Behind the Garage Door

More than just a storage area for cars and junk, a showcase garage can help you sell your listing faster and for a higher price.

May 1, 2006

For many home owners, the garage is the place where you store all the stuff you don't know what to do with, and if you're lucky, the car may fit in there, too.

But as the price of real estate has risen, the room that's often the most neglected and underutilized in the house also has grown in value. Savvy real estate professionals and sellers are now staging the garage along with the rest of the house, and getting higher returns for the effort.

In some cases, a home owner's special interest may drive the use of the garage. Gardeners may have special bins built for soil and fertilizer. Golfers may install customized cabinets for their golf clubs. Exercise enthusiasts may outfit the space with workout equipment.

Regardless of what the space is primarily used for, practitioners say spectacular garages make listings stand out and sell faster.

A Selling Advantage

Beth M. Gage, a sales associate with ERA Arrow Real Estate in Oak Forest, Ill., says she listed a house in Midlothian, Ill., with an amazing garage that sold $2,000 over the asking price within two days of being listed.

”It was a house where the wife had wanted a new kitchen, but the husband had won out and built a three-and-a-half-car garage instead,” says Gage, who notes that the garage was heated and had cable TV/VCR, a phone, track lighting, a refrigerator (for beer when friends came over), a loft area for extra storage, and organizational shelving for tools.

”At the closing, the buyer husband was talking to the seller husband and said he'd been looking for some place to tinker with his car,” Gage says. “He also had a boat and wanted to be able to have ‘the guys’ over. So what sold the house was the garage.”

Men, however, are not the only ones who are attracted to great-looking garages.

“We thought it would be a male-intensive market, but we were wrong,” says Marc Shuman, president of GarageTek, a Long Island, N.Y.-based franchise business that sells garage-furnishing systems in 48 domestic markets, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Shuman and partner Skip Barrett launched the company in 2001.

“Our systems create a clean, safe, and functional environment in the garage,” Shuman says. “Once the garage becomes clean, it becomes a family room and appeals to women in particular.”

Bill West, CRS®, broker-associate and owner of The Group Inc. Real Estate in Fort Collins, Colo., and author of Your Garagenous Zone: Innovative Ideas for the Garage, recently listed a development called Storybook Patio Homes, which offers a finished garage.

“The garages have epoxy-coated floors, a wall organizer, pantry-style cabinets, a workbench, track lighting, and they’re fairly insulated,” West says. “[The finished garages] added $4,300 to the list price, and home buyers can incorporate that into their mortgage. The garage is becoming a multi-purpose room, and the trend is becoming more real.”

Spectacular Garages

West says one of the most spectacular garages he's seen was owned by an avid fly fisherman in Fort Collins, Colo., who put in wall organizers and a custom-made holder for his fly fishing rods. The owner put in a workbench counter top and installed a plasma-screen TV as well.

Shuman says one of GarageTek's most elaborately outfitted garages was a five-car garage that was designed for a car collector in Orange County, Calif. The floor was done with a checkerboard racing motif, and shelving was installed to show off car memorabilia.

Doug Arndt, president of The Complete Garage LLC, a showroom-based retailer of garage enhancement products in Minnetonka, Minn., says his company did a garage in Sioux Falls, S.D., that had epoxy flooring, laminate cabinets, travertine marble on the walls, skylights, recessed lighting, cable TV, and a home theater system.

“We had one customer who was a master gardener,” Arndt says. “We installed two 8-foot workbenches for her and Gladiator (steel) cabinets from Whirlpool. Another garage had a gray epoxy floor with laminate cabinets and a built-in Corian countertop and sink. The owner uses it as a work space for a variety of things.”

Basic Fix-Ups

Even if your new listing doesn’t have one of these showcase garages, there are some basic things the sellers can do to make the space more appealing to potential buyers. Arndt offers these tips to increase the appeal of the garage:

  • De-clutter the garage just as you would the rest of the house, clearing out whatever the sellers don't need.
  • Get everything off the floor with overhead storage racks that can hang from the ceiling.
  • Use a wall system on which sellers can hang items.

Barry Izsak, author of Organize Your Garage in No Time and president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, offers these organizing suggestions:

  • Take an inventory. Decide what you want to or need to put in the garage, such as sporting goods, tools, or craft supplies.
  • Sort like things together. You shouldn’t have piles of tools, collectibles, or childhood memorabilia in a number of places around the garage. Keeping similar items in one place makes the space look much more organized.
  • Reuse instead of buying. If you don't want to purchase an expensive garage organizing system, you can use an old chest of drawers, book cases, desks, or shelving units from the house for a new purpose in the garage.

Staging Tips

Jay Behm, a designer of custom homes and garages in Williamsburg, Va., says garages have gotten larger as vehicles have become bigger in recent years. Buyers now want garages with 9-foot-wide doors and 9-foot ceilings inside to accommodate racks placed atop sport utility vehicles. Behm says the following will add to the value of any garage:

  • Garage door openers. Many potential buyers consider this a priority and a necessity.
  • Lighting and electrical systems. More and more garages are being wired for heating and air conditioning to make the room accessible year-round.
  • Second stories. Many people are adding second stories to their garages for extra storage space or use as a rental apartment or in-law unit.
  • A good fit. Most home owners have plain garage doors that don't match their Colonial- or Victorian-style homes, says Behm. Simply giving the garage roof a slope that's similar to the house's roof will make a big difference.

Learn More:

National Association of Professional Organizers
Lists information on how to find a professional organizer in your area.

Behm Design
Shows garage plans by Behm Design.