Real Estate 101a - What is a 'Bedroom?'

Real Estate Agent with Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC

Welcome!  This is a series of articles that I've cooked up to describe the basic terms that appear in Real Estate transactions. 

Recently, I had new 'first time' buyers that I took out on a tour to show properties... and I realized that most of the common terms that we take for granted are... well, unclear to most first time buyers!

Disclaimer: All of the stuff that follows is according to Washington State Real Estate law, rules, and practices and etc.  Other states may have their own interpretation of this and similar terms.  Right?  Right.

So for this installment of Real Estate 101: What, exactly, is a 'bedroom?'

The legal definition of a bedroom, for the purposes of Real Estate is simple: it is a room, attached to the main structure of a single-family home, that has two crucial features:

  1. It has a door that can be closed.
  2. It has a closet.

Simple, eh?  Well, not really.  And here's where we get into trouble... and where some Real Estate agents may (intentionally or otherwise) misrepresent a property that they've listed.

What if it's a good-sized room, currently used as a bedroom, but it doesn't have a closet?
Nope.  Per definition, it's not a bedroom.  A bedroom must have a closet.  In this case, it's a 'bonus room' or 'recreation room' or 'sitting room' or 'home office room' or something like that.  But not a bedroom.

What if there's a room with a closet, but somebody removed the door?
That's a bedroom.  Assuming the door can easily be replaced, and someone hasn't knocked out a lot of wallboard and plaster to make the entry wider... to the point where it's unlikely that a door can be re-installed.  This is a gray area.  Many Listing Agents would still call this a 'bedroom.'

What if there's a room with a closet, but it can only be reached from outside the house, meaning a door that opens to the great outdoors?
That's a bedroom.  Weird, eh?  This is attractive to owners who want to rent one or more rooms, but it's still a bedroom.  Hope that there's a bathroom that can be accessed from such a room!

What if there's a room with a closet, but it's in a separate building out in the backyard?
That's not a bedroom.  That's an 'outbuilding' that has a room with a closet.  It's not counted in the 'bedroom count' of the single-family dwelling.

What if somebody converted a closet by removing the door(s), and putting up shelves - to make it like a 'home office' storage space where you could put books and stuff?
That's still a bedroom.  A pickup-truck-visit to Home Depot could turn it back into a Real Closet in an afternoon's time.

What about old 'Victorian Era' homes - where closets were never a consideration?  Where a 'closet' was seperate furniture that you placed in the room to make it a bedroom? 
This is another gray area.  There are many 100-year-old homes that have no closets in any of the rooms - yet 2, 3, 4, or 5 of the rooms were clearly intended to be 'bedrooms.'  But by definition, none of these rooms are 'bedrooms.' 

What about attic space that's been finished... nice floors, walls and ceilings... and a cute little stairway that leads up to it?
Does it include a closet?  If so, that's a bedroom.

What about the same attic space that doesn't have a stairway?  Instead, you have to pull down a ladder to get to it?
Nope - not a bedroom.  That's part of the attic.  Even if it's nicely finished, and has a closet.

Well, there you have it.  Bedrooms are complicated things.  How many bedrooms do you really have in your home?


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Jon Ernest
Spotlight Realty - Brookline, MA
I think while you're living there, and not trying to sell or rent it, you can determine what is a bedroom and what isn't.

How many bedrooms do I have?
If you include the bedroom with the toilet and shower in it, the bedroom with the stove in it, and the bedroom with our dining table in it.... 5 bedrooms total.
Sep 21, 2006 08:24 AM #1
Donna Quanrud
Coldwell Banker Burnet - Eden Prairie, MN
Donna Quanrud Southwest Metro Homes
I just had this discussion at on eof my listing appointments.  I got it right based on your definition.
Sep 21, 2006 08:30 AM #2
Michele Van Detti
CJR - Gilbert, AZ
It is my understanding that having a window is also a qualification.  This may be fire code more than anything else, but any dwelling room has to have 2 ways out in case of fire.
Sep 21, 2006 10:04 AM #3
John Novak
Keller Williams Realty The Marketplace - Las Vegas, NV
Henderson, Las Vegas and Summerlin Real Estate
In the Las Vegas MLS, bedroom is defined as "must have a closet, window, entry door and cannot be used as a corridor'.
Sep 21, 2006 10:41 AM #4
Ex Realtor
Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC - Mount Vernon, WA

What a fun topic!

I just got off the phone with the 'legal advisor' for the Northwest MLS (our area)... and pitched a few of the 'gray area' questions as listed above.

After a long chat: his statement was: "... it varies by the area, city and county of the particular property.  Best idea is to contact the County Tax Assesor: they have the final say as to what is, and what is NOT a bedroom."

He also said: "We take it on a case-by-case basis.  If there is a complaint about an MLS listing, we'll investigate it.  More bedrooms than there should be, and like that.  Recently, there was a 2 bedroom house that was listed as a 4 bedroom house, because the Listing Agent believed that the basement, when finished, could provide 2 additional bedrooms.  We did enforce disciplainary actions against that Listing Agent, because the listing information was clearly wrong."

So... what is a 'bedroom?'  Right now, in Skagit County, Washington... we're not sure.

Sep 21, 2006 11:13 AM #5
Diana Geraghty

I bought a house 4 years ago that was listed and appraised as a 4 bedroom home and I've used it as such.  Now I'm trying to sell my house and am being told by my realtor that the house can not be listed as a 4 bedroom because it is really a 3 bedroom since only 3 rooms have closets.  I see by the comments listed on this site that indeed my house is a 3 bedroom.  My real estate agent and I feel that my house is not as sellable as a 3 bedroom but know that it should be listed as such.  Do I have any recourse for my house being sold to me as a 4 bedroom?

May 02, 2008 01:28 PM #6

Really?  That's my problem too. I bought a 3 which is technically a 2.  We'll just add a small closet in the guest bedroom.





































May 27, 2008 03:36 PM #7
kris b.

my house is 89 years old. the county lists it as a 2 bedroom however the "2nd bedroom" is fairly small and has no closet. my agent has been a bit concerned about this so i put an armoire in it, but another agent who showed it got fairly upset & threatened to report him to the nw mls. i have actually come across quite a few homes in the area that realtors list as 2 bedrooms even when not all the "bedrooms" have closets. it really seems like a double standard or that not all realtors follow the same rules. i just don't particularly understand why it would need a closet. in many older homes across the U.S. and in other countries, bedrooms don't have closets. they have "built-ins" or just use armoires.

Feb 17, 2009 04:08 PM #8

We bought a house listed as the 2nd floor having 3 bedrooms. The same realtor is now saying she has to sell it as a 2 bedroom because there is no closet in one room. what recourse do we have as far as being taxed for the value of 3 bedrooms and also the same realtor telling us this when we want to sell but not when we bought?

Feb 07, 2011 10:27 AM #9

There is no written law saying a room must have a closet in order to be a bedroom. I challange anyone to show me this...

I have done extensive research with New Jersey and my Borough to find that the tax assessor decided, as well as a realtor, to tell me my 3 bedroom is a 2 bedroom. I put them both on the spot to provide me with documentation supporting this. Neither could do so and decided to change my records. THIS IS WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS!! My tax assessor told me it's just a general rule they follow. I'm sorry, but a rule is not a rule if not presented and voted on before the people. My grandmother had an armoire and a dresser. Who are they to tell us we can't list it as a bedroom! My assessor says the house is taxed on square footage, but it was valued higher when I bought it as a 3 bedroom, give me a break!!


Sorry for the level of frustration... My wife and I are upset, not only because of our home, but what about the homes being sold as 2 bedrooms. They miss out on all the searches done for a 3 bedroom.

Mar 27, 2011 01:48 PM #10
Kelly Collins

I have a home where our "master bedroom with an attached bath does not have a closet in it.  Does the attached master bathroom allow this space to be considered a bedroom?

Jun 01, 2012 08:40 AM #11
Worry Homeowner

I bought into a newly development 3bedroom 2.5 bath house in Las vegas , NV, 7 years ago, as a rental property. I am getting ready to list the property to rent, however, the MLS listing shows only 2 bedrooms/2.5 bath. It is definitely a legal 3 bedroom built by a developer-Carina Homes. Our RE agent do not know how to correct the mistake. Looking back to my paperwork, I have a list of all the options that I chose to be included in the home and a copy of a check. And the 3rd bedroom was one of the options I paid for. How do I go about correcting the error and which agency has a recording of how many bedrooms is in the home?

Jul 09, 2014 12:40 AM #12
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA

It is good to know. Yet, it will not stop sellers and their agents call almost any room as a bedroom( dens, basement rooms, etc.). I even saw a balcony that was converted into bedroom without permit, of course. I asked why? Because the price for SqFt is $700+!

Jul 24, 2014 05:09 AM #13

Question: our master bedroom is upstairs and has a half wall/balcony that is about four foot tall and Sheetrock. It has a closet, it's own bathroom, and a door that leads to the attic, but no door on the actual room, since the only way in is up the stairs. Will this be excluded as a "bedroom" ?? Please help. we can't add a door to the stairway. Maybe a half door/ gate type thing.

Jul 24, 2014 10:02 AM #14

I live in a condo that has a full basement. It has a closet and an egress window but the landlord won't count this as a bedroom. Are taxes higher if there are more bedrooms? We currently have 4 people living there but have someone who wants to move in.

Jan 06, 2015 09:20 AM #15
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