What defines a bedroom is a common topic of debate among those who write real estate marketing descriptions and those who read them.

According to the multiple listing service the fundamental difference between a bedroom and den is a built-in closet. To be labeled a bedroom, the room must have a built-in closet but not necessarily an outside window. Regardless of whether it has a window or not, the closet is what defines a bedroom, whereas a den can simply be a room without a closet or window.

But according to the BC building code, a bedroom is not required to have a built-in closet. But it must have a window and closing door. Neither source defines a minimum size per room type, but one would assume a bedroom would be big enough to house a bed. Or would they? Remember the Vancouver Olympic Village “bedrooms that are too small to fit a bed” scandal detailed in this Globe & Mail article?

By dictionary definition a den is a room, but the term “den” in real estate descriptions is often used much more broadly. You may see the term “open den” which typically (but not always) refers to a three walled nook or alcove. Some will post open dens to mean a den that has been converted—for example, a trend right now is the dining room to home office conversion, defined by built-in cabinets or furniture. These they may not meet the three wall criteria.
To further confuse things, the Real Estate Board does not have a searchable category for “dens”. There is no straight forward way to include “1 bedroom plus den” in your search criteria. This results in many realtors filling out the listing forms intentionally listing a den as a bedroom so their posting will not be overlooked by buyers in need of an extra room. Many buyers searching for 2 bedrooms could do just fine if they had a room without a closet and would want to search 2 bedroom and 1 bedrooms with dens.

I recently received an angry phone call from a potential buyer because I had a 2 bedroom unit listed for sale and the second bedroom was set up like an office. I had advised the seller they should stage the office to show as a bedroom, but being a person who works exclusively from home it was something they were not willing to do. Without a bed in the bedroom it’s hard for buyers to see if it will fit a bed, and this particular angry caller didn’t believe a bed would fit.

Not true, of course. Anyone could use a tape measure and see an 11 x 9 room could easily accommodate a double or queen bed—and the bedroom in question had a window and built-in closet. But the caller’s perception was no bed, no bedroom.

Now add to this the recent trend with junior bedrooms and it’s no surprise why the concept of bedrooms and dens are confusing to even seasoned home buyers.