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‘In-Law Suites’ Gain Popularity for Aging in Place Boomers

Retrofitting a home with universal design features is one practical way to use reverse mortgage loan proceeds to help facilitate comfortable aging in place. But for the younger Baby Boomer crowd who isn’t quite yet ready for a reverse mortgage, another housing option is becoming a popular choice for their aging in place needs.

As the Baby Boomer generation ages and enters retirement, they will have a profound effect on the nation’s housing market. The majority (63%) will prefer to age in place, while the rest plan to move at least one more time, according to the findings of the Freddie Mac 55+ Survey released earlier this month.

There are a number of influencers driving the housing decisions of these older adults, the most important factor being affordability (46%). Other drivers, according to responses from survey participants aged 55 and older, include the desire for a more maintenance-free lifestyle, downsizing into a smaller home, proximity to family and access to a variety of retirement amenities.

Taken together, it’s no surprise why Boomers are gravitating toward “in-law suites” for their retirement years. Within these types of housing arrangements, an aging parent resides in his or her own living space in a residence that is adjacent to a larger property, typically the existing home of a loved one.

An in-law suite usually includes a bedroom, living room, a bathroom and a few simple appliances. Essentially, these suites resemble cozy apartments that can accommodate a single inhabitant or a couple—whether they are aging parents, guests, or even live-in help, in the case that someone requires consistent in-home caregiving.

One way to think of an in-law suite is downsizing without downgrading, said Jeff Martel, a broker and owner of Better Homes and Gardens 43° North in Meridian, Ida., a real estate brokerage firm that is part of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise network.

The company represents 17 different housing communities throughout the Boise valley. At some communities, homeowners have added in-law suites to their properties. These additional housing units are constructed with universal design elements in mind. That means the homes can continue to accommodate its inhabitants even if their physical needs change.

“We see a lot of focus on the ability for houses to evolve based on changing situations,” Martel said, adding that 43° North’s builder partners are engineering homes around the potential situation of what happens when the homeowner, or spouse, becomes wheelchair-bound.

In this regard, in-law suites are typically single-level, feature large hallways wide enough to permit wheelchair accessibility, include zero threshold showers for curbless entry, as well as cabinets that a resident can actually roll-in underneath as the doors are put away. Tiles in the shower are also built with the proper reinforcement already in place, so if grab bars are needed, they can be inserted without major renovations.

At least one of the communities 43° North represents is an active adult community for homeowners age 55 and older. This community, Heritage Grove located in Meridian, Ida., is where Martel has seen a growing interest of people using reverse mortgages to buy into the development.

“Because it’s such a concentrated community of people who are typically retirees and downsizers, they are at a stage of life where reverse mortgages make sense,” Martel said.

But while in-law suites fall outside of the eligible properties that can secure reverse mortgages, these living arrangements essentially have a similar intention, insofar as they allow older adults to successfully age in place without having to sacrifice independence or comfort.

“In many of these houses, if I don’t point it out to you, you wouldn’t readily notice that it’s a universal designed house,” Martel said. “A person can live an autonomous life and still be close to their family. There are a lot of positives behind that.”

Written by Jason Oliva