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The Pros and Cons of Converting Your Garage Into a Living Space

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Parking Break

With housing costs so high in so much of the country, it can be easier to buy a smaller property and instead invest in expanding its living space over time. One place to start: Converting a garage into something other than a parking spot. But there are many factors to consider about such a project, including the impact on a home's resale value and the total price tag (which may be more than you bargained for). If you've been contemplating a conversion, here's what real estate, home design, and even insurance professionals think you should know first.

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Con: It May Decrease a Home's Resale Value …

Not everyone wants a converted garage — because some people need a garage, says residential real estate developer Bill Samuel, of Blue Ladder Development. "Most buyers don't value this type of renovation," says Samuel, based in Chicago. "In my area, not having a garage can make it much more difficult to sell a house because of the colder climates. Buyers prefer to have a place to park their car out outside of the elements."

Related: 20 Products in Your Garage That Are Waste of Space and Money

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Pro: … But Can Be a Bonus in Parts of the Country

If you live in warmer parts of the country, where being able to park a car inside isn't an important factor, a garage conversion may look far more appealing. "Some buyers are more likely to want the additional living space rather than a garage," says Lauren McKinney, of Judd Builders, a custom home building and remodeling company in North Carolina. "You could increase the pool of potential buyers with the added square footage."

Related: 5 Projects That Boost Home Value — and 5 Cheap Alternatives

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Con: It'll Cost a Lot to Undo

On smaller residential property lots, there isn't always a place where a detached garage can be added if you or future buyers of your home want a garage too. "Converting back a living area into a garage wastes materials and money," McKinney says.

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Pro: It Can Be the Most Straightforward Way to Expand

One of the more attractive points of converting a garage is that you already own the property. You don't have to shop around for a bigger home and come up with the money to buy it, upending your life. And that's not the only positive: "Garages are usually wide-open space and lend themselves very well to modern, open floor-plan trends," says Teris Pantazes, of Settle Rite, a presale home improvement company.

Related: 25 Home-Buying Myths Debunked

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Con: It Might Make Your Property Look Worse

Struggling to match exteriors is common, and rather than blending seamlessly with a home, a converted garage can end up looking like just that: nothing more than a converted garage. "Usually a garage conversion stands out from the rest of the house, and not always in a good way," McKinney says.

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Con: It'll Look and Feel Separate Inside Too

This can be a good or bad thing, McKinney says, but no matter what you do, a conversion's interior can often still feel and look visually separate from the rest of the home. "Interior materials like trim and flooring probably won't match the other areas of the home unless it's a recently built home," she says.

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Pro: It May Be Viewed as 'Flex Space'

Rather than worry about matching the rest of the home, consider embracing the difference by doing a partial upgrade that simply makes it more usable —maybe as a gym or workshop. "The space can be considered flex space if it wasn't built with a livable space in mind," McKinney says.

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Con: Removing a Garage Door Can Be Pricey

It won't be cheap if you go all in and remove the garage door in a conversion. "Removing a garage door is very expensive — about $5,000 or more for a blank wall and about $7,500 to add windows and doors," Pantazes says. "First you have to remove the hardware, close in the opening, likely install a new door or window in its place, and don't forget you'll have to finish the outside, which means matching siding or brick."

Air Conditioning and Heating
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Con: It'll Need Heating and Air Conditioning

Depending where you live, you'll likely need to install heating and air conditioning in the new living space, and that won't necessarily be cheap, McKinney says. "It can be more expensive than many homeowners expect," McKinney says.

Related:25 Energy-Saving Products You Need in Your Home

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Con: There Will Be Lighting Issues

Unless you're prepared to invest a lot of money in adding windows, a converted garage space can end up feeling dark — most garages don't have large windows or a lot of natural light, McKinney says.

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Pro: You're Not Decreasing Outdoor Space

Often when people think about expanding a home it means saying goodbye to some yard or other valuable outdoor space, which can be a big deal on smaller lots. But when you convert a garage, that's avoided, says Ashley Baskin, a member of the board of advisors for Home Life Digest.

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Con: It Can Cost as Much as Adding an Entire Floor

We've already mentioned some of the costs associated with a conversion — windows, heating, air conditioning — but the bottom line is that a conversion won't be cheap. "Generally, a garage is not insulated, and the floor is only cement and oftentimes not even level. Just putting the foundation together to make your garage a sound structure for a bedroom can cost you as much as $50,000 to $75,000, depending on your location and the structure," says Annette Holmgren, real estate broker at Keller Williams NYC and owner of a home renovation company. "For a conversion like this, people should set aside $100,000 to $150,000. It's almost the same cost of adding an entire new floor to your home."

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Pro: It Adds Property Value

While there are experts who believe a converted garage risks diminishing a home's resale potential, others say it can add value. Pantazes estimates that an additional bedroom (if that's what you end up creating) increases a home's value from between $15,000 to $35,000.

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Pro: It Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Avoiding all the bells and whistles in a garage conversion saves money. "A simple conversation can be affordable. Insulating a space can be done at a low cost, and if this is the primary concern of the space, the conversion can be done quickly," Baskin says.

Related:17 Low-Cost Home Renovation Ideas With the Biggest Payback

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Con: It'll Be a Paperwork Hassle …

Don't just expect to do a conversion without it being noticed by all the agencies and authorities that will expect paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, before, during, and after construction. "If the conversion is not done legally, with all required building permits and local approvals, your insurer will most likely drop you from coverage," says Stacey Giulianti, chief legal officer for Florida Peninsula Insurance. "Adding illegal extensions or changes, especially when not done to code, is extremely dangerous and typically uninsurable [and] failure to notify your agent and insurance company is considered in many policies to be a breach of the contract."

Related: 10 Costly Home Repairs Your Insurance Might Not Cover

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Con: … With Financial Consequences

Any major change to the structure of your home or the way it is used, even just a portion of it may result in a change to your taxes and the insurance "risk profile" for your property, which could mean either a higher premium or a rejection by underwriters. "Be sure to bring your agent into the conversation, as well as the contractor, before converting a garage into a living space," Giulianti says.

Related: 10 Things to Do Before Buying Home Insurance

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Pro: It's a Potential Income Generator

Long before you think about reselling, there's another potential bonus from a garage conversion: extra income. The space could host overnight guests, aging relatives, or even make money as an Airbnb rental. "In many cases, homeowners create an accessory dwelling unit to put up aging parents and give them some privacy, but after their parents pass away or move into an assisted living facility, they end up renting … to generate income," says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder at SparkRental.com, which helps people replace their salary with passive rental income. The money might be enough to cover monthly mortgage payments. "It's a form of house hacking or creating income from your home to cover your housing expenses," Davis adds.

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