A home with a legal basement apartment is absolutely one of the soundest investments you can make in the Guelph real estate market. First and foremost, it’s crucial to find a Realtor who is well versed in this area. A Realtor who knows the in’s and out’s of the Guelph City Bylaws, is somewhat familiar with construction trades and techniques, and understands the overall value that can be added by making this kind of improvement to a home is the best kind of friend you can have in this situation.
Now to be clear, merely having a space in the basement that’s being used as an accessory apartment or that “meets all the requirements”, as we often hear sellers say, is not the same as having the apartment officially registered with the City of Guelph. Having the apartment officially registered with the city not only adds significant value to the home, it also allows most lenders the ability to use the apartments rental income towards mortgage qualification for potential buyers that may have otherwise not been able afford the home.
So, let’s assume you’re considering purchasing a home with the intent to install an accessory apartment and you’d like to find out whether or not it can be done. Where should you start?
The first step would be to check out the zoning, not just for the area, but for that particular property. It may sound odd, however some areas of the city allow for a basement apartment, while others areas of the city that would appear to be designated for the exact same uses do not. This is because the municipality determines if the local infrastructure can support the load of extra people living in the area. Utilities, roads, parking, schools and many other things are impacted by the addition of tenants that may not have been accounted for in the original city plan. The plan gets amended often and may now allow for basement apartments where originally it did not. The home could also be in an area of the city designated as a “flood fringe” and when the water table rises, basements tend to flood, therefore the city does not allow accessory apartments in that particular zone for obvious reasons. Many changes have been made in recent years to legislation so it’s important to always check the zoning of each particular property first before deciding whether or not the home is a good candidate for your basement apartment install.
Many homeowners incorrectly assume they can build whatever they wish inside the walls of their home, but this is simply not the case. There are several reasons for this, but consider just installing a simple wall and a door to divide the basement in half. Running a wall down the middle of your basement completely changes the entire makeup of that space. The airflow is now divided and the heating may not be adequate for those two divided areas. Also, the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors may not protect those two areas correctly anymore. The building permit is required to ensure that regular inspections are made during the construction process and proper building codes are met as the work is completed. Permits are required to protect yourself, the occupants, and any future purchasers of your home from potential fire hazards or even death from unsafe building practices. Purchasing a home that’s had work performed without any permits, especially electrical or structural work, can be extremely risky and even dangerous.
All basement apartments require emergency exits. This includes specific sizes for windows and doors. There must be at least two exits to the outside, and the fire marshall may require each bedroom to have an egress window. Walls need to meet fire standards, and depending on what they are separating, must be rated for certain fire resistance levels. Electrical systems must meet certain standards and may even require an inspection and certificate from the Electrical Safety Authority before any registration or work permit is given. Some basements built many years ago may have complied with the building code back in those days, but now they may not. Needless to say, there are many things required by the Ontario Building Code for a legal basement apartment to be successfully installed and the closer you come to finding a property that meets all of these requirements before starting any of the work, the better – unless you’re getting the home for a heck of a deal and are willing to make the necessary changes yourself.
Good contractors are well versed in the building code and can advise you on the layout of the rooms as well as give you great ideas you may not have thought of on your own. They can save you money by steering the project in the right direction and by being able to plan ahead for unforeseen issues that may arise. Finding a good contractor can be difficult but many Realtors work closely with a solid network of trusted professionals and may know just the right guy or gal that would be perfect for your specific project.
Adding an accessory apartment to a home can add tremendous value and working closely with a Realtor that has experience in valuing these kinds of properties will be key in making sure you know you are buying the property at the right price and that you have a good idea what it will be worth with all of the renovations completed. Your realtor can also help you make sure you not only spend within your budget, but that you invest your money wisely in the right kind of upgrades and features that will give you the most bang for your buck with resale value and rent-ability with tenants.
Lastly, Realtors often come across homes that the sellers wish to sell quietly and not necessarily post on MLS or have a big for sale sign on the lawn for all to see. Some of the best buys in Guelph are those that never even hit the market, and working with a professional Realtor that is truly connected with the Guelph investment market can drastically increase your chances of finding a near-perfect platform to begin with that meets all of your criteria that you didn’t have to win in competition against other buyers.
In summary, this kind of project has proven quite profitable for many Guelph investors over the years and if you’re unsure about what you’re next step needs to be in order to get started, all you have to do is ask!