Tales of a Seasoned Broker

The psychologist for the NY Yankees listed his house in Teaneck with me many years ago. During the first week of showings I had a lovely couple which included a husband, on the taller side, come to view the house. When they got to the basement which featured a nice sized playroom plus washer and dryer, the husband could not stand up straight without hitting his head. He turned to his wife on the way up and said “The house is great, but don’t expect me to ever do the laundry!” To which his shorter wife countered “or play with the kids?” They ended up buying the house and put a plan in place so that the kids would spend more time on the first floor and outdoors in order for “Dad” to  watch his kids play. 

Today, builders constructing a new home usually frame the basement ceiling  as close to 8ft high as possible (minimum starting point).  In the early part of the 20th century when many of the homes in our area were constructed, there were no uniform ceiling heights for basements. Some are just over 6 feet and others can be as high as 8.5 feet. This is opposed to the uniformity we see with ceiling heights on the first and second floor which tend to be either 8 or 9 feet with few exceptions. 

I questioned  some local home inspectors, one in particular who loves the historical aspect of the Teaneck area, to comment on first floor ceiling heights and he offered several suggestions. My ears perked up when he said “ quite simply  it’s all about the materials that are available at the time.  The 2×4’s that were used years ago to build the first and second floors came in standard lengths of 8 ft or 9 ft. For a builder to make a first floor ceiling 7.5 ft they would have had to cut each 8 ft long stud down 6” creating much waste and adding significant time in labor. Hence all our ceilings tend to be these standard heights.”

Not so regarding the “lowly” basement ceiling.   The foundation of a home is usually made with one of two materials. Poured concrete or cinder block. The block comes in 8” sections and so each builder could choose how high they wanted their basement to be. 100 years ago people didn’t think of using their basements the way we do today.  It was a storage room of sorts and ceiling heights were not of much importance.  In the latter part of the century, as HVAC technology started improving the comfort of our homes coupled with the concept of home entertainment, most notably the advent of television, people started spending a lot more time inside instead of outside on their front lawns. 

Suddenly, basements all over the northeast were being reclaimed as entertainment spaces. You had TV rooms,  bars with stools and even wooden dance floors installed transforming the former produce storage area into real living space. Those who owned a home where the  basements had really low ceilings were “ out of luck.” As to my buyers with the “tall” husband and “short” wife – they eventually knocked the house down!

Nechama Polak is the Broker of Record and owner of V and N Group LLC located at 1401 Palisade Ave in Teaneck. nechamapolak@gmail.com 201 826 8809.