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Everything You Need to Consider Before Building a Mother-in-Law Suite

As our population continues to live longer and seniors are looking to be independent as long as possible, more and more families are looking to the idea of building a mother-in-law suite so that their aging parent or parents can live independently yet be close at hand to family should any issues arise. To add an addition like this, there’s actually a few things to think about first to plan for the renovation. Here is everything you need to consider before building a mother-in-law suite.

What is a mother-in-law suite?

A mother-in-law suite is another way to describe guest quarters in a home. It can be as simple as a bedroom and private bath that has a door giving the suite privacy from the rest of the home, or it could be more elaborate like a small guest house with a kitchenette on the property. Some are additions to an existing home while others are detached suites with a shared courtyard or breezeway. Of course, these “mother-in-law” suites can be used for parents, grandparents, in-laws or anyone who you’re looking to create a dedicated space for. Some people create them in anticipation of someone living with them full-time while others are created out of need when a house becomes too full and more space is needed.

Multi-generational living is on the rise

More and more Americans are keeping it all in the family these days, as multi-generational living—where three or more generations share the same household continues to rise, according to Realtor.com. The number of multi-generational households is growing in the U.S. The Census Bureau says they were up 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, making nearly one in six households a multi-generational household. In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to a recent analysis of Census data by the Pew Research Center. That number continues to grow as we move into 2019.

There are several options to create more space

As you ponder your options to create an in-law suite, here are a few potential areas of your home you could consider renovating to meet your needs:

  1. Convert a garage

  2. Convert a basement

  3. Convert an attic

  4. Convert a sunroom or exterior patio area

  5. Convert a dining room or other unused/underused room

Depending on how large these existing spaces are (or if you even have any of these!) they may serve as an option for converting into a mother-in-law suite in lieu of a new build and may save some money versus creating a new structure altogether, attached or free-standing. If you’re building the space for someone in particular in mind, it might be a good idea to converse with them to see what they need and want, including:

  1. A dedicated kitchen or kitchenette

  2. A dedicated bathroom

  3. A separate entrance

  4. A separate alarm system

Not all existing spaces can accommodate these needs, so it might be a good idea to have that conversation first to avoid issues in the future.

Check with your city zoning laws to find out what is allowable

Many municipalities zone neighborhoods as single-family residential, thereby making additional units illegal unless they are occupied by a member of the family. City planners often discourage the entire concept, as they know that once the apartment is created, it will often evolve into a general rental unit after the original occupant/family member has moved on.

A newer zoning concept is the “accessible dwelling unit,” which encourages increasing the density of certain neighborhoods. This type of zoning allows the creation of a secondary residence even within an area zoned for single-family residences. Neighborhood eligibility is determined by several mitigating factors such as proximity to public transportation.

Consider the financial aspect of adding a mother-in-law suite

Mother-in-law suites present some financial challenges. Because many cities don’t have a lot for comparison (“comps”), it can be harder to get financing for their construction. Be prepared to jump through extra hoops potentially to get the cash for the project. Depending on the scope of the work you plan to do and where you live, in-law suite additions or renovations typically cost anywhere from $10,000 for a converted space to $300,000 or more.

Planning and building a suite are best left to the professionals

Between determining if you can renovate an existing space or have to create a new one, understanding what accommodations you can include in the design, understanding city ordinances and so much more, these renovations are definitely best left to professional renovation specialists who know how to size up an existing living situation, take into account the “must haves” versus the “nice to haves”, design the space from a structural standpoint, and then provide the finishing touches through professional design services. Find a reputable one near you who can work with you to make your vision a reality.

Mother-in-law suites can be a great addition if done correctly. Be sure that you take into consideration all the above before building a mother-in-law suite.


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