4 Things You Need to Know When Building an In-Law Suite

Building an in-law suite in your home is becoming more and more common, for various reasons. Perhaps you want to earn rental income from your home by getting a tenant in in a separate living space, or perhaps a family member (such as a parent) is moving in with you, but you would like them to be able to have their own space. Whatever your “why” behind creating an in-law suite is, the addition is always a great idea as it adds value and convenience to your home.

A misconception with vintage homes, in particular, is that additions or conversions are often blatantly obvious as they don’t have the same charm as the rest of the 80+ year old home – that’s not the case when you partner with the right contractor. Even vintage homeowners can reap the benefits of the addition of an in-law suite. If you are in the planning stages of building an in-law suite in your vintage home, here are four things you need to know before getting started.

1. Local Community and County Laws

Every county and living community differ in their laws around home additions and what you are permitted to use them for. An experienced contractor will likely be abreast of those laws, willing to educate you throughout the process, but it’s always helpful to appropriately set your own expectations proactively. There could, for example, be limitations specific to your community that a contractor wouldn’t be aware of unless they have worked on another vintage home in your neighborhood, which is information you could gather yourself with a bit of research.

To share some common restrictions: certain communities don’t allow for additions to be built (especially if there’s a homeowner’s association), other areas allow additions so long as they fit specific parameters, and some places put limitations on what you can and cannot use an addition for (such as whether or not you can rent out the space). Taking the time to do research on your county or community will always allow for a smoother experience.

2. Placement Impacts the Cost

When building an in-law suite in your home, you typically have a few options of where you will place that suite – some homes offering more options than others. Something that’s important to keep in mind is that the placement of your new in-law suite has a big impact on the total price of the suite. As an example, if you simply convert an existing bedroom to a new in-law suite, construction costs are going to be relatively low (several thousand, perhaps), but if you plan to have an additional space added on to the layout of your vintage home, the cost will be easily 10 times the price of a room conversion. A great starting point is to have an open conversation with a contractor, specializing in vintage home remodels, around the options your home offers for the addition or conversion of an in-law suite. They will be able to help you identify solutions that will work well for your home and your budget.

3. Requirements Depending on Your Planned Use

The way you approach building an in-law suite for an older family member versus a future tenant is completely different. For starters, you likely don’t want a stranger to have easy access to the rest of your home, so a separate entrance is going to be extremely important for a tenant, but that may be much less of a concern for a family member. With regard to a tenant, your in-law suite is going to be more attractive if it operates like an attached apartment, which means a kitchen, bathroom, and living space will be required. If you plan to host a family member, you may intend to share your kitchen and living space (or not – that is entirely up to your personal preferences).

Lastly, a family member, particularly an elderly family member, may have accessibility needs now or in the future you need to be mindful of during your build (such as a shower ramp, rails in the restroom, shorter vanity height, etc.). Approaching your in-law suite with its purpose front of mind will help you avoid the need for future adjustments, in turn, saving you money on construction costs.

4. Needs of Your Family

If you are creating a space for a family member to live in your vintage home with you, it’s important you and that family member are aligned. Sure, you may be the one footing the bill, but your family member certainly deserves to feel like their in-law suite is a comfortable space for them (and you need to be comfortable with having a new housemate). You might be perfectly fine sharing your kitchen or living space, but they may prefer to have their own space to maintain some independence – or vice versa, of course. To ensure the intention of having an in-suite aligns with the reality of co-living, open and honest conversations are vital.

Some alignment questions to ask your family member are:

• What are essential things you would like in your living space?

• How can the space feel like it’s truly yours?

A couple of alignment topics to discuss are:

• The realities of your budget – are there any limitation on the in-law suite build due to budget? If those realities are in contrast to your family member’s list of essentials, are they comfortable compromising?

• Needs or expectations you have – do you or other members of your immediate family want them to have a separate living space (regardless of whether or not they do)?

The more effort you put into alignment with your family member ahead of your in-law suite build, the happier everyone will be once the project is complete. It’s essential to be on the same page upfront.

Conclusion

Building an in-law suite in your vintage home is a fantastic idea for many reasons, but before you get started on that process, be sure to follow the four considerations shared today. Doing so will ensure you are following local laws, staying within your budget, fulfilling any requirements of the space, and are in alignment with a potential family member you plan to have living in the suite. Proactive planning always leads to unmatched results!

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