En suite bathroom 'a very strong amenity'

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.

Anne Marie Fallek sees the $35,000 she and her husband spent on their master bathroom as a way of meeting their design desires now, but also as part of a long-term plan.

“When we go to sell this place, we think a possible buyer could come in and say, ‘Well, there's nothing we would have to do here,' and buy it right away,” she says.

The en suite bath has become such a large part of house sales, creating one is a job that is increasingly in demand, home experts say. Improving one to make it meet current levels sometimes is less of a job but nearly as vital.

Adding one is not always easy.

“The space has got to come from somewhere,” says architect Bob Barrage from Natrona Heights.

Ken Moeslein from Legacy Remodeling in Dormont agrees, and brings up another major issue.

“Space and budget are the big things,” he says. “There is basically nothing we can't do if you can afford it.”

But it could be worthwhile. The en suite bath “is a very strong amenity,” says Darlene Hunter, vice president of new home sales for Howard Hanna Real Estate.

Mark Uchida, owner of A ReMarkable Kitchen in Blawnox, says en suite baths have become such a common feature in house design since the 1970s they are almost a “must have” item.

But a customer often “has to be ready to knock down a wall or two,” Uchida says.

The thinking is rather simple, Barrage says.

Adding a bath connected to the master bedroom either entails taking space from another room, hallway or closet or adding some space to the house, he says. Adding room to a house can cost about $200 a square foot, he says, but that work can get more costly in bathroom or kitchen jobs because they involve adding a good amount of equipment in that space.

If the job requires moving plumbing, the price goes up even more, Moeslein says.

“If you are moving plumbing from one side of the house to another, you can be adding $3,000 to a job that is $25,000 to $30,000 already,” Moeslein says.

That work is not difficult, but it can be a true bother, he says.

“You might be out of a bath three weeks,” he says. “You have to have plumbers in, electricians in, get code approval. It is not just a handyman's job.”

Most times, he and Uchida agree, the plumbing is not the problem. Generally, the work centers on knocking down walls and creating new designs.

Sometimes better use of space can be a job-saver.

Anne Marie and Mark Fallek from O'Hara ended up not having to do too much room-changing.

The key to the redesign was the removal of the jacuzzi bath that Anne Marie admits was never used. Uchida, by the way, suggests this is often the case and generally a good step toward a bathroom solution.

She says by replacing the jacuzzi with a deep soaking tub, enough space was made for a larger, more attractive shower without losing the bath option.

Uchida says that benefit is accomplished by eliminating the jacuzzi and the space-eating deck on its side.

Jason and Danielle McKenzie of Carrick also were able to expand their master bath into a more attractive en suite setting by eliminating a closet next to the bath. The redesign added some storage space inside so didn't cheat the homeowners that way, she says.

But the room-change issue is not always that easy.

Mt. Lebanon architect Kathleen Hrabovsky says an en suite generally is “a component of any bedroom redo.”

But she admits the use of space is “a really weighty issue.” Reducing one bedroom from a house with four or five generally does not change the resale possibilities of the house too much, she says.

In fact, many homebuyers expect a home of that size to have a respectable en suite, so resale could be hurt if it doesn't, says Howard Hanna's Hunter. She says a four-bedroom home in the $250,000 to $300,000 range might need an en suite to make it saleable.

“A house without one is a problem,” she says.

But they agree knocking a three-bedroom down to two might be a risky proposition. If that second-floor bathroom is accessible only to the master bedroom, it can create another resale problem.

Hunter says the price-point of some three-bedroom homes often is below $200,000, thus making the lack of the en suite unexpected. But trimming that house down to two bedrooms trims the marketability so much it could make the move unwise.

Barrage says such decisions sometimes do not arise, because those who buy smaller homes are looking for a simple lifestyle and are not worried about resale.

But houses a little bigger almost always beg the en suite to make themselves saleable, Moeslein says.

“You begin to look at closets and say, ‘Do I really need that closet,' ” he says about the search for space.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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