Posted by: Timothy Ellis (The Tim)

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

35 responses to “What’s the best use for a Seattle-area basement?”

  1. Green Laker

    I bought a house with a Mother In Law unit. It has its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom and we share a W/D located at the bottom of the interior staircse. It has been fantastic. Good tenants that become family. Since buying the home in 2003 I have made almost $100k out of the unit.

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  2. ray pepper

    Great place to keep the Gimp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvG3xShmNIE

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  3. Kary L. Krismer

    Use the space to make/store wine.

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  4. redmondjp

    The “bedroom” pictured is not legal due to the window not meeting Seattle’s code requirements for emergency egress (assuming that there are no other windows).

    In Seattle, where the storm sewers and sanitary sewers are one in the same, I wouldn’t risk a huge investment if it could get ruined during a storm. Hundreds of Seattle-area homeowners have already made this mistake.

    Riddle me this: How can the City of Richland, where I grew up (annual rainfall of 8″ or so), have a separate storm drain system, while Seattle does not?

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  5. SG

    All of the above. Our basement is fully finished (except for a 150 sqft area which is my workshop), it has a bedroom and a bathroom (for guests), our laundry room as well as our media room. It stays cool in summer and for some reason is warmer during winter than the rest of the house. It also has a fireplace. Overall it was not the basement I used to dread before we got a house with one.

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  6. Tim McB

    Me: Completely finish it with family room, guest bedroom and extra bathroom with finished closets to hid random barely used stuff. Its the most afforable way to add on to your house and use it to its full potential and highest use.

    My wife: No way! Storage, Storage, Storage! Did I mention storage? It keeps the rest of the house looking fantastic by keeping it clutter free.

    And thus the space sits unfinished.

    We’ve been arguing about it since we bought the house and I’d say its our number #1 disagreement as a couple since we’ve been married. If we we’re forced to go to couple’s counseling for some reason we’d probably argue 90% of the time on this issue. That’s how wonderful and reasonable my wife otherwise is.

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  7. Seattlejo

    We finished ours. Added a bed room, bathroom, office, and home theater room. We are glad we did. It added some value to the home, but more importantly we use the space a lot.

    At times I wish we had waited a bit though. We have had thoughts of adding radiant floor heating in the kitchen and the bathroom and it would have been so much easier if had access through the basement ceiling. Also make sure you run every wire (speaker, electircal, cat6, etc.) you can imagine before you finish everything.

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  8. Erik Jackson

    For homes that were built before 1980, don’t forget to do an earthquake retrofit before finishing the basement.

    I would create an attached dwelling unit (ADU), and rent it out.

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  9. Marc

    RE: Seattlejo @ 7 – And don’t forget to replace the old iron water supply lines before you sheetrock them in. Why oh why didn’t I do that?

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  10. ChrisM

    I recommend this tour in Vienna:

    http://www.viennawalks.com/indexe.php?page=detail&id=2

    “Hidden away from the eyes of locals and visitors alike, Vienna boasts a labyrinth of underground passageways, cellars and burial crypts.”

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  11. sniffy

    My ideal basement:

    Fully finish half of it, probably with two rooms (office, media room, and/or playroom) and a half bath.

    Leave the other half unfinished, use as workshop/studio.

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  12. Ira Sacharoff

    Ours is semi finished( sheetrock and ceilings, but concrete floor), and it’s used as the laundry room, Ira’s office, the place for the furnace, and storage. We added a tolilet and a sink, so Ira doesn’t have to race upstairs when nature calls. We’ve also used it as a guest room. We changed the windows so that they’re legal for egress, but it’s still pretty dark down there. I don’t need natural light when I’m working, being part vampire and all .

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  13. Brady

    We finished it by digging down and adding two bedrooms and a bathroom. The degree of improvements made sure there will be no moisture issues (plastic sheeting, channel system, pump). It is finished with the same quality as the main level with large egress windows.

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  14. pdp

    My partner and I are nearing the finish line of our basement project: we lifted our 1903 cottage, dug out, and had a new foundation poured. All new electrical/HVAC/plumbing in the whole house. New deck out back. Some day we hope to finish the basement (it’s already plumbed and heated). We will have a media room, bathroom, BR, laundry, and storage. All in 750sf!

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  15. David S

    I just couldn’t bring myself to have the children’s bedrooms in a basement. I could see it as a recreational area.

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  16. Kary L. Krismer

    By Marc @ 9:

    RE: Seattlejo @ 7 – And don’t forget to replace the old iron water supply lines before you sheetrock them in. Why oh why didn’t I do that?

    Somewhat related, if you’re looking at older houses with cast iron plumbing, having an unfinished basement can mean that replacing the plumbing would be relatively cheap, particularly if the house is a one story with basement.

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  17. Conor MacEvilly

    Partially finished basement with…my office (which I annually clean before our annual Christmas party), exercise equipment (used to dry clothes on), storage for our camping / hiking outdoor gear (July, when I dragged my arse to the top of Rainier seems like an ice age ago), work bench area for my manly but infrequently used tools, ski waxing area for a my cross country skiing obsessive GF. Fortunately, previous owners water-proofed the basement so nare a drop of water gets in.

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  18. softwarengineer

    RE: Green Laker @ 1

    GreenLaker

    Do the tennants park out on the street [assuming there's even parking there]? I assume you use the driveway.

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  19. softwarengineer

    I Won’t Buy an Old House to Remodel

    Been there done that, never again.

    So I likely won’t get a basement anyway in most units built after 1990.

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  20. joe dirt

    It should be used as a survival shelter, stocked with food, supplies, etc for the when the USA collapses.

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  21. HappyRenter

    From what I’ve seen in Seattle, I have to say that I totally dislike finished basements, especially when used as bedrooms. Some of them work well as guest bedrooms but only if they have large windows with daylight and are not musty and cold. Generally, I find basements to be too cold for any living. It might be an advantage in hot areas but here in Seattle, they are just too cold, unless you find a way to make them really warm and comfortable and have natural light.

    In my opinion, I would use basements in Seattle for storage and laundry room. I like to hang most of my laundry and air dry it. So a heated laundry room would be nice. Some people who like do-it-yourself might want to use it as a workshop. But in the end, it all depends on the space that you have and what it looks like. I have seen basements that were turned into beautiful apartments with fire place and large windows with a view.

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  22. HappyRenter

    By softwarengineer @ 19:

    I Won’t Buy an Old House to Remodel

    Been there done that, never again.

    So I likely won’t get a basement anyway in most units built after 1990.

    I’m with you. However, I know some people who did that in a different city. I was skeptical at the beginning. But when I saw the end result, I had to say “Wow!” The house (100 years old) was beautifully remodeled while still keeping its “ancient” character. They spent a lot of time (and probably money) on it though. So, I guess it depends how much “fun” you have doing it.

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  23. HappyRenter

    By redmondjp @ 4:

    Riddle me this: How can the City of Richland, where I grew up (annual rainfall of 8″ or so), have a separate storm drain system, while Seattle does not?

    Have you ever taken a tour of old downtown Seattle before the big fire? You will realize that Seattle has always had a mentality of “let’s just do whatever works for now”.

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  24. Kary L. Krismer

    By HappyRenter @ 22:

    By softwarengineer @ 19:
    I Won’t Buy an Old House to Remodel

    Been there done that, never again.

    So I likely won’t get a basement anyway in most units built after 1990.

    I’m with you. However, I know some people who did that in a different city. I was skeptical at the beginning. But when I saw the end result, I had to say “Wow!” The house (100 years old) was beautifully remodeled while still keeping its “ancient” character. They spent a lot of time (and probably money) on it though. So, I guess it depends how much “fun” you have doing it.

    I think it would also depend on your aptitude and interests.

    I had a friend who really enjoyed remodeling his 90 year old home. It was a hobby, he was skilled enough to do most the work himself, and the main limitation was money, not time.

    If you want to pay to have it done it’s important to be able to understand critical path scheduling, unless you’re going to have the work done using a general contractor.

    Finally, if you don’t want to do the work yourself, but don’t like having other people inside your house, you’re probably going to be miserable no matter what.

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  25. Jillayne Schlicke

    50 Shades of Grey S&M Dungeon which could double as a guest bedroom for your mother-in-law.

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  26. aerojd

    I think basements provide an opportunity to add living space or recreation space as many have commented. But before finishing a basement I would urge to make sure you are happy with the main floor first. Even adding a gas extension for a push-button fireplace is much easier before the basement drywall goes up. And make sure you do your earthquake-proofing and put in your sump pump first as well. I have seen too many Seattle friends invest in finishing their basements, only to have water problems (“but the basement has been dry for 10 years since we moved in, we never thought it would be an issue . . “). There are 2 types of basements in Seattle, those with sump pumps and those with moisture / water issues!

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  27. aerojd

    RE: Jillayne Schlicke @ 25 – good one!

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  28. Green Laker

    RE: softwarengineer @ 18

    They do. We are three blocks from the late, TONS of parking, and they put two cars in front of the house 99% of the time.

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  29. jimbob

    RE: Tim McB @ 6 – Is there room down there to store your wife?

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  30. Jonness

    Leave it unfinished and fill it with pot plants.

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  31. Matt the Engineer

    By redmondjp @ 4:

    Riddle me this: How can the City of Richland, where I grew up (annual rainfall of 8″ or so), have a separate storm drain system, while Seattle does not?

    Because Richland wasn’t built until 1943, and was built by the military. Seattle’s first plumbing system used wood pipes, and there are likely still sections of our system that are wood. A large amount of our housing stock is well over 80 years old, built in neighborhoods that go back well over a century. It’s a whole lot easier to start off with two seperate systems than to go back, dig up every roadway to put in a new system, then ask every home to please repipe their gutters to the storm system.

    We need to do that. But it’s going to be a slow, expensive project.

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  32. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Matt the Engineer @ 31 – I’d always understood that Seattle’s stormwater system was just undersized, poorly designed and perhaps not in all of the city. So I think saying it doesn’t have one is not entirely accurate. See, e.g.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2013673067_seattleflooding14m.html

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  33. Matt the Engineer

    Oh, and I did the finished basement thing. Spent a year of weekends, and it’s really nice. Did everything but mud & tape of sheetrock myself (was tired of working on it by that point). Of course mine is a daylit basement – one wall has two huge windows that face the backyard, but the rest just has those little high windows.

    Years later, and I’m finally getting around to putting in a bathroom. I’ll have to tap into a side-sewer that’s 8 feet deep. I’m hiring a contractor for that part! After that’s done then in theory I could rent it out. I may not, but it’s nice to have the option.

    Anyway, as recommended above, make sure you’re happy with the rest of the house, and make sure it’s not a wet basement. And insulate like crazy.

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  34. Matt the Engineer

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 32:

    RE: Matt the Engineer @ 31 – I’d always understood that Seattle’s stormwater system was just undersized, poorly designed and perhaps not in all of the city. So I think saying it doesn’t have one is not entirely accurate.

    Yes, I was simplifying. Much of Seattle has combined sewers, but not everywhere. Here’s a good map of the projects that King County has planned. Most of them in Seattle are just dealing with combined sewers, not actually plans to seperate them.

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  35. Tim McB

    RE: jimbob @ 29

    Ha ha very funny.

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