Everything You Need to Know about an In-Law Suite

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When exploring options on how to improve your current home, you may have an opportunity to add what is known as a backyard mother-in-law suite. It goes by many names, though, so you may have also heard it referred to as an accessory dwelling unit, a guest house, a secondary suite, a home addition, or, simply, an in-law suite. Regardless of which term you prefer, adding an in-law suite to your property is an intriguing proposition.

In this article:

  • What is an in-law suite?
  • What Are the Uses of an In-Law Suite?
  • How Does an In-Law Suite Affect Home Value?
  • How Much Does It Cost to Build an In-Law Suite?
  • What Are the Other Important Considerations if You Want to Build an In-Law Suite?

What Is an In-Law Suite?

In-law suites are additional spaces that can either be attached to the main home or set up separately to serve as a secondary dwelling on a property. You can think of it as a souped-up shed, except that it’s supposed to host people instead of tools. It’s worth pointing out that you don’t need to build the home addition from scratch. In some cases, homeowners may prefer to convert already existing rooms into in-law apartments. These separate units feature some basic amenities.

More often than not, these dwelling units will at least feature a bedroom and a bathroom while sometimes also featuring a full bath or office space (for everyday use). Some homeowners may go all out, adding a kitchen and full living area to give guests more independence.

What Are the Uses of an In-Law Suite?

The name already gives it away. The main purpose of an in-law suite is to serve as a home for additional family, whether your visitors are in-laws or not. Use it as a guest house that can host your visitors if you don’t want them making along drive home. Alternatively, you can begin renting out your home in addition to some tenants, taking advantage of the extra building.

A home addition is also great to have on your property if you’re making renovations to your primary residence. Instead of having to temporarily live out of a hotel or rental property, you can stay there while the contractors finish the house plans.

How Does an In-Law Suite Affect Home Value?

The biggest benefit that can come from introducing an additional living space to your already existing property is that you can accommodate more people. Providing comfortable living quarters for more of your loved ones is truly gratifying. However, an in-law suite can do more than increase the hosting capacity of your property. An underrated benefit of moving forward with a home addition is that it boosts the value of your property significantly.

How much of a boost to home value does an in-law suite provide? A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that an in-law suite and finished basement are the two elements that most buyers are willing to pay extra for. When it comes to home additions, a third of the respondents said that they would be willing to pay up to $3,000 extra if it meant that the property they were purchasing came with an in-law suite.

Those things should be of particular interest to homeowners looking to add a second floor to the main house. Why not create an in-law suite to accommodate your needs? With a home addition, there’s a chance that the buyers will be the ones fighting over who gets to purchase your property.

Generally speaking, an in-law suite should turn out to be a positive addition to your property, but that may not always be the case. If you partner with builders who don’t know what they’re doing or who are content to put in the bare minimum, your property value may drop.

How Much Does It Cost to Build an In-Law Suite?

Extracting value from your in-law suite in some way is often crucial for homeowners. So, how much should you expect to pay to have an in-law suite added to your property? That will depend on what kind of addition you’re seeking and how you intend to alter your property or your home.

Turning an Unused Room into a Secondary Suite

The most affordable way to create an accessory dwelling unit is to convert a room inside your home into a secondary suite. Estimates indicate that you can have a project like that completed for as low as $3,000. Now, there are some additional things you need to keep in mind if you are planning to go down this route.

For starters, you cannot transform every spare room into an in-law apartment. Remember that the room you’re converting must be large enough to have both a bedroom and a bathroom. If whoever’s using that space has adventure elsewhere whenever nature comes calling, there would be no point in having the addition built in the first place.

Turning Your Basement into a Secondary Suite

The cost of transforming your basement into an in-law suite will depend on its current status. Homeowners who already invested a significant amount of money into their basement to ensure that it would be a comfortable space may need to chip in around $10,000 or so to convert it into a secondary suite. If the basement is still largely unfinished, the cost of conversion could go beyond $20,000.

Turning Your Garage into a Secondary Suite

Another part of your home that you can transform into a new living space is the garage. Since garages are typically roomy and already have a pretty solid existing structure, they are likely safe enough for people to live in. The big obstacle you’ll need to overcome here is adding a full bathroom. You may need to lay down new piping to properly support that bathroom addition. Don’t be surprised if your final bill for your garage conversion climbs up to $50,000.

Turning Your Attic into a Secondary Suite

Attics often turn into unused spaces after a while, and you may feel annoyed that such a big part of your home is going to waste. The good news is that you can convert attics into secondary suites. The bad news is that the cost of doing so can be high. Estimates indicate that it could run you anywhere from $40,000 up to $90,000 to properly convert an attic. Although you may pay a pretty penny to execute this conversion, the benefits can certainly be worth the cost.

Creating an Attached Home Addition

If you don’t have any room that you can convert into a secondary suite, you can always have an addition built from scratch. Some would even argue that this is the better move since you minimize the odds of your home’s structural integrity being compromised by renovating already existing rooms. Creating an entirely new addition is costly, though. Expect the final cost to be in the range of $30,000 to $60,000.

Creating a Freestanding ADU

Your final option is to build an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) on your property that is completely separated from your home. This is the option to go for if you want to ensure privacy. It’s also your best bet if you want to attract tenants. As you’ve probably guessed, though, this kind of project can be expensive. Aside from the new structure itself, you may also need to pay more for extra work that is needed to condition your property for the new addition. The final cost of a project like that may exceed $100,000 and has the highest upside of any type of room addition.

What Are the Other Important Considerations if You Want to Build an In-Law Suite?

Beyond securing the room and the funding you need to complete your project, there are other factors you need to consider before getting started.

The Laws in Your Area

Southern Californians need to determine if their project is legal. In some areas, zoning laws may forbid you from building an addition on your property. There are also cases where they allow an addition, but there may be limitations on how big it can be and what it can feature. Some cities may allow you to build additions with no restrictions as long as you do not use them as rental properties. Eco Minded Solutions guides our clients through the permitting process and save them time and money.

The Reaction of Your Neighbors

Prior to moving forward with your project, it may be a good idea to ask your neighbors what they think. Getting on the same page with your neighbors is especially important if you want to rent out the secondary suite as they can either make it easier or harder for you to attract tenants.

The Maintenance Costs

The potential cost of building an in-law suite has already been discussed in detail above, but it’s worth noting that your spending won’t stop once the new addition is ready to go. If a loved one is going to use the space, you need to account for the cost of basic utilities.

The Design of the Home Addition

Lastly, homeowners need to be thoughtful when it comes to designing their home addition, especially if you are going to offer it to your older relatives. Installing guardrails that will prevent falls and other safety features are important considerations. Thinking long and hard about the use of your home addition is quintessential to the success of the design.

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