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RISMEDIA, June 19, 2007-(MCT)-Those ancient Romans were on to something. Their 27-acre Baths of Caracalla could accommodate 1,600 people at a time and was considered one of the seven wonders of ancient Rome. Now Americans want their own little piece of Caracalla.

Bathrooms are one of the most important rooms in a home from a real estate standpoint. They are, along with kitchens, the most valuable part of a home, and the room most likely to make or break a sale, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Each full bathroom in a home adds about 24% to a home’s value, according to the NAR’s “Value of Housing Characteristics” published in 2005.

“It’s always a plus when each bedroom has its own full bath,” said Courtney Mauro Barker, a real estate agent with the Phyllis Browning Co. “Sometimes you have a four-bedroom house with only two baths and that can be difficult.” Bathrooms, especially master baths, keep getting bigger and more elaborate.

“The entire budget for the master bath has increased 50 percent in the past five years,” said Adam Sanchez, president of Diamante Custom Homes in San Antonio.

The homes Sanchez builds typically cost from $300,000 to well over $1 million. Some of his clients spend $75,000 to $100,000 just on the master bathroom, which could be as big as 500 square feet.

“Some bathrooms are the size of bedrooms, and people are really choosing to turn them into retreats with spa-like elements to them,” said Cathy Teague, a KB Home spokeswoman in San Antonio.

Most buyers want snazzy, oversized showers with dual showerheads, at the least. Showerheads alone can cost as much as $2,000. Many home buyers want showers with water shooting from every angle and will spend as much as $9,000 on showers with 12 or more showerheads, said Tim Powell, owner of Genesis Custom Homes.

“It’s kind of like a car wash,” he said.

Bathtubs aren’t as popular as showers, and some buyers exclude them. But some want grand baths akin to the one where Elizabeth Taylor lounged in the movie “Cleopatra,” with now-common extras such as marble columns and chandeliers hanging above the tub.

One Genesis home still being built has a $7,500 tub featuring lights, jets and a soft headrest with a neck massager. When it’s finished, the tub area will include a waterfall and a solid granite deck.

“In these bigger rooms, they’ve gotten a lot more formal-looking,” Sanchez said. “In the past, you had a vanity light. Now the lighting is getting real expensive in some of them; especially with the big showers, you have to light it properly.” Buyers will spend as much or more for marble and stone flooring and accents in a bathroom as they spend in the kitchen, Powell said.

“The standard countertops are granite now; even on $300,000 and $400,000 homes, they’re dropping the granite in all the bathrooms,” he said.

But marble flooring can be a shock to the piggies on cold mornings, so heated flooring is becoming de rigueur. A subfloor heating system costs $7 to $11 per square foot.

His and her vanities, or double sinks at least, are also common in new homes and upgrades to older homes, Powell said.

They usually include task lighting and, sometimes, personalized touches such as customized tile work or countertops built specifically to a person’s size.

“Rather than being utilitarian in design, vanities are designed to look like pieces of furniture,” Teague said.

Bathrooms are being designed to fit the look and feel of the entire house, she said. For example, the granite in the kitchen should match the granite in the bathroom. The same goes for custom cabinetry.

“The textures of a home’s exterior, people are looking to recreate that in the bathroom,” Teague said. “If the exterior is stone and has a Tuscan feel to it, then families want to put that in their master suite retreat.”

Many bathrooms also feature oversized walk-in closets with dressing rooms and sitting areas, gyms and saunas, or steam rooms for true Roman style.

Some people even want a kitchenette in the bathroom, complete with a coffee bar and small refrigerator.

“We build a lot of fireplaces,” Powell said. “Sometimes they’re double-seated fireplaces, where they are in the bedroom and bath.” The idea behind elaborate and expensive bathrooms is that they’re a place for people to escape and to relax, Sanchez said.

When the owners get up in the morning, they can get coffee, work out, sit around and read the paper, bathe and get dressed, all without leaving their master suite. In the evening, they can lounge in there, reading or watching TV.

“There’s a lot of stress going on in the world, so a lot of it is geared toward relaxation,” Powell said. “It’s more than just a bathroom, it’s a sanctuary.”

Copyright © 2007, San Antonio Express-News
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.