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In-law suites: More room for mom and pop

March 5, 2020 • 4 min read

What we'll cover

  • Learn what an in-law suite is

  • Things to consider when shopping around

  • Other ideas to use the extra space for

It's the morning rush before work, and you’re behind schedule. So, you dash into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee wearing just your underwear — and run right into your dad. GULP.

It’s becoming more common for aging parents to move in with their grown children. But what’s been dubbed “multigenerational living” can be complicated to navigate. Not surprisingly, the in-law suite — a private living space attached to or located near your house — is becoming an increasingly popular housing option, especially for millennials who think that, at some point, they will have their parents living with them.

Maybe your mom needs extra assistance, but she’s in a bit of a financial pinch and can’t afford assisted living. Perhaps it’s becoming too much of a nuisance to fly cross-country to check-in on your parents. Could be that your parents want to lend a helping hand with your kids. Or it might be simply because you want your folks closer so you can continue making cherished memories. Regardless of the reason, knowing the right information about in-law suites can give you the confidence needed when deciding whether or not to take this step.

What's an in-law suite? 

An in-law suite is the most common name for a small apartment-like space on the same property as, or even attached to, a single-family home. You might also hear it referred to as a mother-in-law suite, guest house, granny pod, Ohana suite, or secondary suite.

Contrary to your classic 3-bedroom, 2-bath single-family home, these dwellings are separate living spaces that come equipped with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a separate entrance from the primary home. You can find these guest quarters in the basement or attic of a house, above the garage, or — if zoning rules allow — as a secondary building­­ in your very own backyard.

Separate tiny house style structure on a lawn

As the name suggests, those primarily interested in in-law suites are, well, in-laws (yours and your spouse’s). And while a recent survey found that people would prefer a little distance (15 to 45 minutes away, to be exact) between their home and their relatives, these spaces are a way to let your aging family members maintain their independence and live with privacy. But you’re still close enough that you can lend a hand if they need it.

An in-law suite is the most common name for a small apartment-like space on the same property as, or even attached to, a single-family home.

What should you know when considering an in-law suite? 

If you’re interested in this supplementary space, there are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping around.

Their availability: Out of all the houses in a given area, it’s likely only a handful will have existing in-law suites. So, if you’re in the market for a new home, you might have to expand your search or compromise on some of your must-haves in order to land a separate living space.

To ID homes with an in-law suite, you can filter by keywords on real estate websites.

The cost: Because you’re getting additional space (and in some instances, a completely separate building), expect to pay more for a house that comes equipped with an in-law suite. A survey reveals that 33% of buyers would pay nearly $3,000 more for a secondary suite.

If you want a granny pod but your ideal house doesn’t come with one, consider adding one to your existing residence. (Be sure to check your local zoning codes before hiring a contractor or channeling your inner Chip and Joanna Gaines.)

The cost of constructing an in-law suite can range greatly — from $40,000 to $125,000 — depending on whether you put an addition on your home or build a standalone structure in your backyard. A more affordable option is to repurpose your attic, basement, garage, or unused room. In a pinch, you could even purchase an in-law style cabin kit from Amazon (although it doesn’t have climate control or facilities).

With demand for secondary suites increasing, adding one could increase the value of your home if you decide to sell down the road.

Renovating your house may seem like an expensive upfront cost, but having this space can save families some money in the long run (since you could avoid other long-term care expenses, such as a nursing home or flight fares). At Ally Home , we’re here to help your housing dreams come true. If you need an in-law suite, we can help you reach that goal.

Whether you’re building an entirely new space or repurposing an old room, expect your monthly utility bill to be higher.

Other uses: If your parents aren’t at the age yet where they need a little extra help, there are plenty of alternative uses for an Ohana suite:

  • Home office: Today’s workplace environment encourages remote and flexible working, meaning more and more buyers are looking for a dedicated place to work from home.

  • Guest quarters: When out-of-town visitors come around, this is the perfect space to give them a little privacy — while also saving them some money.

  • Au Pair housing: Should you need to provide living space for your childcare provider (whether that be your parents who live an hour away or a student from France), this space is perfect.

  • Rental apartment: Perhaps the most popular alternate option, in-law suites can be a good source of additional income.

  • Entertainment space: Create the ultimate Netflix-and-chill space by turning it into an in-home movie theatre. Or let your children unleash their creative possibilities by using the space as an art studio.

No matter what you dream up for the extra space, an in-law suite can make a useful addition to your single-family house.

In life, things tend to come full circle. Just as your parents cared for you as a child, there could come a time when you need to care for them. If you choose to do this in the comfort of your own home, an in-law suite will give you the additional space you need to do this, while giving everyone the privacy they deserve.

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