DEAR BARRY: Our 70-year-old house was appraised this morning, and the appraiser refused to count two of the bedrooms. In fact, she officially downgraded our house from a three-bedroom to a one-bedroom home. One bedroom was discounted because it is too small — about 7 feet by 8 feet — and because it has no closet. The other bedroom is in the basement and the window is too small to meet code. The appraiser listed both rooms as dens. This doesn’t seem fair because these rooms have always been used as bedrooms, and this appraisal drastically lowers the value of our home. What can we do? –Jeff
DEAR JEFF: Regardless of how those rooms were used in the past, appraisers are bound by the constraints of established building standards and the risks of professional liability. If your appraiser had counted the rooms as acceptable bedrooms, she could have faced legal consequences — even a lawsuit — at a later date, once the code violations were discovered.
If the appraisal is unacceptable you can make changes that will bring the rooms into compliance as legal bedrooms. The primary consideration, of course, will be the cost of such upgrades. The easy challenge is the basement window. The cost to enlarge the opening would be nominal compared to the value of an additional bedroom.
The 7-by-8 bedroom is a bigger problem. The cost of an addition to the building might not balance with the value of a third bedroom. However, it may be possible to achieve the goal by moving or removing an interior wall. This, of course, depends on the floor plan of the house and is something you can discuss with a licensed general contractor. But don’t worry about the closet. Contrary to common belief, the building code does not require a closet in a bedroom.
DEAR BARRY: We have a small child and are concerned about exposure to lead paint. We’ve been told that lead paint was discontinued in 1978, but what about paint that was purchased before the cutoff date and used later? In short, how do we know if an old house has lead paint? –Neil
DEAR NEIL: Lead paint that was manufactured up until 1978 could still be sold and applied. There was no requirement to discard existing supplies. Therefore, a home that was built after 1978 could have lead paint. Keep in mind, however, that most homes of that age have probably been repainted at least once or twice. Therefore, most lead paint is no longer on the surface. If the repainted surfaces are intact, with no chipping, it is unlikely that children will be exposed. It is possible, of course, that a small child will teethe on a painted window sill, but observant and attentive parents can usually keep this from occurring.
The only way to know if a home has lead paint is to test paint samples throughout the house. There are environmental inspectors who provide that service.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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