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A Discussion on The Master Ensuite: Where to Invest Your Money

Cathy and Bruce sit down to discuss how to best spend – and save - your money throughout the renovation of your master ensuite.

Cathy Borden is the managing partner of Forest Hill Yorkville

Bruce Borden is the owner of Walden Homes


Bruce: One of the top three on the wish list to renovate is always the master ensuite. Cathy, as a realtor, how important is a master ensuite in a luxury home?

Cathy:        As a realtor I have to keep in mind that the buyer is the one who’s going to be inhabiting the master bedroom and ensuite, so looking at it from a realty perspective, pleasing the buyer is first and foremost on my list. This is the reason why many people say that the most important rooms in the house are the kitchen and the master bedroom. The family needs to feel comfortable in the kitchen and if there is not enough space for them, then the master ensuite is often next on the list.

Most people can live with having smaller bedrooms for their kids, or an unfinished basement they’re going to finish in the future, but if they’re feeling good in the room where they go to sleep at night, that is generally primary. I think that the master ensuite is a big component in that. 

Bruce: What about the space? What if we need more space for a master bathroom? Does it make sense to take away from an existing closet, or to reduce the size of another room, or even the size of the master bedroom itself to make room for the master ensuite?  If you’re going to have all the items a luxury bathroom does, you definitely need the space.                        

Cathy:        Well closets are also important to buyers, so I wouldn’t eliminate too many closets, or if you have to eliminate closets, then provide room for them somewhere else. For example, if you have to take out a master bedroom closet, then it’s also important to consider putting a wall of built-in’s or something to take the place of the closet that’s now been taken out.

What are the Most Important Features in a Master Ensuite?

Bruce:        What are the most important features for a master ensuite? Two sinks and a separate walk-in shower seem to be pretty key. Does there need to be a bathtub and should it be a built-in tub, or stand-alone tub?

Cathy:        Well it really depends on the space. The most important thing is having a shower, in my opinion. Double sinks are ideal, but not overly necessary. You can still have a lovely master ensuite with just one sink. Also, placement is always very important. Few people realize how key toilet placement is. For example, when it comes to selling a buyer a house with a master ensuite, ideally the toilet isn’t the first feature that catches the eye. It’s important to have other features pop. Features like a tub, or stunning counters and faucets are important. People want to envision almost a romanticized version of a bathroom.

A large tub could potentially mean romantic baths or luxurious alone time. Two sinks can mean you and your partner each have your own space and can groom at the same time, or it could mean that the ensuite is big enough to enjoy and spread out. The toilet actually has little to do with the ensuite and obviously adds nothing to the luxury quality that we are trying to showcase. 

Bruce:        In more elaborate homes, luxury is key. We find that items like heated floors and steam showers are two items that are commonly requested. Natural light, good ventilation, storage and counter space are always important features as well.

Cathy:        Definitely!

Bruce:        Storage has to be there. This includes a medicine cabinet that allows for the storage of towels, and other amenities.                              

Cathy:        Absolutely. It’s about finding the perfect mix. Also, to answer your question about the bathtub, whether it needs to be separate or not. It really depends. It is definitely fine to have a combined bath and shower if that’s all your space allows for. Many people do like the separate tub feature though. When I go out with buyers, it’s so surprising how many people look for the separate tub. It’s almost as if they have been living without a tub completely!

I had one client and that was all she looked for. She had two kids, crossed into every house just to see if there was a bathtub in the master, and that would have been the only reason she bought that house. It really depends on the buyer. Tub or not, it seems like the master ensuite holds a very important place in everyone’s heart.

Bruce:        Looking at our home, when we renovated, having a walk-in shower would have been the main thing that you wanted. A tub probably would have been secondary unless there’s no other tub in the house, but let’s assume that there is another tub other than the master ensuite, a tub would have been secondary.     

Cathy:        You mean the shower would be the…primary?  Yes, I agree.

Bruce:        Exactly.                                                                     

Cathy:        Yes, the tub is definitely a bonus, but when you’re selling a house, and when you’re preparing your house to sell, you want to have a very special feature in every room. You have to be creative. You want people to walk into every room and say something like, “wow these windows are amazing,” or notice the doorknobs and hardwood floor.

Bruce:        In the bathroom, it’s a little different.

Cathy:        In the bathroom, the most captivating thing is the tub. That’s what they’re going to look at. They’re going to look at the bathtub. 

Bruce:        Tubs are a great feature and I suppose a well-designed vanity is as well.

Cathy:        A vanity and shower are pretty essential. The extra wow factor comes from the tub, but it’s also a matter of improving your home over the others on your street. For example, suppose no one has a master ensuite on your street. Well, right away, you’ve improved your house in comparison to the other houses on the street. If all you can accommodate is a shower, then that might be enough for the wow factor, but if you live in an area where everyone’s got a master ensuite, you have to go that extra little bit to make yours stand out, and your house special to ensure people will walk in and say wow.                                                                          

Bruce:        That’s true.

Cathy:       You could go downtown, to the Annex, and you’ll notice that fewer homes have a master bathroom, there’s just one bathroom on the second floor, and the whole family uses it. If your house is going to be the house that has the master, then it might be enough that it has double sinks, a beautiful shower, and that it’s a very inviting space.

Bruce:        Unless you’re adding space to make it stand out even more.

Cathy:        You’re going to add space and create a really outstanding bathroom.

Master Ensuite: Useful Or Novel?

Bruce:        The question is then where to spend your renovation money? Are you going to fix your kitchen, are you going to add a family room, or are you going to spend money on improving or adding an ensuite? These tend to be the three main areas that kind of drive a lot of renovations. A renovation to a master ensuite could be $25,000 to $40,000 dollars.  If a client is going to be living in a home for a number of years, I think the ensuite renovation would be pretty high up on the priority list.

Cathy:        I think it’s pretty high. Even if you’re just going to live there five years you do it for your own enjoyment as well as for resale, but it’s definitely a plus when you’re going to resell your house. It’s an important feature people look for.

Many listings are now promoted with videos or virtual tours, and photos, and when people are looking through on the Internet or, whatever website they’ve looked through; they’re definitely looking to see the kitchen, the master ensuite, and the master bedroom. 

Those are the things that are always included. You’re only allowed to put eight pictures on MLS, so when we put those eight pictures, we always put a picture of the front of the house, the back of the house, the master bedroom, the master ensuite, the kitchen, and if there’s a family room. There’s never a time that you would omit the master or the master ensuite because that’s what the buyer’s looking for.                                       

Bruce:        That makes a lot of sense; it’s a room that gets used probably more than any other room. It sounds like it makes a lot of sense to go ahead, update, and renovate the master ensuite as part of the overall thinking of how to improve a house. 

Cathy:        Yeah, for sure. I have clients now who tell me that they live in a 6,000 square foot condo, and that they only use two rooms in the whole house, the kitchen, and the master and the master ensuite. Empty nester’s or young couples are good examples of that.

Bruce:        I know any time I’ve walked anyone through our house; the biggest impression seems to be when you go into the master ensuite. It always brings out, “wow, we’d love to have something like that” with people. It’s not that our bathroom is so spectacular; it’s just that, it has all the necessary components. It’s done in a nice way. It has a lot of natural light, and incorporates a lot of the design elements that you see today. I think the master ensuite ranks right up there in terms of importance and creating interest in making a home really livable.

The Extras: Showers and Mirrors

Bruce:        We talked about the importance of a double tub and how that may attract some people, but what about the shower?

Cathy:        The shower is really stepping up a notch in homes when it comes to luxury. Some people are even putting steam components in their shower. Imagine coming home from a workout and enjoying a steam. It’s the height of luxury. It’s incredibly novel for people to be able to do this in their own homes. I’ve even seen saunas as well!

Bruce:        A body spray in the shower, multiple rain heads, benches for sitting and relaxing. These types of features are very desirable.

Cathy:        Some people go in the showers and they bathe their younger kids too. A couple can go into together and enjoy a shower, or if you have a double tub you can enjoy a beautiful bubble bath at the end of the day. 

Bruce:        Building a bathroom that’s functional, practical, well lit, easy to maintain, has good storage, and adding then the other elements, such as luxurious steam shower. Even if you only use the luxurious elements from time to time, they still seem to be important and a big priority for many people.

Cathy:        Yes. Some people don’t use these things at all; they just like the idea of them. For example, you meet with your contractor, and say we’ve always wanted to have a double tub, and then, the reality may be you only take a bath together once, but the whole idea of it being there, and that option being there is what you’re looking for. It’s romantic and keeps possibilities open. 

Bruce:        What do you think about mirrors?  

Cathy:        Well, a lot of people don’t consider mirrors they’re renovating, but I think buyers look for it. Well-positioned mirrors in the bathroom are important because it’s where you do your make-up or your hair. It’s where you get ready for your day or night. People are looking for good lighting like you said before which is really important, and then, well positioned mirrors so you can see the back of your head, and blow dry your hair, or put your make-up on.

Mirrors add more than just decorations and you can be creative with them. They don’t have to be just mirrors that are stuck to a wall. It is a useful feature that you can play with and one that can, make your bathroom even more beautiful. The mirrors can also add space as they give the illusion that the room’s bigger than it is.

Bruce:        They’re not really that costly. When you look at the overall costs, you can make a room feel much bigger, and using the right combination of lighting and mirror really does, make it functional from a man’s point of view for shaving, and from a woman’s for putting on make-up and getting ready.  So, yes I agree, that’s a great idea. 

If you have any more questions for Bruce and Cathy on renovation your mater ensuite, please feel free to ask away below!