Tips for basement walk-in units? Best things to look for?

Arlington, VA
Level 1

I'm currently house hunting, and given the giant mortgage payments and higher interest rates looking for ways to rent out. However, I wanted to make sure I end up with something that will actually rent and not get horrible reviews. I'm also assuming the cap on these is pretty limited.


Some questions:


1. What minimum square footage would you say generally works for a single unit? (room, small bathroom, maybe tiny kitchenette)?

2. Has anyone split a larger basement into 2 rooms + 1 bath? If so how much space would you want for that?

3. Minimum ceiling height?

4. External entrances are obviously key here. Some look great, but others I've noticed get stuck where the back of the unit is facing an alley and may be an uglier/sketchier approach for the visitor

5. Things you've done to add more light? Always worried these will be extremely dim/etc

6. Tips on smaller furnishings for basements to maximize space and make it feel nice?

7. Can I get away with painted concrete floors + a rug? Worth it to add vinyl flooring instead?


Mostly just debating what the minimum is to put in here. Don't want to dump $30,000 into a basement just to return $1300 a month rent you know? Also want to make sure if I buy a primary home that the basement is sufficient to rent at all and I don't end up with something that is unusable.


A split level SFH/ranch would probably work better with more light, but I don't think I'll be able to afford anything like that in my price range in a HCOL unless I go quite a ways away from the city.

3 Replies

Re: Tips for basement walk-in units? Best things to look for?

Swannanoa, NC
Level 10

@Neil573   First, familiarize yourself with the zoning and building rules in VA and in the township you are househunting in.  As a former VA resident, many areas will not permit basement accommodations, and those that do may not permit them to be completely separate from the upstairs.


Basements may not be able to have a full kitchen.  You can get running water, but you cannot install a stove/oven.  You may be able to have a convection microwave or a hot plate.  IKEA has some really well-thought out tiny kitchens on display.


Bedrooms have to have closets and egress windows.  If you own the house and choose to sleep in the basement, fine, but you cannot rent that space as a bedroom without a full sized egress window.  


The zoning department will be more than willing to tell you what you can and can't have, and what permits you need for the conversion.  Much of that information is also online.


P.S. If you find a property that is already converted, be sure to request and verify that the work was permitted BEFORE you put down your hard earned cash.

Re: Tips for basement walk-in units? Best things to look for?

Lusby, MD
Level 10

Excellent advice from @Lorna170 

I live in Md and when I purchased my home over a year ago, I wasn’t thinking of renting it out; but once I got settled in and started thinking of retirement, I decided to do so.


My basement is open but was already finished with a full bathroom. All I did was add a kitchen and a closet. My basement unit is large (815 SF) but I think a space of 400 SF with a kitchenette will work just fine for max 2 guests for short-term stays. If you’re looking for long-term, I think a galley kitchen vs a kitchenette would be more practical.  


So, I’ll just say what I like about my space as a rental unit and things you should consider when house hunting with a future renter in mind. 

*Open so unit feels spacious, not cramped


*Plenty of natural light coming in 


*At least 7’ ft ceiling height


*I don’t regret adding a full kitchen. I personally did not want an oven so didn’t have one installed. 

*Where I live gets really dark at night so I installed both path and motion lights (all solar)

*I like bigger furniture, which is more comfortable and I don’t want a guest afraid that they may break it. 

*Walk-in level entrance. No stairs. 


*Make sure there is good cable and WiFi reception in basement. 

Good luck to you on house hunting. 

Re: Tips for basement walk-in units? Best things to look for?

Level 2

Hi! We have a large house with a finished basement. We decided to go with waterproof vinyl plank flooring instead of finishing the concrete because it looks warm and inviting and feels better to bare feet (coming in from the pool). That was our most expensive item for our diy renovation. We got most of our items used to save a considerable amount of money (cabinets, windows, furniture). I highly recommend the Habitat for Humanity Restore, if they have them in your area. To make the space brighter, we added a solatube skylight in the stairwell (we have a locked door at the top and display plants on the steps). I also painted all the walls white. We did not put in an oven or stove or even a hot plate, because the location of the plumbing for the kitchen puts it far from the front where there are windows for ventilation. Definitely consider where your kitchen can go and how close to existing ventilation it is. I wish you many years of having your rental pay your mortgage! Or at least your property taxes!

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