A beautiful basement is not an oxymoron.
Homebuyers often look down below to extend the living space of their homes. Homebuilders can provide a finished basement with the same quality of walls, flooring and ceiling as the rest of their home. They might create a basement family room, entertainment area, office and exercise room -- or all of the above.
Dreary basements are a thing of the past. Homebuyers transform this barren turf into a beautiful, livable space for the whole family to enjoy.
Today's basements are for living.
Overstreet Builders no longer refers to the basement as a basement, which can be built with an open staircase.
"We call it a finished lower level," said Doug Overstreet, president of the company. "Some people are even taking off the door that accesses the lower space so it will feel more like an extension of the home's floor plan."
It's crystal clear to Overstreet that natural light is a precious commodity in a basement. "We're putting in 4-by-4 (foot) oversized windows to let in some natural light. And people are using can lights to give the space the same quality look and feel as the rest of their home."
At M/I Homes, buyers of traditional single-family homes and townhouses often choose to complete the lower level with a high-end finish that mirrors the main living areas, said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I's Illinois division.
"We often finish our model home basements to give our homebuyers an idea of how meaningful this feature can be and how they can use the extra finished flex space."
Are finished basements a given?
"People don't expect a finished basement in most new homes, but our company offers it if homebuyers want to customize the space to fit their needs," Overstreet said. "Twenty percent of our customers want a finished basement while building their homes, but many finish their basements after closing."
Because of the added cost, finished basements are not as frequently requested by first-time buyers or older buyers who are downsizing.
At Gerstad Builders, customers do expect a basement included in the price of the home, but they don't often want them finished, said Tom Roach, sales manager.
"We build for an older clientele who are generally moving down to ranches, and they don't want a finished basement for entertaining," he said. "Most of our buyers just use the space for storage."
M/I Homes offers basements in all its home designs. Whether a single-family home or townhouse, a basement is an important feature that gives homebuyers the flexibility to tailor the space to their lifestyle needs, Bonk said.
Expanding a home's living space to include the lower level is an efficient use of space and good value for the extra square footage.
"Finishing the basement costs about $40 per square foot vs. $100 per square foot for the rest of the home," Overstreet said.
The lower level presents a clean slate ready to be outfitted for a variety of activities.
Just as the interior of your home reflects your personality and lifestyle, so does your lower level. It can be as simple or as sophisticated as the rest of your home, with separate rooms or a free-flowing open plan with zones defined by area rugs or columns.
Buyers may want a luxurious entertainment space where the whole crowd can gather for sporting events on the giant TV screen. This area could include a small kitchen and bar for ease in serving food and drink.
Theater rooms are popular with customers, Overstreet said. "People like to have a place where they can watch TV and cheer on their teams without disrupting the rest of the home."
What family wouldn't welcome a nice dedicated room where the kids can play, which is another popular application for Overstreet clients. This can include everything from a toy room for youngsters to homework stations for serious students, or a pool table for recreation.
"We find that basements in our row-house designs provide that extra finished flex space that can be used as a second family room or home office," Bonk said.
"We show a beautiful finished English basement in our Braeden townhouse model at The Orchards in Lombard that illustrates smart architecture and the newest design trends for today's lifestyles," Bonk said. "We show a media room, game room and entertainment area, which is a big hit with our visitors."
Many M/I homebuyers envision using their basements in a similar way, maybe adding a wet bar for entertaining or a specific game table, Bonk said.
How homeowners set up their basements is only limited by the owners' imagination.
"We've done some pretty elaborate things down there -- built-in TVs, acoustical movie rooms, a lot of can lights. And a lot of people are putting in fireplaces," Overstreet said.
"In the past, we've done a 12-foot section and put in one of those simulated golf areas so a person can swing the club the full distance. With a regular 9-foot basement, there's not quite enough room.
"We've put in some fancy bars with kitchenettes. So those are popular; they're expensive, but they're popular."
The lower level also offers enough space for comfortable living quarters. Basements can be configured to create a separate suite complete with kitchen, bedroom, bath and small living area.
This is an option at Overstreet Builders. People with large families or in-laws living with them are able to move into a nice lower level customized to their desires, Overstreet said.
Bonk also sees a need for this type of living space with her clients. Downsizers often look for extra space for when their college-aged children come home. "Our basements can provide a bedroom, bath and bonus room to serve as a nice suite," Bonk said.
While Gerstad's older adult clientele don't often desire a finished basement, the company has designed a house specifically for multigenerational living, Roach said.
"We had a daughter and son-in-law buy a big two-story home, and they wanted a place with privacy for their parents. They each have their own separate living quarters, both on the main floor."