When Is a Bedroom Not a Bedroom?

bruce dumonceau house
bruce dumonceau house

There are a few homeowners who have turned a room in the basement into a bedroom, or an unused office into a bedroom. Maybe even a sitting room into a bedroom. But what do you do when you buy a house and you have what looks like a bedroom, complete with closet and windows, on the upper level of your home, but find out a few years later when you are getting ready to sell that it was not a bedroom after all?

Well, if you're Bruce Dumonceau of Mooresville, N.C., you file a complaint with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission for unfair marketing. Dumonceau, a former New York City police officer who became a real estate agent in North Carolina, went to put his own four-bedroom brick home -- um, scratch that ... his three-bedroom home -- on the market only to discover that one of the rooms that one of his children used to sleep in was really just a bonus room.

"The original owners had signed an addendum [with the builder] which deleted bedroom four and turned it into a bonus," Dumonceau told CBS affilliate WBTV. That didn't keep him from paying taxes on a four-bedroom, though.

"Everyone else played the game and got away with it, but I cannot live with that," said Dumonceau, an agent for Keller Williams, in speaking to AOL Real Estate. "I cannot change my ethics." He also has some advice about ending up in the same predicament.

But first, here are the details of how Dumonceau believes he ended up losing a bedroom. He said that the builder, M/I Homes, had applied for and received septic permits for various lots. This lot was approved for a septic system for a three-bedroom home in 1994. When the first owners came along in 1995 and picked out their lot, and then the style of home they wanted -- a four-bedroom -- the two didn't match up.

So rather than re-apply for a new permit, which could slow up the process, Dumonceau says that M/I Homes "was covering its tracks" by simply writing up an addendum to the contract that called this 10-by-13 room with windows and a closet a "bonus room." The house down the street, the same model home, with the same floor plan has, officially, four bedrooms. Its building plans even say four bedrooms.

Now an empty-nester, Dumonceau discovered the error when he started looking through paperwork to list the house so that he and his wife could downsize. "At the end of the day, I was left holding the bag," he tells AOL Real Estate. But he didn't want to pass this on to the next owner, so he decided to foot the bill for a $3,000 expansion of the septic line. However, by time it was done, he had spent about $10,000.

See the Bedroom That Wasn't a Bedroom:
"They had to build a 3-foot-wide trench to create the septic line. The backhoe made a 30-foot path of destruction. New irrigation zones had to be put in." This week he is laying new sod because the backyard is just a bunch of dirt, he said.

So why is Dumonceau filing a complaint with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission against the listing agency, Allen Tate? He believes they should have double-checked the paperwork before listing the home and should have properly marketed it as a three-bedroom.

The agency's email response to WBTV: "We neither intentionally, nor negligently misled anyone and at all relevant times we complied with the then existing standards of conduct."

Now the home on Sunrise Circle is officially a four-bedroom home and is listed for $549,000 [see the slideshow above], about $40,000 more than what he could have listed it for as a three-bedroom, he said.

To prevent something like this happening to you at the last minute, Dumonceau suggests:

1. Contact your local Environmental Health Department to get a copy of your septic permit.

2. Check with the city for a copy of all building permits to see what work has been done. The city should also have a copy of the floor plan on file.

3. Check with your local real estate commission to see if there have been any complaints made against your real estate agent.

He says, you don't want to find out about problems when you are getting ready to move, especially for a relocation, because getting things fixed and in order could easily take two months.

More about real estate pitfalls:
Photoshopped Listings Can Make for Not-So-Real Estate
Buying a 'Bad' Home: What to Know in Case you Buy a House of Horrors