over $2600. (Or whatever the going rates are in that ‘hood.)

    • anon

      And, realistically, it’s more likely a choice between 1900 from each of two people or 2600 from one person. Which is why 2br is the obvious choice.

      • P

        What neighborhood gets $2600-3800 for a two-bedroom basement?

        • anon

          Not sure but 2700 for a one-bedroom (garden-level) basement is a real-world datapoint I have for Logan Circle. Way more windows than the proposed one here, admittedly.

    • maxwell smart

      Rarely are 2 bedroom apartments 2x the cost of a 1 bedroom

  • erahk

    Either choice is good. I would pay attention to the closets; they should be large and/or lots of closets. Oh, have you confirmed that it’s ok for bedroom 1 to not have a direct emergency exit?

    • Agree on closets. Especially with the two-bedroom. If you can, get rid of the “bench” area in the 2-bedroom design and make that entryway closet bigger.

      This is a fun game. Thanks for posting.

    • JS

      Uh, there are egress-compliant windows depicted for every bedroom in the plans.

  • anon

    Your 2 BR schema is far superior design. The 1 BR has an entry directly off the kitchen while the 2 BRs both open to living spaces. The 1 BR is a more comfortable layout. Maybe you can reconfigure the BR entry and closets to improve the flow

  • kharr89

    I lived in a 1 bedroom English basement (maybe 500 sf) and currently own an 850 sf condo and I would definitely go for 2 bedrooms. While an 800 sf 1 bedroom would certainly be spacious, you’re limiting how much you can charge for that luxury since only a single person or couple can live there. We find 800 sf to be plenty of room for our 2 bedroom and that way you can charge accordingly.

  • Andie302

    I would definitely do a 2BR for the income and resale potential. You may be able to give two people a better deal, you still make more money, and everyone is thrilled. I would love to see a follow-up post on your decision and renovation!

  • Jack

    Not going to answer between 1BR and 1BR, but your 1BR layout is kind of bizarre. Why would you situate the bedroom in the front? Having lived in basements for over a decade (finally recently released), I wouldn’t like a bedroom in the front. First, because of noise, second because of privacy, third because, well, privacy again. It also makes the flow of the place kind of, well, off.

    • textdoc

      I think it’s to give one of the two bedrooms some decent light. It looks like the back of the unit is under a porch, which means that none of the windows back there are going to allow much light, and the only way to make an egress-able window for the bedroom in the back is to dig a window well.

  • Bobert

    I’m going to buck the trend here with suggestions: you should make an open studio with an open-concept bathroom. Shower doubles as a pot filler faucet.

  • chai_town

    I definitely think the 2 BR is the best bet, especially for the ROI. You can make much more money off 2 bedrooms than 1 bedrooms, especially if it costs you close to the same amount to build.

    If you decide to go with the 1 bedroom though, you should reconfigure the layout. Kitchen right at the door entrance is a bad idea. Nobody (or should I say, most people) wouldn’t want to open their front door and be standing in front of their kitchen sink and refrigerator if they have the option to have a nicer, more open kitchen in the back instead of a small galley kitchen as the main entrance area.

  • maxwell smart

    I currently live in a 1 bedroom English Basement in a detached house that is approx. 750sf and honestly, I wouldn’t want anything much smaller. It’s nice having room for a dining room table AND a living room and space for a home office.

    I would ask: what area of town? Is this an area where there are a lot of young renters who are okay with less space? Or is this in an area of town with fewer rentals and maybe providing a nicer, larger 1 bedroom for less than the cost of most 1 bedrooms in DC is desirable (case in point where I currently live).

    I would agree with most that the 1 bedroom layout you have is not great – I would group the living areas and kitchen together, which gives people more flexibility with furniture (storage island, table, etc). It’s super weird having the bedroom open into the kitchen, IMO. With the 1 bedroom option, you could easily rework the restroom to include the W/D – far nicer than having it in a closet in the middle of the apartment.

    • maxwell smart

      To follow-up: I would take all of the utility spaces (kitchen, laundry, etc.) and group them together (save on plumbing and venting costs) in the middle of the unit where there is no natural light. Sure a window is nice in the kitchen, but given the constraints, it would be better to have the living and bedroom(s) along the windowed edges.

  • Anonymous

    2bedrooms. Just change the layout. Keep the kitchen in same location where it’s at for the 1bedroom. Put the bathroom where you have the kitchen in the 2bd floor plan. Relocate the entrance to the Bedroom by the entrance the living room area. That entire middle area becomes one great room where one can put a small table if they wish.

    • Anonymous

      Also where I mentioned to put the bathroom there is plenty room to put the laundry room as well. For one it keeps all your plumbing on one side of the apartment, Also you wont have a laundry room sharing a wall with a bedroom. I made 2bdroom apartment and I am so happy I did.

  • brig

    Having spent 5 years in an English basement starting as a 22-year old, light in the living space is super important. Our living room was in the front with east-facing windows and plenty of light. Both bedrooms were in the back with windows that looked out under a porch, so didn’t get much light–but that was actually nice for sleeping in.
    I can say I never would have stayed 5 years with no natural light source in the living area–after a couple promotions/raises I would have moved. Can you put both bedrooms along the back wall instead? The additional rent you can charge for the 2BR might be mostly wiped out by no natural light (and the headache of finding new tenants more frequently).

    • textdoc

      This is a good point. The OP might make more money on a two-bedroom unit… but I think he/she is also likely to see more turnover of tenants with a place in which the living area has no natural light, and the headache of having to find new tenants might outweigh the advantage of the additional rent.
      Plus, every time you get new tenants, there’s a risk that they’ll turn out to be bad ones, and D.C.’s laws make it difficult to get rid of bad tenants.

  • kitty

    I’ve looked at a lot of basement apartments and have never found one I wanted to live in. I’d recommend also considering the space you’re asking somebody to live in. Would *you* live there if the coin were reversed? Think about access to light, noise, the flooring (I can’t count how many basements I’ve seen with hideous linoleum tiling). The second br might give you a better ROI, but I’d be concerned that it would make the LR a bit dark.

    • maxwell smart

      +1 – I’m pretty happy with my basement apartment, and part of it is that the landlord made an effort to make it as nice as possible. It’s easily the best basement apartment I’ve seen… it’s honestly better than any other rental I could afford in DC>

      • kitty

        That’s really great! I’ve seen some pretty hideous basements around here. As a landlord, if you wouldn’t live there, don’t expect me to either. I’ve also heard horror stories about flooding and mold.

        • maxwell smart

          I haven’t had flooding (knock on wood)… but mold is a concern. You basically have to run a dehumidifier 24×7 9 months out of the year. TAKE NOTE: you might consider designing that into the apartment.

  • Near Northeast

    I spent eight years living happily in basement apartments. I would never even have looked at one where the living room lacked natural light, so to me, the two-bedroom layout is a non-starter. Will you find tenants to rent it? Sure, there are lots of desperate people around–but as others have said, those tenants are likely to be higher turnover than you would get in a more comfortable, better-lit one bedroom.

    I would also second the person above who suggests that in the one-bedroom layout, the bedroom is better placed toward the back. Quiet is important (basement level units get lots of street noise), and the front generally gets the most natural light–which as a basement dweller I want to maximize in the living room (where I spend my awake time) and minimize in the bedroom (where I spend my sleep time). Wanting a dark bedroom is part of what made basement apartments attractive to me.

    • kitty

      These are all wonderful points. Landlords, take note!

  • AnonJohn

    I’ve lived in basements with light, and it makes a big difference to me. That said, here’s something else for consideration. 2 BR = more people living there (often), which may mean more noise from the basement, more cars parking near by, etc. Not quite sure how to weigh this in calculations …

    • maxwell smart

      If landlord is living above, these are important considerations. Do you want 2 roommates with different schedules, friends, etc. and the turnover from 2 roommates – someone stays, someone leaves. etc

  • Wayne

    1 bedroom as a landlord I can say basement dwellers tend to be young and don’t stay more than two years on average so more and more open living space is what people are looking for.

  • textdoc

    The more I think about it, the more I think both the 2-bedroom layout and the 1-bedroom layout would be more appealing if the living room were at the front, where the best window is, and if the bedroom(s) were at the back.

  • Anon

    My main concern would be trying to gauge how much more difficult it could be to manage 2 tenants if you want more rental income from a 2-bedroom and if it’s worth it. I have no experience as a landlord but others brought up some good points. Did anyone watch Income Property on HGTV? I feel like it’s an episode of that.

  • Rowhousedwelller

    Can you use the two bedroom layout to make a one bedroom plus den?

    One bedroom layout does not have a utility room, which is taking up a lot of space in your two bedroom, any way to fix that and maybe move utilities to the entry area and put the laundry closet back next to the bathroom as it is in the one bed? Move the bedroom wall to be flush with the closet so the room is a bit bigger. Put glass double french doors between the second bedroom (now without a closet) and the living room.

    Lets in light, to living area but can be a guest room or baby room.

  • topherrobin

    Hi everyone. OP here, holy shit, I’m just torn as ever haha but i think most folks are leaning for 2-BR.

    I’ll get into detail more in a follow up response but I’m planning in making a door front, street entrance since in these concept drawings, we were only gonna use the one from the alley.

    The basement is actually more of a street level, eventually 2-ft lower than the street since the plan is to dig down to get 8′ without having to underpin which from everything I’ve read is waaaay more expensive, have to modify the foundation, etc

    So looking at the diagram, the north of the picture is actually what’s facing the street. The bedroom in the bottom/ “back” is actually the existing garage that will be used for the basement. It’s boarded up currently so havent used it at all since moving this winter.

    As far as the location, I’m about 3 blocks south of Petworth metro station, and 2 blocks away from Georgia Ave so stones throw to DC Reynolds, Looking Glass, Fish in the Hood.

    My goal is to do this right, partly why I’m racking my brains. Of course, at the end of the day, my goal is to make money off it. BUT I’m going in to this where i can say with pride, ‘I’d live in it’

    It’s my first proper reno so I think I see this as my baby. I lived in a flipped house and you can see the shoddy work and I don’t want that at all.

    Pricing is another huuuge thing, I’ve gotten quotes for 160k-200k where it seems like you’re better off buying a lot and building a tiny house and still have money left. I was honestly gonna do just that with a design/build firm but ultimately pumped the brakes to use this as a learning experience.

    I’m trying to learn as much as I can with the whole reno and teaching myself how to use different tools and all so I can try to become a Gen Ctr down the road.

    Oh gad, I’ve rambled. I might have to blog this stuff. But thank you ALL so far for your inputs. I’ll reply to specific questions in the a.m!

    • textdoc

      “but I’m planning in making a door front, street entrance since in these concept drawings, we were only gonna use the one from the alley.” — Having an entrance at the front is really important, IMO. Having only an alley-side entrance would deter a lot of potential tenants, especially women.

    • horgan

      Your quote seems excessive if you’re only doing the basement. I have a quote for a similar job (1 BD) (new dig-down entrance in front, all new utilities, new basement slab, the works) for about $100K. While the basement is exposed, I’ll renovate the first floor as well (which might add another $50-$60K), but the basement works should be somewhere around the $100 to $120K range. Keep in mind that there are many wealthy people living in DC, who are more than willing to pay the higher costs. It’s a free market – contractors will charge what people are willing to pay. In my own experience, I noticed that Design/Build firms were significantly pricier. I recommend finding your own architect to do your detailed drawings. Then have contractors bid against those exact drawings. Require change-orders for any price increases beyond your contract. Good luck, KH.

  • cweimer

    Maybe consider sliding the secondary bedroom inboard and adding a vision panel in the wall or door? Keeps the bedroom condition a little darker and could buy some light back in the living area

  • j

    2 bedroom. no one in a garden apt. flat even needs a dining room.

    • maxwell smart

      again, I make my point above that I myself live in an english basement apartment that is about 700sf and I have a dining area with a table that seats 6. Just because people decide to live in a basement apartment doesn’t suddenly make them classless garbage people.

  • andy2

    Do you want two tenants – twice the noise/wear and tear as one tenant – in your basement? I’m thinking long term resale, having a large MIL/Rental unit would be better than a dark two bedroom.
    I say go one, it provides rental income for you, but also creates a more livable space in case future owners want to have a multi-generational set-up.

    • textdoc

      If you do this, you might want to leave the connecting stairs in place but just wall them over — much easier to uncover them later than to get rid of them completely and then have to add stairs from scratch.

  • horgan

    I rented the 1BD English basement apartment in my previous home for eight years. Later this year, I’ll renovate the basement of my new Trinidad home into a 1 BD apartment, similar to OP plans. My home’s future basement apart will be ~780 sq. ft 1 BD/1BA. I chose 1BD versus 2BD for the following reasons:

    A 2DB apartment at your stated price-point will almost guarantee two roommates. You will see twice the turn-over in tenants, twice the wear and tear on the property, twice the water usage, twice the probability that something goes wrong, and twice the noise. If one or both of your basement tenants have partners, you could be looking at another two more ‘unofficial’ tenants.

    If you create a luxurious 1BD, you’re likely to have a single tenant or a couple that will stay multiple years. You have the space to make a very nice apartment. If you price it well, they’ll never want to leave. I don’t know the rents in your neighborhood, I would imagine you could easily get $1800 for a well-done modern basement apartment. Maybe you’ll get another $400/mo. for a two bedroom, but at some point you need to focus on your own quality of life, and avoiding head-aches from constant tenant turn-over.

    Some notes on your design:

    You can’t have a gas meter in the basement apartment. Those must now be moved outside. It will take you ~six months for that process alone to occur (trust me). Call Washington Gas today to start the process of moving that meter outside.

    I assume you have a Building Restriction Line (BRL) near your front door, which leads you to believe that you can’t enclose the area beneath your front porch. DCRA Public Space will waive that if you show them a good design. I plan to create a utility room under half my front porch, where I’ll keep all the utilities for both upper and lower units. I’m also putting my new electrical meter cabinet here, so its not an eyesore that ruins the street-facing façade.

    Look up Roxul Safe ‘N Sound. Go for double-layers, and it will help with sound a lot.

    Good luck,



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