The Downstairs is the new Upstairs
In 1998 I was commissioned to work with a developer to design townhomes & duplexes in a new & upcoming Golf Course Community. I was excited to be part of such a high-profile project at the time as I was just starting out on my own. I knew it was going to be a great learning experience as well. In the end it became a learning experience for a lot of us, especially & unfortunately for the developer. Now I look back & see that the developer was just little ahead of his time. He asked me to design what would be a unique concept of living that people in this area weren't ready to accept. He said, "We're going to make the Downstairs the new Upstairs."
The property in which these units rest was on walk-out basement lots over-looking a beautiful fairway. His idea was not to build up, but to build down to save cost. The buyers of these townhomes were predicted to be empty nesters anyway. Buyers will be Ranch Style lifestyles on the main floor & the secondary Bedrooms were to be downstairs rather than the typical upstairs. It was a brilliant idea at the time...or was it?
Construction started with a couple pre-sales & the developer went all out with 12-14 speculative units. When the units became ready & it was time to close the buyer's loan underwriters had a problem. The "Basement Bedrooms" would hurt the appraisals. Lenders were not ready to apply the same value per square foot to the finished basement as they did the remaining home. To make it worse, buyers weren't ready either. So the units took years to sell & at a near loss to the developer.
Fast forward 20 years. Finished Basements are the norm & almost a requirement in new construction. In the last 3 years I have seen a boom in Ranch Style living with secondary Bedrooms in the Basement. Now that lenders are valuing the finished Lower Level as much as the Upper Floor it makes sense to “Build Down” rather than up. The cost of construction per square foot in the Basement is nearly half than the remaining spaces, yet the end appraisal for the spaces is the same. It’s an investment you
almost can’t afford not to make.
It’s becoming acceptable to Buyers, & Clients are starting to ask for it in new designs. With a walk-out basement & some simple strategy to the Lower Level Floor Plan, Bedrooms can have egress windows & Family Rooms can have doors & windows leading to a Patio. If you have the means in your budget, I suggest 10’ high basement walls for higher ceilings & transom windows for extra natural light throughout. To make your downstairs inviting & feel like a part of the home, make the stairs leading down as wide & open as possible. Have the stairs become a focal point in your Lower Level & make sure they spill out in an open Family Room or Game Room. If you have a pit basement lot, ask the builder to set your home up out of the ground a little if you don’t mind some extra steps to your front door.
As cost of construction is skyrocketing, making the Downstairs the new Upstairs is something I’m sure I’ll continue to be asked to design. My only dilemma now is whether to label it a Ranch or a 2-Story.
See these Ranches with a Finished Lower Level: