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You’ve finally got it - the perfect home. Everything just as you imagined it, with things that fit snugly into their spaces and just enough room for everyone. That is, until you have to host someone! A mother-in-law apartment deals with that problem effortlessly, as well as giving you a host of other benefits. Whether you’re looking at constructing a mother-in-law apartment or moving into a home with one, read our guide first, that covers what is a mother-in-law apartment as well as everything else about it.
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Tracing its name to the age-old strained relationship between couples and their parents-in-law, a mother-in-law apartment is an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) - a separate living space. Also known as mother-in-law suites and granny suites, mother-in-law apartments can either be attached to the house, or be a standalone on the same property, like a tiny cottage. It normally comes with at least a bedroom and a bathroom, but some even have further comforts like a living room, a kitchen or a kitchenette and a separate entrance.
The name suggests that it is used to allocate an unwanted
someone to the room to keep them at an arm’s distance. However, families are
using mother-in-law apartments for those looking to balance their privacy and
autonomy while still living with and being supported by a family, like an aging
parent or a University-returned kid. Statistics show an 8% rise in the number
of Americans living with two or more adult generations in a single household
from 1980 to 2019, bringing the figures from 12% to 20%. What’s in a name after
For those with no familial obligations or real use for the mother-in-law apartment, it makes for a great asset: renting it out and earning a little extra income.
One of the most common ways that families built a
mother-in-law apartment is by renovating pre existing space in the house,
typically underutilized. Garage spaces and basements are often converted into
mother-in-law apartments, and sometimes offer the benefit of separate
entrances. The same can be said of a bedroom at the back of the house; by
creating a door with a key, the person in-residence can come and go without
disturbing the rest of the household.
Alternatively, a separate ADU can be constructed on the
property itself. The mother-in-law apartment can then come equipped with a
small kitchen and a living room as well, provided there is the space for it.
Separate entrances is a given.
utility: Adult children with aging parents turn to mother-in-law apartments
as a much cheaper alternative to nursing homes and other long-term care. With
the children being primary caregivers, parents feel secure with the
familiarity, and the costs of a nursing home or a full-time hire are
eliminated. When grandchildren come along, grandparents can babysit when the
parents are at work or otherwise occupied, strengthening their bond with the
advantage: A mother-in-law apartment is also very advantageous for anyone
who works from home. Working from home often requires a designated spot with as
minimal interruption as possible - something that is not very doable in several
homes. Converting your mother-in-law apartment into a workspace gives you the
perfect privacy you need. Once work hours are done, simply step out of the
suite and into your house. The scales can finally be even for that much-revered
Additional income: As mentioned, an unused mother-in-law apartment can be rented out, earning you
some extra cash. Better yet, if you live in a relatively popular or touristy
destination, you can list it up on sites like Airbnb. Steadily gaining
preference over hotels, Airbnbs are the new thing and if your location is
ideal, you could turn in a pretty amount with it. Just make sure to keep it
clean and well-equipped. Use it as a guesthouse for relatives and friends when
it isn’t being occupied.
Storage space: Perhaps you live in a house with a mother-in-law apartment, or are looking into
one… always remember that a mother-in-law apartment can double up as storage
space if it's going unused. Not only can your knickknacks go in there, but you
can also furnish it with the extra furniture and household items you’d rather
pack away into a box.
Increase in property
value: With more and more people
seeking out multi-generational housing, a mother-in-law apartment can actually
add a significant amount of value to your property. Firstly, the extra square
footage added to your primary house will lead to a higher listing price.
Secondly, the extra space is particularly attractive for large families, those looking to have a relative or parent move in, or those who find the rent income appealing. In fact, a National Association of Realtors survey showed that 33% of buyers would pay nearly $3,000 more for the mother-in-law apartment. According to the study, “a finished basement and in-law suite were the two most desired aspects of a home that buyers would be willing to pay more for.”
costs: There’s no denying that mother-in-law apartments come with a rise in
utility costs, since the utilities for the apartment go hand in hand with the
costs of the main house. This means extra energy, heating, water and cooling.
Upkeep: If the
apartment is a standalone type, you have the added cost of upkeep over the
utilities. While a standalone has the benefit of complete privacy, it also
means you have an entire set of walls and windows and a separate roof and
landscaping to look after. More lightbulbs will have to be replaced, and
there’s one more bathroom that needs constant plumbing checks.
construction: Constructing a mother-in-law apartment means navigating the
maze of zoning codes and city building regulations.
Restrictions on rent: Apart from looking into things like landlord insurance, you may be faced
with a number of restrictions to weave your way through if you intend on
renting out the mother-in-law apartment.
Living with the
company: Long-term resident, relative or a renter, you will have to adjust
to the new company if you plan on using your mother-in-law apartment as more
than a storage space. Once the room exists, people will show up to fill it up -
friends may feel free to drop in for a couple days or ask to stay in when they’re
in town for unrelated work. Be prepared for this and have a plan in place for
when and how the apartment will be used.
The first thing to do when considering adding a
mother-in-law suite is finding out whether it is legal. In addition to zoning
ordinances and permissions, your city may have a maximum size of permitted
mother-in-law apartments. For example, the city of Portland caps it at 800
square feet. Once all of that is done, look at your home and how you can add a
structure like this with minimal structural adjustments. Converting a space
costs less than constructing a new, detached structure altogether.
More importantly, think of how you plan on using it. If you
want to rent it out, ensure it is built such that there is an independent exit
that doesn’t interfere with your main house. If it is being built to house
someone elderly, accessibility has to be your top priority. Avoid things like
staircases and include the space for wheelchair ramps where necessary.
Be prepared to shell out the money as well: converting a space like a garage or basement can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000. Constructing a new apartment can even hit $100,000.
If you’re a buyer looking to purchase a house with a mother-in-law apartment, the most important thing for you to ensure is that it is, in fact, legal. An easy way to do this is going to the county office to see if it is listed there. Don’t just rely on the word of your agent or the sellers for this one as you have the responsibility of making sure your money is being invested into something that is worth it. This also helps avoid a lot of nasty surprises if you’re looking to rent it out at a later point. If you’re moving into a house with a mother-in-law apartment, or moving into a mother-in-law apartment yourself, you need the right kind of movers to get the job done. Luckily for you, 9Kilo Moving has a comprehensive network of movers who can help you out.
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