Author Topic: Multigenerational housing - in-law suites, accessory dwellings, etc. - future?  (Read 1598 times)

Penelope Vandergast

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Does anyone here have an opinion on the future market for multigenerational housing? My parent and I are looking around and thinking seriously about buying something together that either would be retrofitted for this purpose (adding an entirely separate in-law apartment or an "accessory dwelling" (cottage for grandma in the back yard)), or maybe a 2-family that we could convert. She is doing great and is totally independent now, but is reaching the point where having someone close by within a couple of years could be a good idea. We get along well with very low drama, and can discuss pretty much anything frankly and honestly. It would be parent in one unit and my family in the other.

(I realize there are potential issues with basically making a single family into a 2-family, like are 2 kitchens allowed? etc. Because of this, in our area, the accessory dwelling idea may be more viable than adding an in-law, though it's still not entirely clear. Still figuring all that out.)

In the near future it sounds like a great idea financially and emotionally. However, though I have read articles saying that such housing will be in demand in the future, I wanted to see what people here thought about it. Once parent moves on, we would probably still be living in the house -- and if we then wanted to move, I would not want to be stuck with something that would be difficult to sell. This is in a very popular, medium-sized university city in the midwest, with many near-retired or retired professionals. (I keep going to open houses where the owner has either just gone into assisted living or died!)

We have actually located a good house that has already been renovated this way, but the fact that it's been on the market for almost a year, in a good location, makes me wonder. (Though I think the problem there is more that the original asking price was insane and is probably still high. They've lowered it by more than $100K and still no takers)

I would think that given the aging baby boomer situation -- something like 30% of the population is going to be over the age of 65 by 2020 (I don't remember exact stats but it's pretty high) that future demand would definitely exist for this kind of thing. The parent unit would be all on level, have walk-in shower and other ADA considerations, etc. (And since we are looking for a place where we could age in place ourselves, it doesn't seem like a bad idea from that POV either! Especially since it would be pretty much paid off by the time we got to be that age.)

But since this is really a new idea for housing for the U.S. I am wondering how long it might take to actually become a thing in the real estate market.

Thanks for opinions/ideas!


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Would you be able/willing to rent the other unit if it's not occupied by family?

Penelope Vandergast

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We could/would rent the other unit, yes. And it would also be legal for AirBnB/VRBO here since we would be living in the same house. (They have really cracked down on this here -- you can't legally do AirBnB unless you live in the house you are renting rooms from.) would also be an option. I would probably prefer these above a regular tenant, in fact, since the rentals would be short-term.


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We have a MIL apartment and it has enabled us to own a house in an area we probably couldn't have otherwise afforded. Also, depending on where you live, homes with such a set up (or the potential for such a set up) can go for more, as they do here.

One thing to check into is how they are zoned. Here in our county in the Bay Area, any home that house a MIL unit or even a separate cottage is considered a "duplex." That can mean higher interest rates if you're looking to finance and can really be a pain in the backside if you are looking to refinance and dealing with a national lending company that may not know what "duplex" means in your area.  There also may be tax considerations too, again depending on your locale.


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PTF, out of curiosity.

Would imagine there could be estate/tax consequences, depending upon how you set it up, but I'm not an estate lawyer, so I have no idea. 


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I think there is definitely a market. With the Boomers aging into age-restricted housing, there will be a shortage, so other accomodations will be sought after. And as the population continues to go up (from immigration), value will begin to shift in many areas, from land space to amount of living space per lot (unfortunate IMO, but thems the times...).

My first house I bought has a detached in-law I rented out for some time. I can't wait until I am able to create a greatroom/laundry room addition to bridge the two buildings together. I get hounded constantly by coworkers, friends (friends of friends, and friends of co workers, and family, and friends of family), to let them move in. That's rude. Would you ask someone to move onto their property if it were a single dwelling? I even had some random person try to move in right after I bought the house (I walked in one day to a pack of TP, soap, and brand new freakin bed sheets!). It's no longer livable anyway...but I still get asked and told it doesn't matter...well it matters to me since I'll be the one liable so BACK OFF. I'm using it for storage and as a garage/garden shed. And even if I weren't I may want it for guests. It's really none of your business why I don't want your 2nd cousin I never met, who just moved here, to live with me.

Sorry! If you aren't open to renting it out, just be prepared to be bugged if people find out about it. Detached units are the pickup trucks of the real estate world. You will be forever asked to help out a friend.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2017, 05:05:56 AM by Lmoot »


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In CA, there is new legislation taking effect in January to allow ADU's, streamline the permit process, and cap some construction costs, mainly new utility connections. The demand will go up because everybody needs help taking care of aging parents or making their payments, or both.

I'd look closely at the home that was overpriced, and possibly make a lowball offer. The sellers have allowed their listing to become stale, which could work to your advantage. Buying one that's already done means the supplemental income starts rolling in sooner.

Penelope Vandergast

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New developments: I called the zoning dept and it turns out that the house we were looking at may have been illegally divided! And the guy who answered the phone at zoning was very familiar with the property already -- clearly I wasn't the first one who had inquired. Very interesting. I also found out from another source that one deal has already fallen through on the house, and I am guessing this might have something to do with it.

How hard it may be to fix the zoning thing is up in the air -- it could go many different ways, some much more difficult than others. We are still figuring out other details so I have no idea how this might play out, but.

I did learn from zoning that it is in fact legal to add a second kitchen to a single family to make an in-law suite, as long as it is freely accessible from the rest of the house -- no locking doors between them, for instance. If this is not the case then you might have just illegally made your house into a two-family. I was very happy to learn this because it really increases our options as far as remodeling a different house.

Thanks for the comments. I think this is going to be a topic that comes up more and more in the next few years. When assisted living and nursing homes cost $5000-$12,000 a month -- a price that will probably only rise --- you could spend $50K on a elder-friendly remodel, hire a home health aide to come in for a few hours a day, and still come out ahead if it keeps Grandpa out of the home for another year.


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Our first home was a ~1200 sq ft ranch, with basement, and the basement had a separate entrance. We talked about converting it (would have just needed a kitchen downstairs and laundry upstairs) but never did.

Now we have another ranch, slightly bigger, again with a separate basement entrance. At this point with two kids we use the basement family room all the time. But when the kids are out of the house I could definitely see adding a basement kitchen.  This layout is a bit trickier to totally separate as we would need to walk through the basement to get to the garage.

Still, it's nice to have the option. Our basement entrance is actually at ground level so it would be perfect for a live in MIL situation. You have to go up stairs to get to the main level.


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If you are worried about a potential re-sell, you have to read your zoning laws about accessory dwelling units. Some zoning laws allow one to build an ADU, but not rent it out separately.