Evaluate Your House for a Master Suite Addition

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: Oliver Marks
Published: December 18, 2009

A master suite addition can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, but with smart planning you can cut costs without compromising on amenities.

At a certain point in life, sharing your bathroom with kids and houseguests loses its charm. Let’s face it, you’ve earned a space where you can bathe, dress, or simply relax in complete privacy. For many people, the answer to that desire is a master suite–a private bed-and-bath annex, often with the added amenities of walk-in closets (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/smart-strategies-building-master-closet/) and a sitting area. The romantic getaway of home improvements, a master suite addition is the only major household upgrade meant to be enjoyed by just you and your significant other.

It’s also one of the priciest construction projects you can undertake. A 16-by-24-foot master suite addition with midrange fixtures and finishes costs a national average of $104,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2008/costvsvalue/national.aspx). For a larger, upscale suite with luxury appointments (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/master-suite-addition-top-features/), the price tag jumps to $226,000. If you’re thinking about rewarding yourself with a master suite, here’s what you need to know.

Master suite building basics

A master suite usually involves building a ground-floor extension, which means giving up yard space and spending a sizable chunk of the budget to have the site excavated and a foundation poured. Because you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need the full range of tradesmen, from roofer to plumber to tile-setter.

You’ll also need approval from your town’s building inspectors and zoning department to ensure that your addition doesn’t encroach on property lines. You’ll have to expand your existing heating and cooling system to reach the new space, and you may have to upgrade the main electrical panel, water heater, and burglar alarm, too.

Think beyond the basic bumpout

If you can take advantage of existing space, the cost to add a master suite goes way down, since building new costs 20% to 30% more than remodeling, according to Dean Bennett, a contractor in Castle Rock, Colorado. For example:

Consider building up instead of out. You may be able to cut up to one-third off the total job cost and keep your yard intact by adding your master suite on the second story, over a porch, garage, or previous addition. The only caveat here, notes Portland, Ore., bath designer Martha Kerr, is that ground-level living space is preferable as we age.

Steal underutilized space. If you have a spare bedroom or guest room that isn’t regularly used, think about incorporating it into your master suite. That will reduce the size of the addition you need, and the price tag. An even better option is to take an existing bathroom that can be incorporated, which might mean that you don’t need to run new water and drain lines, potentially saving thousands of dollars.

Convert unfinished space. Less expensive still would be to convert unfinished space, such as a basement (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/evaluate-your-house-basement-remodel/) or attic (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/evaluate-your-house-attic-bedroom/) –or even your attached garage, if you’re willing to park outdoors. Because you don’t have to build a foundation, exterior walls, or a roof, you’ll save as much as 50% to 60% compared with a full-scale addition project.

Factor in ongoing expenses

However you build your new master suite, keep in mind that your expenses don’t end when the last faucet and light switch are installed. Expanding your home will affect your budget each and every month, thanks to increased heating and cooling costs.

As a rough guideline, expect your bills to grow by about the same percentage that you increase your home’s size. So if you add 600 square feet to a 2,000-square-foot house, your energy bills will likely grow by about 30%. And your property tax bill may go up by an even larger proportion, because not only are you expanding your home, but you’re also adding a bathroom, which assessors value at a higher rate than other rooms, says Realtor and appraiser Everett “Vic” Night of Chapel Hill, N.C.

Be realistic about payback

Adding a master suite is a great way to increase the salability and the price of your home down the road. Just make sure to follow the neighborhood norms, Night advises. “If you’re in a neighborhood of empty-nesters with two-bedroom houses, you probably won’t recoup the investment,” he says. “But if nice master suites are common in similar houses in your neighborhood, you’re likely to get a good portion of your money back.”

You may not get it back if you sell right away, however. With real estate prices down 25% since their peak, the return on investment from improvements is down right now as well. In 2009, the average midrange master suite paid back 65% of its cost, according to the Cost vs. Value Report. That’s down from 82% in 2005. The average return on an upscale job was 56% in 2009, down from 80% three years earlier.

Returns will likely increase again as home prices stabilize, but turning a profit shouldn’t be your motivation for adding a master suite–or for doing any large home improvement, for that matter. Do the work because you want to, and only if you plan on staying put for at least three to five years, so you get the chance to enjoy your own private oasis.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He’s currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

Reprinted from HouseLogic (houselogic.com) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Copyright 2009.  All rights reserved.