In-Law Suites Grow with Changing Families

Article excerpt


The term "single-family home" has taken on a new meaning. Many houses can comfortably accommodate live-in parents, caregivers or grown children who return to the nest, some with families of their own.

These homes often have multifunctional, private spaces called "in-law suites," which can be anything from a second master suite with a private bath to an apartment with its own kitchen and separate entrance.

In-law suites are becoming commonplace in newly constructed houses and remodeling projects around the Washington region. Sometimes referred to as the au-pair suite, nanny suite or guest quarters, the area gives people outside the immediate family a living space of their own in the home.

Harry Brubaker, Realtor and team leader with ZipRealty in the District, is having a nanny suite built on the lower level of his home. Once completed, the space will be a separate living area with a bedroom, large bathroom and plenty of windows.

While Mr. Brubaker has seen these spaces added to the main floor of the home with a separate hallway, he says that more commonly people take advantage of their basement space, especially if it already has a separate entrance.

Over the years, Mr. Brubaker says he has noticed an increase in buyers who are interested in homes with either in-law suites or potential spaces that can easily be converted into in-law suites.

"In general, more and more couples have to work full-time, and they want their kids to be able to stay home with the grandparents or a nanny who will be sitting with them during the day," he says.

Although the definition of what constitutes an in-law suite varies to some degree, the basic idea is the same, a private living area within the house.

"In-law suites are primarily secondary living areas that provide everything someone would need to live independently of the other occupants of the home," says Janice Coffey of Long & Foster Realtors in Bowie.

Charles Sullivan of Keller Williams Team Realty in Gaithersburg says that for a space to qualify as a "true" in-law suite, it must have a private full bathroom, one or more closets, and a door that separates the living quarters from the rest of the home.

Ms. Coffey says that in addition to the bedroom and bath, some in-law suites have a separate entrance, full kitchen, and a living room. She says the nicest in-law suite she has seen is in her Saddlebrook West neighborhood in Bowie.

"The owner is a friend of mine, and he not only made the inside beautiful with a spacious living area, but there is a private garden area as well with a beautiful view," she says.

However, Ms. Coffey says that some buyers are not necessarily looking for the entire in-law suite concept and just request comfortably sized first-floor bedrooms and bathrooms to use as living quarters for an older parent.

"In-law suites are desirable for the same reason that 55-plus communities are gaining popularity," Ms. Coffey says. "The boomer generation, those born between 1946-1965, are being faced with the responsibilities of taking care of aging parents who need companionship but still want some independence."

Although concerns for elderly parents are prompting some homeowners to purchase a new home with an in-law suite option or add on to an existing home, Mr. Sullivan says he sees nannies or au pairs using this space much more frequently than elderly parents.

"Our society is not totally comfortable with the notion of grandma or grandpa moving back in with the kids," he says. …