Throughout history, family units have dealt with different and sometimes difficult decisions when it came to caring for the eldest members of the family. In many cultures, it is assumed that the children will look after the needs of their parents, much as the parents did when the children were younger. Though today’s Western society has become quite self-centered, there does seem to be a growing trend towards the traditional idea – that the children take on the responsibility to assist in the day to day life of their parents, once those parents reach their late senior years.
In the world of real estate, especially here in Niagara with our large senior population, there are quite a few options when it comes to senior housing. The first choice, and usually the best one for most people, is independent living. This is commonly either in the home the kids grew up in, or in an empty-nest bungalow. As long as there are not any serious health or financial issues to deal with, this has proven to be the best option for most families. However, whether those issues are involved or not, another great option is the in-law or “granny” suite. This involves the purchase of a house where the main living space is dedicated to the family of the adult child, and a secondary living space in the same house is designed to be home to one or two of the senior parents. It may also be that the home of the adult child is remodeled in order to create the secondary suite for the senior parent. The “in-law” suite usually has a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath, and often a direct entry door into the main living space. I will spend the next couple articles dealing with these secondary suites, looking at some of the pros and cons, as well as pricing and construction aspects.
This time, I want to stress that this set up is definitely not for everyone. There is a delicate balancing act going on when you have two or three generations living under the same roof. These issues should ideally be dealt with before moving forward with a decision to include an in-law suite. The first question, in my humble opinion, is how do the senior parents get along with their son-in-law or daughter –in-law? A strained relationship there could lead to more stress and anxiety than anyone is willing to deal with. Secondly, if there is any question about whose house this is, or which generation is in charge, then tension and arguments could lead to the deterioration of what relationship there was before the decision to move in together. Can you imagine, for example, being Darren Stephens and having your Mother-in-law, Endora, move in with you? Though the TV show “Bewitched” is fiction, of course, the point is still true. How strong was their relationship? Who was the head of the household? As with much of life, compromise, give and take, patience, respect and love will be necessary tools if you want to make things work.
A few years back, my father, living alone in a Secord Woods apartment, was facing major heart by-pass surgery in Hamilton. The recovery period would be lengthy. My wife approached me with the suggestion that we sell our house, and buy one that offered a grade level in-law suite, to provide a secure and comfortable home for my Dad. Her knowledge and skill, as well as her maternal instincts, proved invaluable over the next few years, as “Opa” became a member of our household. There were some strained periods, such as when Dad decided to take up smoking again, but overall our family was very blessed to have him with us for those four and a half years, until his death. We learned that the recipe for success was to respect each other’s personal space, do not make assumptions, and treat each other like the adults we all were. I realise that not everyone will have the same result, but I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
So the point today is to think about the situation before you make the decision to move forward with an in-law suite. If the relationships and respect levels are strong, then you could all benefit significantly from the experience. If there is tension between the family members involved, perhaps another option would be a better choice for you.
We will continue to look at secondary suites, and their pros and cons next issue. Until then, make it a great day!