Basements can be valuable bargains for alert homebuyers
Brian Carothers sees great wisdom when he meets a “yinzer basement visionary.”
Those adept buyers can look at an unfinished area beneath a house and see things to come. Plans generally involve “pictures of Pittsburgh athletes; IC Light cans commemorating a Super Bowl win; and a piece of carpeting that doesn't quite fit but sort of makes it look like a room,” he says with a laugh.
It is space that, when unfinished, isn't counted in the square footage of a home, so is basically free, say building and taxing officials. Architect Ben Maguire and builder Stephen A. Catarinella call it “bonus space.”
Although the space has “untapped potential,” as Lawrenceville homeowner Kelly Compeau says, it sometimes is overlooked in discussion of a home.
Catarinella says he always tries to make basement possibilities a “part of the conversation” when starting a house project. Even if the client doesn't want to do anything with the space when the home is being put together, he tries to make sure they can see what they could do down the road, says the owner of Steve Catranel Construction Co. in Wilkins.
Maguire says he, too, tries to make sure even empty basements are ready for the future by making sure that elements such as electrical wiring or plumbing are available.
Basements, though, still can be a problem with some homes.
“Some people look at the bad reputations of basements and leave them unfinished,” says Maguire, owner of Emerge Real Estate, a firm that has been creating and redoing homes in Lawrenceville and other parts of the city.
Others, like Kelly Compeau and his wife, Alisa, see basement work as a way to add to their house. He says they wanted an informal gathering spot they didn't think the first floor would provide.
They had Maguire's builders turn an end-to-end basement-level garage into a family room and a workout room — the latter of which still is served by the garage door and has a little patio on its end.
“One of the criteria was a room like this,” Compeau says.
Builder Josh Adamek and Greensburg architect Lee Calisti, say basements are almost demanded in Western Pennsylvania construction, even if the use is undefined and often ignored as a feature in the marketing of the homes.
That expectation is the great difference between clients from Western Pennsylvania and those from elsewhere, Carothers says.
“You get somebody from someplace else and they say: ‘What am I looking at?' ” he says.
Catarinella and Calisti say the topography of the area makes basements almost expected. Most properties are graded enough that a slab to hold a home will need a wall of some kind at least at one end, making the excavation for the rest of the basement no big deal, they say.
Catarinella says because of the topography of the area “98 percent of the people here have lived in a house with a basement.”
Calisti says he encounters interest in a basement “almost every time” he begins plans. From there, the options are many — if they are recognized.
Maguire says many clients don't want to add on the expense of finishing a basement to the cost of a new home. Most often they are looking for a “customizeable” space they might want to get to later.
That decision also can lessen taxes.
Jim Davis, a manager of property evaluation for Allegheny County, says unfinished space is not added to square footage, so it doesn't increase the taxation on a home.
Slightly improved space would be taxed at a lesser rate, he says, while a basement turned into another kitchen or bedroom would draw a full assessment.
Even though basement space generally isn't a big part of a home's sales pitch, it usually is wanted — even in older home, says Adamek, one of the owners of Synergy Capital, a Ross firm that renovates and resells older homes.
His company will try to clean up and make usable basement space even in older, city homes that have very little to begin with. Basements in those home often included tight space used as coal cellars.
But he knows clients who have turned such areas into wine cellars or workout rooms.
The demand for basement space tends to be strong, he says.
“We had houses in Upper St. Clair and Franklin Park (without basements), and we must've had 50 people through them and couldn't sell them,” he says. “When we finally did, we probably could have sold them for $40,000 more with a basement.”
Generally, he says, it is wise to add a basement, although sometimes it is just impractical. A new project that Synergy Capital is doing on 44th Street in Lawrenceville will not have a basement because it is a flat lot where digging down would be too costly.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7852 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Penguins’ best bet is on Martin
- Burnett’s stellar start paves way for Pirates’ victory over Diamondbacks
- From injuries to front office, Penguins’ season didn’t lack drama
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Pitt AD Barnes has enjoyed varied career in college sports
- Elites, media & character
- Man fatally shot in McKees Rocks identified
- Penguins president: General manager, coach won’t be fired
- Young defensemen make case for future with Penguins
- High risk, reward with 1st-round quarterbacks in NFL Draft
- More than 2,200 confirmed dead in Nepal earthquake