You're an average single or couple out searching for a house with three bedrooms. But stop and think for a moment. Why only three bedrooms?
All things being equal, you're probably better off buying a four-bedroom property, realty specialists say. Down the road when you're marketing the house, the four-bedroom will go faster and for more money than the three, they say.
"More bedrooms equal more options for buyers equal a home that's going to be more salable," says Peter G. Miller, the Silver Spring-based author of real estate books.
Buyers these days want more bedrooms -- and not necessarily for sleeping. They want extra rooms they can use as a home office, library, computer room, homework room, sewing room, exercise room, hobby room or guest room.
"Today's lifestyles suggest that what we call a bedroom really is evolving into a multipurpose room," Mr. Miller says.
American families may be smaller, but contemporary living patterns and the demographics of the 1990s are pushing up bedroom demand.
Some children live at home longer, due to high housing and college costs. And many elderly parents who might once have been packed off to a nursing home are moving in with their grown children.
What's more, sharing bedrooms is a less preferred option when it comes to kids. In past generations, people thought it perfectly appropriate for two or three youngsters to bunk in the same room. But contemporary lifestyles call for more personal space, even for children. Whenever possible, parents like their kids to have their own rooms.
"People prefer four bedrooms -- whether they need them or not," observes Concetta Corriere, who sells real estate through the Columbia office of RE/MAX. Savvy buyers realize that having a fourth bedroom is important in terms of resale value,she says.
The number of bedrooms a house offers is one of the "critical factors" in home selection," says Monte Helme, a vice president with the Century 21 real estate chain. Having a fourth bedroom is generally more important to buyers than an unusually large yard or family room, for instance, he contends.
Furthermore, Mr. Helme says, the number of bedrooms a home has may be more important than their size -- assuming they're at least 100 square feet each.
Suppose, for instance, that you had two colonial-style homes standing side by side. They are equal in every respect, including square footage of bedroom space. The only difference is that House A has three large bedrooms while House B has four small bedrooms. In such a case, the resale value of House B can be expected to run 10 to 20 percent higher than House A, Mr. Helme estimates. House B also should sell faster because it should attract a larger pool of buyers, he says.
"The moral of the story is that you should buy as much house as you can afford and bedrooms are an important element in that," he says.
When it comes to buying with bedrooms in mind, realty specialists offer these pointers:
* Don't buy a house that adds a fourth bedroom at the expense of another important area of the house.
Homebuyers like extra bedrooms. But they also want other normal-sized rooms, including the family room and living room. A homeowner who has added a fourth bedroom by converting space from a living room, family room or dining room makes his home less, rather than more, attractive to a buyer.
* Don't count as a bedroom any room that's not really a bedroom.
ZTC Converting a dark corner of the basement into a so-called "bedroom" doesn't count as a bona fide fourth bedroom. By an appraiser's definition, a room must have windows and closet space to qualify as a real bedroom. Ideally, it should also be located near a bathroom.
* Keep in mind that adding a fourth bedroom after you buy a home usually doesn't pay off.
Unless you're extremely handy and can do much of the work yourself, you'll probably pay a premium for the square footage you add when you have an additional bedroom built on your home.
Generally speaking, you're better off financially if you buy a four-bedroom in the first place rather than paying to add a fourth bedroom after you've moved in, says Mr. Helme of Century 21.
* Don't assume that a five- or six-bedroom house is more salable than a four-bedroom property.
Granted, buyers like extra bedrooms. But many buyers think that a five- or six-bedroom house will simply impose needless heating and cleaning requirements, says Connie Morrissette, sales manager at the Annapolis/Parole office of Prudential Preferred Properties.
She says, "Sometimes five- and six-bedroom houses are actually harder to sell."