The garage is like the coleslaw at a backyard barbecue. It’s nice to have, but easy to overlook.
Yet this neglected, unappreciated space works hard for your family and can bolster your home’s value. Your garage could also be sabotaging your finances in ways you might not expect, even if you’re not looking to move. Here are some reasons you should pay attention to your garage.
Nearly one in four Americans say their garage is so unorganized, it can’t even fit one car, according to a 2015 survey for Gladiator GarageWorks, which sells storage systems. One-third of the homeowners said they didn’t even know what was stored in there. Messy mountains of stuff are a major turn-off for potential buyers. A damp, unheated garage isn’t exactly ideal for storing your possessions either.
The one thing that is perfectly suited for a garage is… surprise! …a car. Cars typically last longer and look better when they’ve been parked in the garage instead of the driveway. Prolonged exposure to the sun, hailstorms, acidic bird droppings and tree sap can harm the finish, according to Garage Living, which specializes in garage renovations. Extreme heat can cause the hoses and seals in the engine to dry out. (One exception: Car enthusiasts in cold climates warn that road-salt residue could damage the finish if the car is stored in a garage.) And if you do manage to jam your car in there somehow, falling junk or debris can leave big, expensive dents.
Aerial view of the Barrington Hills home and garage, listed for $2.65 million.
2. Pests and vermin love it.
What makes a garage so inviting to creepy-crawly critters? Garbage cans offer ready food, and outdoor supplies like birdseed, flower bulbs and grass seed encourage post-meal snacking. Cardboard boxes and newspapers provide nesting materials, and damp areas attract insects.
Even spiffy showcase garages with valuable cars inside may have large gaps around the doors that invite pests.
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“In terms of pests, the garage is generally the weakest point,” says real-estate agent Peter Zaidan, Scottsdale-based owner of Homes4CarGuys, a part of BVO Luxury Group at Keller Williams Arizona Realty. “We have a lot of scorpions and spiders here. When we exterminate, we’re typically exterminating the garage.”
To keep critters out, make sure the door’s rubber gasket and weatherproofing are intact. Store food in lidded plastic bins and regularly wash garbage and recycling cans. Seal cracks in the floor and walls, which will also improve energy efficiency. An exterminator can treat for termites, carpenter bees and other destructive pests.
3. It’s an easy target for thieves.
Almost 2.5 million home burglaries were reported in 2017, according to Department of Justice crime data. Doors and windows are the most common entry points, but the garage is also commonly used to gain access.
Entry may be as simple as lifting up the garage door, or pressing the remote door-opener clipped to the car’s visor.
Secure tools and lawn equipment in cabinets, when possible. Lock the car, as well as the door from the garage into the house. For those with a keypad mounted outside the garage, change the pass code regularly—thieves can see which numbers are worn with use. Carry your remote door opener on your keyfob instead of clipping it to your visor.
4. It’s an energy sucker.
Many garages are drafty because they lack adequate insulation and weatherproofing. To lower utility bills, insulate the walls, ceiling, doors and windows with a product that has a high R-value, which indicates its resistance to heat flow. Caulk or seal cracks and gaps. LED lights can also trim electricity costs. Most important, keep the garage door closed when not in use and ensure your car is off.
5. It can be dangerous.
Each year, 6,600 residential garage fires cause roughly 30 deaths, 400 injuries and $457 million in property loss, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. It recommends keeping flammable materials in a shed that’s not attached to your house. The entry from the garage into the house should have a fire-rated door that is self-closing and self-latching. Gypsum-board ceilings and walls can inhibit the spread of fire, as can a hatch cover if there’s access to the attic. Install heat and smoke alarms, and maintain electrical wiring and breakers.
Top Selling Point
What do buyers say is more important than an updated kitchen, a large backyard or an open floorplan? A garage, a recent survey found.
Over 1,000 people who said they were planning to buy a home in the next 12 months were asked to pick the top three features they wanted in their next home. Taking the top spot was the garage, cited by 28.2% of the respondents, according to Realtor.com, which released the survey in March. (News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, also operates Realtor.com under license from the National Association of Realtors.)
Affluent homeowners are particularly fond of garages, and the bigger the better. Census survey data released last year found that 68.2% of new homes larger than 5,000 square feet had space for three or more cars.
“On the luxury side of things, people have a second, third or fourth house, often with an exotic car in the garage just for the weekend,” says Michael LaFido, an agent with @properties in metro Chicago.
Some of his home buyers want extra elbow room in their garages for hobbies and hanging out, Mr. LaFido says, but very few convert them into full-time living spaces. (In fact, garage conversions can lower property values in some cases, he notes.)
Garages are so important to buyers that he “stages” them for his listings. “We’ll bring in vehicles—Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Range Rovers,” Mr. LaFido says. “I particularly like Range Rovers because they appeal to soccer moms.”
Write to Beth DeCarbo at email@example.com
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