Tips & Tricks

Everything You Need to Know About Mother-In-Law Suites

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Multigenerational households are increasingly common, and recent graduates aren’t the sole demographic driving this trend. Statistics show that 24 percent of those ages 55 to 64 presently live with their children, and 21 percent of those ages 65 and older are in similar situations. Naturally, housing has to adapt. One way it has is through the addition of in-law suites. 

A mother-in-law or “in-law” suite is an additional living space on the same property as a single-family home, where a family member can live with independence while remaining close to their loved ones. It strikes a balance for those who want to retain their autonomy and still receive support from living with family.

These suites, otherwise known as accessory dwelling units, multigenerational dwelling units, secondary suites and “granny flats,” have a number of attractive benefits for larger families. Beyond affording an older family member their independence, they can also let homeowners run a rental from their own homes. Whatever your needs, here’s how to navigate adding and maintaining an in-law suite.

Are Mother-In-Law Suites a Good Choice for You?

First, there are a few reasons the addition of in-law suites are traditionally aimed at multigenerational households. Adult children with aging parents can’t always cover the costs of long-term care. Mother-in-law suites are an alternative which places the responsibility of caretaker on the child, ensuring greater comfort for their loved one while eliminating the expenses associated with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

But it’s not just multigenerational households that benefit from having in-law suites. When the suite is vacant, it can function as a home office, guest quarters or even a short- or long-term rental apartment. After all, just because it’s called an in-law suite doesn’t mean having a mother-in-law is a requirement for owning one.

Of course, if all of this sounds good to you, you’ll probably want to know what this investment costs. As it stands, adding a mother-in-law suite to your home can initially cost anywhere between $32,700 to $63,000 on average.

Though the price point might seem steep, adding a mother-in-law suite to your property may increase its value by a significant margin. A survey by the National Association of Realtors indicated that 33% of buyers would pay nearly $3,000 more for the addition.

They make an appealing sales feature when marketing your home, and are particularly desirable to potential buyers who are searching for multigenerational housing options. You’ll generate far more buyer traffic, especially if the new homeowners find the idea of moving in relatives or earning income from a rental appealing.

Tips for Renting Out Your In-Law Suite

You don’t have to rely on a resale to get a return on your in-law suite investment. If you own or are considering owning a mother-in-law suite, the addition can give you a great opportunity to earn some extra money.

First, there’s the potential for short-term renting. With a few pictures of the property and a short bio, you can create an Airbnb profile and launch a small side business. The suite can serve as a secondary source of passive income, helping you earn back the initial cost of the investment.

If you’re considering making your in-law suite into an Airbnb investment, make sure you’re being realistic about your local market. It will be easier to fill the space consistently if you live in a notable destination (like a tourist town or adjacent to a university). You should also consider updating the suite’s design and amenities to provide a great experience for your guests.

For a longer-term investment, finding a tenant can be a great way to earn steady, reliable income from your mother-in-law suite. This money can help you recover the cost of creating the suite or contribute to your monthly mortgage, alleviating the financial stress of homeownership.

While this can be lucrative, you’ll want to make sure you’re up for the job. Running a long-term rental requires more responsibility, as you’ll need to manage legalities, find tenants, and handle maintenance.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before moving forward:

  • Make sure housing a tenant doesn’t violate city housing codes
  • Check that you can provide all promised amenities
  • You’ll need to keep the mother-in-law suite clean, habitable and in good repair
  • Review all state-specific and local laws before creating a lease

If you’re able to put the work in to run a rental, then your mother-in-law suite can start working for you in no time.

How to Navigate Local Ordinances Around In-Law Suites

Are you sold on a mother-in-law suite? If so, you should calculate your budget and assess your available options. But before you proceed, it’s essential to review the fine print, the tiny details which could cause a headache later on. Specifically, you’ll need to check your local ordinances to determine the legalities of the addition.

Make a visit to the zoning office with your lot and block number to learn the laws that apply to your property. You might find your area allows for mother-in-law suites, or, you might find your area prohibits them.

Even if zoning laws aren’t in your favor, you could take time to obtain a variance, though it could prove costly. Essentially an exemption from building regulations, a variance can run up to $500. You’ll also have to send out certified letters to your neighbors and get their signatures, and even then, you’ll need building permits. After everything is complete, limitations on usage in terms of rental might remain.

As you continue, research the laws in your area to decide if a secondary suite is plausible given your budget and timeline. While adding an in-law suite to your home costs an average of $32,000 to $63,000, building an entirely new structure can cost as much as $125,000. It’s an essential figure to consider as you move forward.

Suggestions for a Smooth Transition

After you build an in-law suite on your property, you’ll need to transition into a new living situation. With any type of change, it can take a while to acclimate, and it’s essential to show foresight as you continue. It begins with developing a contract which clarifies the details of your new arrangement.

If you’re adding an in-law suite, don’t assume that you don’t need to go over the specifics with everyone involved. You should have a conversation with your loved ones about their living expenses, and whether you intend to cover them alone or ask them for assistance. Making it clear in writing will prevent any confusion down the line.

During the first few weeks of cohabitation, make sure to offer help with all the trials of moving and adjusting. Good communication will help you address any small problems early on before they have a chance to escalate into larger issues. Whether your family needs help renting a storage unit after downsizing or has a question about finances, take steps to help everyone feel comfortable living on the same property.

If you’re renting out your mother-in-law suite to a non-family member, then the transition will feel a little different. Make sure you’re prepared to respect all laws that cover tenant-landlord relationships, such as only entering the suite after giving notification. Beyond that, set a few expectations for your rental relationship. Can a tenant knock on your door with a problem, or should they give you a phone call? Where can they and their guests park? When you’re sharing a property, it’s important to think about privacy early on.

Creating a Mother-in-Law Apartment

If the benefits and price point of a mother-in-law suite seem appealing, you shouldn’t hesitate. As long as you research your local ordinances and develop a budget, you can take steps to reduce any of the difficulties of building one on your property. Just set aside time to plan and prepare for the transition.

While becoming a landlord or living with your relatives can create some stress, the moving process can be easy. Whether you need help moving your grandparents’ furniture or you’re looking for a better delivery experience, book a Dolly to get assistance on your schedule.

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