Additional housing are referred to as an in-law suite, a granny flat, ADU’s, or simply, apartments. These are separate living quarters with a bed, bathroom, and kitchen. They are often studios which are rented out for extra income or provided for aging family members.
In previous posts I’ve discussed how a home could go from the liability quadrant to the asset quadrant by having it earn a little income. Through websites such as AirBnb, Craigslist, and Zillow, it’s not hard to advertise your extra space for rent.
What Is An In-Law Suite
Any enclosed space with all necessary amenities for independent living would be considered an in-law suite. The basic amenities are:
- bathroom with a shower
- a bed
- a closet
- a kitchen
- a washer/dryer
Ideally, such units will have separate electricity and water meters, HVAC, and separate internet/cable hook-ups. This will allow for easier billing.
An in-law suite can be built in various forms:
- an addition built adjacent to the main structure
- a converted garage
- a converted basement
- a remodeled attic
- a standalone ADU (accessory dwelling unit) build in the yard
The Cost Of Adding An In-law Suite
Such additions can cost as little as $10,000 and upwards of $150,000. Labor will take up the highest costs and will vary quite a bit based on your city and neighborhood.
This website has a really great summary on all of the costs involved. They claim that it’s closer to the $15k-45k range.
This is often the kind of work you want a contractor to take on and not a handyman.
It’s important to take into consideration how shoddy of a job you’re willing to accept because it will affect your homeowner’s insurance and any potential lawsuits, should something go wrong.
Adjacent Home Additions
You can check out a few websites such as Home Adviser to give you an idea how much an addition will cost. The average is somewhere around $100 per square foot. A 500 sqft addition would therefore cost around $50,000.
Talking to my friends in California this national average value seemed a bit on the low side. They have gotten quotes closer to $75,000 for a 500 sqft addition with separate HVAC, electricity, water, and separate bathroom/shower/kitchen areas.
Converting Unused Rooms
Converting a spare room should be the cheapest way to go. Depending on your neighborhood, this might be an ideal option if the potential tenants are college students and just need a place to sleep and shower.
If you are in a more upscale neighborhood and would get younger engineers or college graduates then a meagrely converted extra bedroom may not suffice.
A converted room would have a bathroom with a shower already attached to it. The contractor can then add a direct entrance into that shower and close off access to it otherwise.
An already existing room conversion may cost as little as $10,000 and as high as $30,000.
Converting A Garage
Most garages are built well with a solid foundation, adequate room around the structure, a sturdy framing, and roofing. This lends itself quite well for a conversion to an in-law suite. What is often lacking is insulation and vapor barriers.
Losing a garage may not always be ideal. Not too long ago I walked into someone’s place who was living in a converted garage. The main door was a very fancy roll-up door, allowing the homeowner to either park their car in there or rent the place out as an apartment. The floor was sprayed laminate and the kitchen and bathroom were all in the periphery, leaving the space in the middle wide open for parking the car when the unit wasn’t being rented as an in-law suite.
A garage conversion can be done as cheaply as $15,000 if above-the-ground toilets/showers are used. And they can cost around $60,000 on the upper end from my research.
I recently had the pleasure of helping a buddy convert his attic into an in-law suite. We did most of the framing ourselves. My buddy did the electricity and the plumbing and he’ll have someone come in to add skylights.
He had an engineer consult on the project to make sure the joists would support the additional weight of a bed, bathroom, and a small kitchen. And though he is going to do all the rest of the work himself, such a conversion would cost somewhere around $50,000.
Meeting local codes can be a barrier to overcome when converting basements into in-law suites. However, that’s something a contractor can help with. As one of my contractor friends said “I don’t worry about permits, I play golf with the guy and he’s never said no”.
If you already have flooding or moisture issues then that needs to be addressed. However, adding a bathroom and shower wouldn’t be too hard.
Basement conversions should be less costly than other conversions. $20,000 would be a good estimate. However, due to the size of many basements and some people choosing to create multi-bedroom units, it can cost as much as $70,000.
This YouTube video is of the in-law suite one of my colleagues built on her property. She partnered up with an architect friend of hers to design and build this rotating beauty.
There were many permitting hurdles to overcome and the city of Portland helped get the project rolling instead of obstructing it. Such units are commonly referred to as accessory dwelling units and stand completely separately to the structure of the main home.
Though this project cost over $100,000 from start to finish, most ADU’s can be build for as little as $40,000. Portland’s ADU scene is booming and such structures can be built offsite and plopped into a space in the backyard.
You can get all granola and build a composting toilet, a rainwater collecting system, and solar panels. Or simply have the city come out and hook up electricity and sewage to the area, the same way you would for an RV.
Permits & Laws
Portland, Oregon has a very helpful website when it comes to understanding the process of converting any part of your house into a living space.
Some cities are open to their residents performing such conversions because they realize it relieves common housing problems. And some cities are incredibly resistant for other reasons.
California has been working hard to improve its ADU stance since passing of the 2003 granny flat laws. In this memorandum (pdf) you can read the details of the laws pertaining to ADU’s as well as the process to obtain your own.
Added Value To Your Home
It will be hard to factor in the added resale value upon completing an in-law suite buildout. Most realtors and online websites don’t have the up to date skills to valuate these additions.
If the in-law suite is permitted and built well, the value can be great to the right buyer. An in-law suite can allow for additional income either while you’re still living there or during times when you’re away on vacation.
More importantly, once a home is paid off, the only carrying costs that remain are property taxes and maintenance. Having an income earning in-law suite could easily cover such costs and essentially allow you to have zero housing costs.
Loss Of Privacy
I want to address the loss of privacy in 2 forms. If you are deathly allergic to other human beings then it can certainly be hard sharing your home with another person.
Unfortunately, current rental laws prevent you from discriminating against a potential tenant once your ad goes up. You can’t even discriminate against someone who might have kids or “appear” to be in a gang or whatever your fears are.
Advertise By Word of Mouth
Should you decide to profit from an in-law suite, consider letting your Facebook group know about it first and see who needs a space. Ask friends and relatives first and consider a month-to-month arrangement initially.
And if you are going to rent it out then try a short-term rental concept such as AirBnb to wet your whistle.
Befriending the Tenant
I’m not saying that you need to be BFF’s with our tenant but admit that there are some individuals whom you would love to have as your neighbor. This might be a lovely octogenarian or a recent transplant to your city.
Not every tenant will be a pain in the ass. If you aren’t desperate to get the highest dollar for your unit then you will have the ability to be more selective and hopefully make a friend in the process … or a stalker.
Barter For Help
A young healthcare professional couple may not be desperate for the $1,500/month that an in-law apartment could earn them. Instead, they might need help with chores around the house, babysitting, chauffeuring, or house-sitting.
This is a slick method to get around landlord-tenant laws. You can offer a place to stay in return for a discount on services offered by the person you are hiring.
The Wet Bathroom
Having just returned from Barcelona, I have a new understanding for compact. Wet bathrooms, such as the ones below, are common and wonderful space savers. They also cost less to build.
You may have even seen the bathrooms where there is no sink and the toilet tank instead has a faucet built on top of it. Don’t knock it ’til you tried it.
You can find these and many other small bathroom ideas on Pinterest.
For those who don’t want to deal with breaking concrete or performing major renovations on their home, above-floor plumbing can be used to install showers, toilets, and sinks.
Companies such as SANIFLO have wonderful design and engineering options for this. I lived in a small studio (a garage conversion) with such a system installed.
For even more cost-savings on labor, your can use “Wetwalls“ to build out a shower that’s waterproof. This will save on the costs of tiles and the incredibly tedious task of making a shower waterproof.
Another expensive part of the shower is building a shower pan. This involves leveling the base, tacking down some plywood, building up the edges, pouring a concrete base, placing a waterproof liner, painting it with a waterproof coating, and finally tiling it. Or… you can just purchase a molded pan from Delta for under $200.
The Compact Kitchen
I realize that a 7′ counter is the fad these days even though most of us probably use nothing more than a cutting board to prep our meals.
For the functional kitchen look at Avanti’s Compact Kitchen. It costs around $800 and has a range, faucet, and refrigerator. For the small in-law suite, that’s often all that is needed. Add a microwave and you got a great kitchen.
Below is a model from elfin Kitchens.
The Simple Washer/Dryer
We can learn a few things from the tiny house community from their use of washer/dryer combos. I’ve used such units and have had good results – when they are used properly.
These are often ventless and have a smaller footprint than traditional size washer/dryers. They run off of 110 volts and don’t need the 220 volt outlets.
Or if you have the kind of climate that allows for line-drying, then all you need is this portable, small, yet incredibly competent washer unit from Magic Chef.