“Where’s mom going to live?” Asked my wife Vicki one evening during dinner.
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“What do you mean? She’s getting along just fine where she is,” I said. “Besides she loves that old house. She would never want to move.”
“She can’t take care of that place. She has health issues and forgets to take her meds. She is going to fall and really hurt herself with those stairs. You need to start thinking about how we are going to take care of her.”
Vicki was right. Moving mom was an issue I had been avoiding. Her house had deteriorated badly since dad passed away and neither my brother nor I lived close to help out with repairs. Although the place was paid for, the maintenance and utility expenses exceeded her modest social security income. Most of her friends had passed already or had left the old neighborhood. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to having a conversation with mom about moving into a senior care facility.
“And how do you expect me to pay for that?” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement. Dad didn’t leave her much except for a 50-year-old house in a deteriorating neighborhood. I had no clue about the cost of senior care or assisted living and incorrectly assumed that mom had some type of insurance or there was some government entitlement program available.
“Well, there would be some money from the sale of the house and then you have your social security and I can help; we’ll make it work.” I said.
“You go check on the places that are available and the cost,” she ordered. “Then come back and we’ll talk.”
After discovering the monthly cost of assisted living, we decided to research alternatives. Moving mom into our house wasn’t one. The multi-level design would be too difficult for her to navigate. Besides, mother was fiercely independent and would require her own space. Adding additional rooms onto our home was made difficult because of our design and topography. It was then that we began investigating building a granny flat.
A second residence is allowed in residential zoning and may be either attached or detached. The county allows for the expansion of an existing single family dwelling by up to 30 percent in order to provide an attached second residential unit often called in-law suites or apartments. Separate single-family buildings, granny flats, are also permitted provided they do not exceed 1,200 square feet enclosed habitable living area.
Before we decided to build a granny flat we did the math. I learned the cost of senior housing varies depending upon the level of service. An average cost for a place that was suitable for mom would probably be in the $3,000 to $3,500 a month range. Our contractor’s bid on a new granny flat was $175,000. By building a granny flat we would be able to offer her a larger space, close to our home and over five years would be less expensive than rent in a senior care facility.
With the increasing expense of elder care, granny flats and in-law suite additions are making economic sense. But there are other valid reasons for multiple generations living under the same roof or in the guest cottage next door.
In many countries and cultures senior and assisted living centers do not exist. Parents, grandparents and great grandparents all live under the same roof, sharing household and family care responsibilities. Many housing economist believe our family household structure is moving in this direction for different reasons.
Although we all feel at times that we can use some additional space in our homes, the reality is that most homes are generally too large. In the 1950s the average size home was just over 1,000 square feet. Today, the average size is over twice that at 2,300 square feet; while the average family size during the same period declined from 3 to 2.5. Fewer folks occupying more space isn’t economical. And while the initial home and financing cost has significantly declined over the past few years, maintenance, insurance and utility costs continue to exceed inflation.
Those of us who live on acreage, appreciate the serenity of county living, however, most rural properties are under-utilized and can easily support another small family residence with little impact. Roads and driveways already exist and the county allows an existing well to service a secondary residence.
Granny flats aren’t limited to Grannies. More adult children are returning home. They are called the Boomerang generation. According to the U.S. Census, 59 percent of men and 50 percent of women 18 to 24 live with or are supported by their parents. A separate residence may provide more privacy and independence to both parents and adult children.
If and when a granny flat isn’t occupied by family, it can be rented, often above market rents, to tenants who are attracted to a more rural lifestyle.
In the next 20 years, 60 million Americans will be between the ages of 66 and 84. Many will require full or part-time care but lack the retirement savings necessary to pay for senior care housing. In the absence of affordable senior care housing, more seniors will be forced to remain in their homes longer or sell the family home and moving in with family. Granny flats and attached in-law quarters are viable alternatives.
Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker in El Dorado County. He can be reached through his Website at kencalhoon.com.