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The Real Estate Adviser

Pros and cons of detached garages

Dear Steve:
What are the pros and cons of a house with a detached garage? I am inclined toward buying a house of this kind, so your advice will help me to finalize the deal.

Dear Sangram:
Let's start with the most obvious issue -- protection from the elements. Certainly an attached garage is a nice luxury when it's pounding rain or subzero, especially if you've just crawled out of a warm bed. A detached garage also gets much colder or warmer than its attached counterpart, because it's not shielded from the wind and won't benefit from the heating or air conditioning that's probably leeching into it from your living quarters.

But an attached garage also can be a household energy drain, especially if there's minimal insulation between the home and the garage, and if family members have a bad habit of leaving interior and exterior doors open to the garage.

There are also security and safety considerations. If you're harboring expensive cars or anything else of real value in a detached garage, you'll probably need a separate security system for it. (You might also want your home inspector to make sure the electrical system in that garage is up to code before you buy. In older detached garages, it often is not.)

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People with physical limitations also find an attached garage far more convenient and accessible.

As for the bottom line, a detached garage may be the standard in an older neighborhood, but in a newer part of town it could easily hurt a home's resale value, because the place may fall short of buyer expectations.

From a cost perspective, detached garages are usually easier to expand in the event you should purchase a mini-van to go with those two SUVs. However, attached garages are easier to convert to air-conditioned living space by extending the house's existing venting systems (assuming code will allow).

There are also potential health issues. The American Lung Association advocates detached garages to protect occupants from breathing carbon monoxide, gas and oil fumes, stored pesticides, etc. And as far as your mental health is concerned, where would you prefer your kid's rock band practice -- in an attached or detached garage?

In some homeowner insurance policies, a detached garage may cost more to insure. In California, for example, some earthquake policies don't cover detached garages or other buildings that aren't part of the main structure. A stand-alone garage can also limit your options for the rest of the property, because it may be occupying a central spot where you'd rather have a swimming pool or veggie garden. That's particularly true for detached garages located on narrower lots.

Aesthetically, however, some people don't like the looks of a home that is dominated by a yawning two-car garage that faces the street. (Once alleys started disappearing from new-home site plans, this style became all too common.)

If you run a business from your home, a detached garage converted for the exclusive use of an office or distribution facility can be an easier sell to the IRS as your principal place of business.

As you can see, Sangram, it's a relative call, detachedly speaking.

-- Posted: June 19, 2004

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