By Candis Meredith
Because Andy and I aren’t traditional house flippers and because we focus on restoring our homes to be as close to the original as possible (but with all of the modern amenities our buyers want), we have some freedom to play with upgrades and renovations that other real estate investors might automatically skip. And, because we work with old houses, we have some challenges and choices that other real estate investors will never see.
One of these is the unfinished basement. While the basements you find in newer homes might not have finished drywall on the walls or the same kind of flooring as the rest of the house, you can almost bet that they’ll at least have a concrete floor.
That’s not the case with older homes. Back in the day, basements were largely used for dry storage or as cellars, and most of them had dirt floors. Some of them even had a couple of dirt or rock walls, where they were built into the side of the hill the house was built on.
So, when Andy and I come across a basement like this, we have a big decision to make. Do we finish it or leave it? Because I love historic homes, I’m always tempted to just leave it. There’s something kind of cool about opening a door in your house, walking down some stairs, and finding yourself in this old, dirt room that’s been around since long before you were born.
A lot of our buyers don’t think the way I do, though, and we aren’t in the business of creating museum-quality restorations. So, instead of thinking about what the house would’ve been like when it was first built, I think about what it’s like now, our budget, and what our buyers are expecting.
Adding Moisture Barriers Can Be a Good Upgrade
Your home’s basement is literally surrounded by moisture at all times. If you have a heavy rain, you could be looking at a lot of moisture in the basement, rendering it useless and problematic. Your buyers can’t store their belongings in mud, and moisture coming in from the basement can be damaging to the house. At the very least, it’s probably a good idea to add some moisture barriers, including a concrete floor, walls, and sealant.
Consider Ceiling Height
With that in mind, you may not want to try to create a living space down there until you take into account the height of the ceiling in the basement. Most of these unfinished basements were made for storage, not for rec rooms or guest bedrooms, so their ceilings tend to be pretty low. If the space is cramped, you won’t want to add a lot of amenities or do a lot to make it a part of the living space of the house. Instead, focus on making it a clean, dry place for storage.
Create a Wine Cellar
If you have room in the budget and/or you’re feeling fancy, you could always finish the basement to be a wine cellar. This cool, dry place will be perfect for storing wines, and your buyers will love the idea of having a cellar of their own, even if they use it as a pantry or just for storage.
So, should you finish the basement in your old home? Yes and no. I’d say that you should always moisture-proof the basement and create a safe storage space. Depending on the size of the basement and the height of the ceiling, you can decide whether or not it needs to be an additional living space.