Do you need a closet to be considered a bedroom? That’s a big question and the answer is simple. Actually, it’s not. Here are some things to consider.
NOTE: This post does not address the requirements to be a bedroom. Here is a post I wrote about the four requirements to be a bedroom (over 300 comments).
Real estate folklore: In the real estate community I often hear things like, “Closets are definitely required.” But here’s the thing. Is there really support for that claim? Or is it just real estate folklore passed down?
No closet rule: The truth is there isn’t any formal one-size-fits-all definition of a bedroom that states a closet is necessary. For reference, International Residential Code does NOT mandate a bedroom to have a closet. I find local code is sometimes vague about bedrooms too without a strong emphasis on mandatory closets.
The big issue (the market): Ultimately a bedroom should probably have a closet because that’s what buyers typically expect. In other words, buyers expect for closets to be present, new homes are built with closets, and it’s hands-down normal to have closets. So while a closet might not technically be required by code, the market likely requires one. Frankly when there is not a closet that’s sometimes a clue we are looking at something else – a den, office, bonus room, etc… In this regard I get it when appraisers and the real estate community sometimes look at a home and state a room is not a bedroom if there is no closet.
Architecture: It’s possible some types of architecture might not have closets, but that doesn’t mean the home has zero bedrooms, right? Thus it’s important to concede not every type of architecture fits into a neat little “every bedroom needs a closet” box.
Using logic: If I removed all the closets in my house, would that mean I didn’t have any bedrooms? Probably not. Sometimes we get so fixated on the closet issue that we’re not using logic. Look, it would be strange and probably a marketing or value mistake to not have closets, but I wouldn’t say a house had zero bedrooms because all the closets were removed.
Using good professional judgement: The other day I measured a house that’s going to hit the market and the front room didn’t have a closet. It technically met the requirements to be a bedroom in terms of size and egress, but I didn’t label it as a bedroom on my sketch because it felt more like an office or den. Having French doors and no closet just made it feel more like something else instead of a bedroom. I would bet money most buyers would walk through the house and say, “That’s a killer office.” In short, this shows there is a place for subjective professional judgement where we have to consider how a space feels, local code, and how buyers might perceive an area. That might sound wishy-washy, but good professional experience and judgement matter.
Local code: A few weeks ago I visited a house that had a room with a closet that looked like it should be a bedroom, BUT there was one glaring problem. In this room there was a tiny window not large enough for egress. If you didn’t know, a bedroom needs to have an opening of at least 5.7 sq ft per IRC R310.1. Ultimately this room used to be a bedroom until the previous owner did an awkward addition on the back of the house that removed the original window. The owner then added a tiny window to try to technically meet the requirements for egress. In my professional opinion and based on knowing enough about local code, I did not consider this area as a bedroom even though it had a closet. Thus the presence of a closet was not the trump card for the situation because there were other issues to also consider. By the way, this is not to say all types of architecture need a typical window with an opening that conforms to current code because mid-century modern homes don’t always have that (they sometimes have high windows along the ceiling only).
What if I add a closet? Sometimes I get asked things like, “If I add a closet to this space, will it become a bedroom?” Honestly, it’s impossible to answer without really seeing the space and of course thinking critically about code and how the market would perceive the area.
Logic and value adjustments: It’s tempting to give a token value adjustment for bedroom count differences. Maybe we heard it somewhere or learned from a “mentor” the value adjustment should be $10,000 for each bedroom. So we give this adjustment any time we see a bedroom difference. But does this amount really make sense if we are talking about 2 vs 3 bedrooms and 5 vs 6 bedrooms? Don’t you think the value variance could be huge for 2 vs 3 bedrooms but maybe minimal at best for 5 vs 6 bedrooms? Regarding closets, imagine it would cost $1,500 to add a closet to a room, but you are giving a downward $10,000 adjustment because one room is not technically a bedroom due to no closet being present. Are you telling me the market is adjusting down by $10,000 when there is only a $1,500 cost to actually add a closet? Food for thought.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Instead of embracing a “closets are always needed” belief system, it’s a good idea to back up and think about buyer expectations, architecture, and local code. Honestly, it would be easy if there was a one-size-fits-all closet rule, but then again that rule could never make sense for all situations and types of homes.
I hope this was helpful.
Questions: What were you taught about closets? Any other points to add? What did I miss? I’d love to hear your take.