Feb 14, 2023
Welcome to the nuances of real estate speak, where not everything is as it seems. You can’t simply place a bed in any size average space and call it a master bedroom.
There are, in fact, a number of legal bedroom requirements—and both home buyers and sellers had best know them to avoid misunderstandings related to size and square footage. So what makes a bedroom a bedroom?
“Since a home and/or master bedroom can go through many incarnations over its life, sellers should be familiar with what makes a bedroom a legal bedroom prior to listing their home, to ensure there are no issues holding up the sale when a buyer has been secured,” says Carl Ekroth of Douglas Elliman in New York City.
Bedrooms are one of the most important selling features of a home, notes Mark Abdel, a real estate professional with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Minneapolis–St. Paul.
So it’s no surprise that homeowners want to move a bed into a space and then slap that label on rooms of almost any size.
“Sellers can usually set and get a higher price the more bedrooms a home has,” Abdel says. But getting creative with your habitable space and trying to wedge a standard bed or twin into too few square feet just won’t fly. In fact, there are legal bedroom requirements and minimum bedroom sizes to take into consideration.
What makes a bedroom a bedroom? Six legal bedroom requirements
Legal bedroom requirements vary by state, but here are six ways you can tell if your room is a bedroom rather than just an average “room”:
- Minimum bedroom size: Yup—size and the number of square feet you have matter and not only because you want to fit in a bed, nightstand, and other furniture. This is the top issue, says Shaun Anders of Douglas Elliman. Although sizes can vary from state to state, 70 to 80 square feet in size is generally the acceptable minimum. “Sellers in urban markets such as New York City and Chicago would love rooms of 5 by 7 square feet to qualify as a bedroom, but no go,” says Anders.
- Minimum horizontal footage: The minimum square footage doesn’t tell the whole tale. A bedroom must also measure at least 7 feet in any horizontal direction. That is why you can’t call a 10-foot hallway a bedroom (you’d never fit a bed, mattress, dresser, or other furniture)!
- Two means of egress: There have to be two ways out of a bedroom. Traditionally, these would be a door and a window. Ekroth adds that, in most markets, a skylight would also qualify as that means of egress. You’ll have to leap from your bed to this upper exit, but that’s another discussion.
- Minimum ceiling height: There are more size dimensions to worry about here: At least half of the bedroom ceiling has to be at least 7 feet tall. So you can put a bed in a loft area with less than a 7-foot ceiling if the other section has a higher clearance.
- Minimum window size: The window opening must be a minimum size, usually 5.7 square feet.
- A heating and cooling element: Your “master bedroom” needs these amenities, including a heater (a space heater won’t qualify) as well as a way to cool it down, whether that’s by opening a window or good old AC.
Legal bedroom requirements: Does a room need a closet to be a bedroom?
Have you asked yourself, “Does a bedroom have to have a closet?” Well, according to legal bedroom requirements, a bedroom does not need a closet (or a walk-in) to be considered official (forget the en suite bathroom). Your significant other might disagree, but legally, at least in most states, it does not.
Closets are expected in newer homes and definitely in master bedrooms, but older ones might require a more creative approach to stowing your clothes.
So what can you call a room or space that doesn’t hit these average 7-foot requirements? Based on your state, you could get away with calling it an “office,” “nursery,” or “bonus room.” Because bedroom or not, just about any indication of extra space will make most buyers’ eyes light up.
If your space is short a foot or two, you might consider an interior remodel project to add square feet and fit the bed you want (even a king-size bed or California king). But most homeowners will try to fit a standard full-size bed, twin bed, or queen-size bed, along with a dresser, in the space to accommodate the size average requirements. But don’t let dreams of more square feet in your average room put you off—a quick reno in your home or apartment might be the solution, depending on your budget.
If you’re still not sure what makes a bedroom a bedroom, ask your agent before putting your home on the market. Don’t have one yet? Here’s how to find a real estate agent in your area.