Granny Flats: Is the Investment a Good Idea?

  • Whether known as Granny flats, in-law flats or intergenerational apartments, there is a small trend in real estate toward families living together. They may be adding onto homes or even installing or building separate dwellings on their property so that their elders can live with them yet both generations have significant independence. I reviewed the book ‘In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats’ Beautiful, Practical Guide to Intergenerational Living in the past and have been revisiting the topic lately to see how the trend is holding.


    For expert input, I contacted Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney, Mediator, and author of “The Family Guide to Aging Parents” to see what she thinks about the idea of in-law apartments.

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    Carolyn began by explaining the basics. “Each family is different in working out the issue of how to best care for an aging parent,” she said. “Some families are not comfortable having an aging parent live with them in the same household. Others try it and it works out after everyone adjusts to the impact on family relationships. Others try it and it does not work well due to family conflicts created by the added household family member's needs,” she said.


    Related content: Think Carefully About Long-Term Issues before Cohabitating with Your Elders


    “In some families there is an option to create a ‘granny flat,’ in-law unit or small cottage on the family property,” Carolyn explained. “Some businesses offer home modification, structural changes to add a room and bath or the construction of a full apartment, an elder-adapted unit adjacent to the larger family home. This allows the elder a degree of independence, while still offering the security of family nearby to watch over the aging family member.

    “In considering the pros, the security of the aging parent is primary,” Carolyn said. “Family is nearby and an alarm can be added for the elder to ring if there is trouble.


    "As far as the cons go, in areas where housing is generally expensive, the cost of construction can exceed the assets available. If there are sufficient means to add on to the existing home or build a suitable unit for the elder, and it is a building code conforming unit, it can add to the value of a home in an area where renting it out after it is no longer needed by an aging family member is feasible. That could make it worth the investment. The cost calculations should be fully evaluated to see how long it would take to recoup the investment if that is a desired outcome of adding on a unit.

    “One important consideration in doing construction is the health condition of the aging parent or loved one,” Carolyn stressed. “People generally decline in health and have more care needs as they age. Particularly with dementia, which affects at least 5.5 million people in the U.S. now, the care needs of an elder will escalate as the disease progresses. If a paid caregiver were needed, would the granny flat accommodate an extra person? Who would care for an elder who developed a tendency to wander at night, a common problem with Alzheimer's disease?”


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    Related content: Acceptance of Change Important in Alzheimer’s Caregiving  


    “The important considerations include family dynamics, the safety of the elder, the elder's health and the cost of construction, as well as whether the family expects a future return on the investment,” Carolyn said. “Perhaps the most difficult part of the analysis of whether or not to add a unit to the family home of adult children is what level of care the family could provide to the elder if care is needed over time.”


    Thanks to Carolyn Rosenblatt for her words of wisdom on this complicated topic. For more information about Carolyn and her new book, go to her website at


    Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at and On Twitter,

    follow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook: Minding Our Elders



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Published On: March 18, 2015