In-Law Suites: A Growing Trend in Home Building

A new trend is emerging in home building: in-law suites. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and this trend could contribute to both the happiness of your family and the value of your home.

What Is an In-Law Suite?

An in-law suite is basically an apartment situated inside or attached to a single-family home. They’re often outfitted with their own kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and living areas, and some even have their own entrances and exist as separate buildings on the same property. 

The name comes from the idea that aging parents might need to live with their adult children for assistance while still wanting to maintain a level of independence and privacy. And let’s be real, everyone having their own personal space is ideal for all parties involved.

Who Needs an In-Law Suite?

According to a report released by the Center for American Progress in October 2016, the number of “extended family” households are on the rise—and it’s no longer limited to in-laws and aging parents. In addition to parents, we’re seeing adult children and other extended family members living with the nuclear family.

“Cohabitation,” as the Center for American Progress explains, “allows members of extended families to help each other financially and emotionally.” Sounds nice. After all, who among us would say no to a little emotional or financial support? And there are a number of reasons that a household would move to extended family living. Emergency situations and caretaking, as well as financial and social support, all play roles in multigenerational households.

According to data cited in the report, 10 major U.S. cities saw double-digit increases in extended family living between 2005 and 2014. Chicago’s extended family households increased by 16 percent. New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia all saw increases over 20 percent. Houston, Dallas, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Atlanta all had an increase of over 40 percent, while Miami and Washington D.C. topped the list with a growth of over 50 percent in extended family households during that time period.

The Increase in In-Law Suites

A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors showed that 20 percent of buyers would be willing to pay more for a property if it had an in-law suite. With an increase in growth this staggering, the demand is there for properties with in-law quarters, and the market is responding. According to the The Wall Street Journal in 2014, some of the nation’s largest developers saw double-digit increases in the number of homes they were building with in-law quarters.

The Need for Affordability

While much of the reporting on in-law suites covers sprawling properties rich with amenities, it’s worth noting that in the 10 cities examined by the Center for American Progress report, the median household income for extended families was lower than the median household income for nuclear families.

According to MarketWatch, in-law suites have the potential to help solve the shortage of affordable housing in the current real estate market. Evidence of the success of this approach can be seen in California, where a housing shortage has caused home prices to skyrocket. In 2017, the state saw three new zoning laws take effect, allowing in-law quarters to be built as separate structures on residential property. The result? A 63 percent increase in building permits for structures of this kind. 

This has the potential to ease the financial burden of housing costs and offers families alternative affordable housing solutions. We’re still waiting to see how these new builds shake out and whether or not we’ll see dwellings with in-law suites expand into more affordable pricing brackets. 

Should You Consider Adding One to Your Home?

In-law suites can add value to a home in more ways than one. Sure, it can increase the property value, but it can also give you more flexibility for extended family living. If you foresee your parents coming to live with you, welcoming your adult children back to the nest, or inviting other extended family members—like an aunt or uncle—into your dwelling, it can be a great investment. 

Before you start construction, it’s important to nail down what you want to gain out of the project so you can prioritize. If you’re making an addition with the primary goal of increasing property value, you’ll want to keep in mind what potential buyers might be looking for as you renovate. 

If you’re building to meet specific family needs, you might not see the same return on investment in a monetary sense. If you can invest in your home solely to increase the quality of living for your family, that’s wonderful. Just keep in mind that you may not get all of your money back. 

Another way that you can increase your return is by using your in-law suite as a rental property. You can rent it long-term to tenants, or you can go the short-term route using companies like Airbnb or VRBO. If the home you’re living in is the one you see yourself retiring in, then using your in-law suite as a rental offers potential income in retirement.

In the end, you don’t know what life will throw your way, and the main benefit of in-law suites is they provide you with the ultimate modern luxury: flexibility.

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