4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Mother-in-Law Suite

There’s many reasons why you might be considering having your mother-in-law (or your mom) move in with you. Perhaps it’s for health reasons. Maybe it’s due to finances. Or, it could just be that you all want to be closer to each other.

There’s no single definition of what comprises a mother-in-law suite. But, in the grandest sense, they are often considered to include a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen (or kitchenette), a living room, as well as an entrance that’s separate from the main house. Sometimes they may be free-standing structures, known as “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs). In other instances, homeowners get creative and simply repurpose a room in the house, basements, attics, or even garages to accommodate their loved ones.

For a variety of reasons, multigenerational living continues to increase in popularity. In fact, in 2016, a record 64 million people, or 20 percent of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of census data.

Some families choose to buy a home with an in-law suite, or add one to their existing property because it makes financial sense. In other situations in which both parents work full-time outside the home, having built-in babysitters who are ready and willing to lend a hand is a welcome relief.

That said, blending generations isn’t always easy, especially after years of both parties living independently.

Whether you’re overjoyed or not-so-secretly seething at the thought of your mother or mother-in-law becoming a permanent fixture on your property, there are certain things you’ll want to consider.

Here are four questions to consider before moving in with your in-law.

1. Can everyone coexist peacefully?

It’s one thing to visit with your in-laws during the holidays, it’s another to see them 24/7. No one wants to watch the phrase “Familiarity breeds contempt” come to life in their own home. Still, you don’t need to be a family therapist to know that too much togetherness can quickly lead to trouble.

Chances are you’re accustomed to having your privacy, as is your mother-in-law. A separate entrance, kitchenette, and soundproofing can go a long way toward establishing boundaries that will ensure your relationship survives your new roommate status. But will these be enough to allow for harmonious living?

It’s not a bad idea to give the scenario a test run by having Mom spend a week or two and see how it goes before you commit to adding on to your home.

2. Will your city or town allow it?

If you’re considering constructing an addition for your in-laws, check with local and city zoning regulations as many have strict building codes. You may or may not be able to extend your house, or enough to accommodate your plans.

Some homeowners contemplate placing an entire new structure—an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)—on their property. Again, you’ll have to check on zoning laws before just plunking down a free-standing structure on your property.

But even something quite simple as renovating the garage, a basement, or section of the house with a separate kitchen area may not be allowed.

Every municipality will have different regulations. Check with yours before making any concrete plans to move mom in.

3. How much will it cost?

Whether you add on to your home or repurpose an area within it, most likely it won’t be cheap. According to Realtor.com, an in-law suite will set you back anywhere from $40,000 to $125,000, while ADUs (aka Granny Pods) are estimated at $85,000 to $125,000.

You may also want to separate the utilities between the unit and the primary residence if possible, to divide expenses. This can also save money if your relative goes out of town for lengthy periods, and you want to shut down the utilities temporarily.

Compare these expenses to the cost of an assisted living facility or nursing home if your motivation is to ensure the safety of older family members.

You should also weigh your options to buy a house that is already set up with a mother-in-law suite. It may actually cost you less (and easier), than doing construction on your existing house.

4. How will it impact your resale?

Because few homes include in-law suites, having one can attract multigenerational families. So when it comes time to sell your home, you may find that you have a lot of interest. Or at least specific interest from buyers who this would appeal to.

However, the layout and flow of the house may not appeal as much (or at all) to buyers who have no need for this kind of set-up. So, it may also reduce the pool of buyers your house will appeal to.

Not that resale value, or the ability to resell it, should dictate whether or not you create this sort of space in your home. You need to make the decision based upon your own situation, wants, and needs. Life needs to be lived, and enjoyed. If resale value is higher in the future, great. If not, perhaps you can renovate it back to the original layout if it makes good financial sense to do so.

While these are certainly not every question you may want to consider before making a decision, it’s a good start. And, hopefully, taking the time to ask and answer questions before moving Mom in, will save you time, money, frustration and, most importantly, your relationships.

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