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REAL ESTATE

8 Basement Renovations That Really Pay Off

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fancy-basement ((c) Peter Mukherjee)

Next up in our new series, Renovations That Really Pay Off: basements! Sure, walking down rickety stairs and gazing into a dark, dank cellar might put you off the idea of dropping wads of cash to hang out there. For motivation to clear away the cobwebs, consider the fact that updating a basement could net you a 72.8% return on investment, according to Remodeling magazine -- that's higher than a rehabbed kitchen or bathroom!

But just how do you go about transforming your basement from a site that could get scouted for a horror movie to a comfortable rec room, stylish spare bedroom, or swanky home theater? Simply follow these renovation tips and expert advice for some ideas.

Assess its potential

First, spend some quality time in your basement and make sure it has potential. Signs you should maybe save your renovation dollars are "low ceilings, few windows, and a closed-in or poor layout," according to Bruce Ailion of Re/Max Town and Country Real Estate Brokers in Atlanta. You just won't be able to do much with that. But basements with a comfortably high ceiling and at least a couple of windows are fair game.

Further proof: One of Ailion's clients, a flipper, bought newer homes with decent basements for $215,000. After spending $75,000 in basement upgrades, she would sell them for more than $350,000 -- "earning a gross profit of $60,000 on a fairly consistent basis."

Get floored

Most basement floors can be best described as dystopian utilitarian -- that is, cold, gray concrete. How to warm it up without spending a fortune? If you have a dry basement with no moisture issues, "wall-to-wall carpeting is among the least expensive and easiest-to-install options," says Dina Gibbons, a home and garden design expert at RubberMulch. "A midrange nylon Berber carpet is a great pick."

Installation for a 250-square-foot space will run about $1,000. If your basement is prone to flooding, check out modular carpeting tiles that are easy to replace in case of water staining or damage.

Banish mold

You know that moldy, musty smell that screams "basement"? That comes from mold. Whenever you have a room below ground level, you risk having water seep in. And just behind a layer of Sheetrock wall is the perfect place for these funky spores to flourish beyond your reach. Yet there are alternatives.

When renovating her 200-square-foot basement, New Jersey homeowner Ellen Cagnassola installed walls made from fiberglass with a Teflon-coated fabric by Owens Corning.

"It looks like real linen, so beautiful," says Cagnassola. And since these walls are designed to breathe, they don't trap water and create breeding grounds for mold. Meanwhile Cagnassola's crown and baseboard moldings look like cherry-red wood, but they are made of PVC. And they pop off, which was handy as she recently tiled the floor. Best of all, the entire remodel cost only $15,000.

Let there be light

Get rid of that dark, shiver-inducing feeling some cellars have by adding natural light with an egress window. These large windows that allow for an easy exit in case of a fire will run about $500 for a DIYer to $3,000 for a professional installation. Other inexpensive options to transform a basement include adding "reclaimed wood to the walls and hanging tin or faux beams to the ceiling," Gibbons says.

Pick the right paint

Basements are not exactly known for great ventilation (though you might want to upgrade that), and fumes from fresh paint can put a real damper on movie night. A great toxin-free option is milk paint such as RMPC, which emits zero odor during application or drying. Plus, milk paint is porous, so moisture in the walls won't make it flake off.

Upflush!

Throwing up a few walls is one thing, grabbing a sledgehammer to install a bathroom is another. But while you're in the basement, do you want to trek upstairs when nature calls? We didn't think so. Enter upflush toilets, which can be installed on top of any finished surface, according to Ross Evans, national sales manager for Saniflo. Since water flows through the back of the toilet instead of through pipes under concrete, there's less renovation mess and lower overall installation costs.

Go for multitasking

Sure, you could make the basement a permanent museum for your obsolete furniture and electronics, or you could go for a flexible, multiple-use area you will actually use.

"The most impactful basement renovation is one that provides an area for entertaining and family activities," says Gibbons. Build walls to form a guest bedroom, kids' playroom, or home office, Gibbons says -- all are in high demand with home buyers. Just maintain the larger portion of the basement for an open living space.

Rent it out to start making money now!

Once you've finished your basement, consider renting it out to earn an immediate ROI, says Jordan Knowles of The New LeDroit Park Building Co.

"If you live in a city like Washington, DC, rental space is in demand. Homeowners are getting rental income anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 per month to pay [their] mortgage. Others have decided to invest in the renovation and use services like Airbnb for short-term rentals, keeping the space free for family visits."

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More from realtor.com: Do You Need to Remodel Before You Sell?