The Difference Between a Bonus Room and a Bedroom (and Why It Matters)
Realtors, just like any professional group, often communicate via a dense set of jargon that is often used to obscure a property’s faults and emphasize its features. It can be as simple as saying “cozy and charming” when you mean something is small and falling apart or expanding the definition of “bedroom” to include a room that is barely big enough to accommodate a sleeping bag. One of the most mysterious phrases realtors will toss at you, though, is “bonus room.”
If you’ve ever shopped for a house (or watched people do it on TV), you’ve probably heard the term and wondered what it actually means. Although the name sounds very exciting, the truth is much less intriguing.
In essence, a bonus room is a room defined by its lack of purpose. Most rooms in your home have a specific purpose. You can sleep in your bedroom, use your bathroom, or cook in your kitchen. A bonus room is just an empty space with no purpose. The concept of a bonus room gained traction when the open floor plan trend took off a few decades ago–those huge open spaces are pretty noisy, and privacy is lacking, so having a separate space that could be used for just about any purpose became more or less a necessity. As it became increasingly common for attics, basements, and Finished Rooms Over the Garage (FROGs) to be finished, bonus rooms proliferated. Why is it called a “bonus room” and not a bedroom. Bedrooms have very specific requirements. A legal bedroom must have a closet and a window, and may also need specific ceiling heights and other features. Because bonus rooms are flexible spaces, they don’t need to have any of these features. You can use a bonus room as a bedroom if you want, but you can’t list it as a bedroom when you sell the house. A bonus room is designed to be blank slate and has no useful features, such as an office’s built ins or potential home theater’s sound wiring.
The bonus room has the advantage of being able to be anything. Do you need a home office? A home theater? A hobby room? A library? Bonus rooms can be reconfigured and used differently by every new person who buys the house–and since inflexible rooms with extremely specific (and personal) uses tend to lower your potential sale value, that can be a good thing.
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You might want to transform your bonus room into a legal bedroom–adding a bedroom can increase the value of your house by a significant margin, after all. But there are a few things to consider before pulling the trigger on this:
- Bonus rooms typically don’t count as rooms at all when it comes to tax appraisals. Your taxes will be lower if you have less square footage. Your tax burden will be reduced if you convert it to a bedroom.
- Converting a bonus room into a legal bedroom might be a pretty big project, especially if your ceilings are too low and need to be raised up. Before you decide that you need a third or fourth bedroom in your house, do your research.
- When you go full bedroom, you’re losing flexibility. You lose flexibility when you make your bedroom a full bedroom. It can be a den, an office or a bedroom that isn’t officially a bedroom. But a bedroom will always be a bedroom.
So a bonus room is exactly that–an extra room you don’t need but might certainly want, and one you can use in any you want.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.