Carla Fried: How to bring an aging parent close – but not too close

Carla Fried, on

Published in Business News

How close do you live to your aging parents? A mile? An hour's drive? A three-hour flight? Now, imagine there comes a day when they can no longer handle things on their own and you need to help them on a daily basis and either care for them yourself or closely oversee caregivers you hire.

The commute, even a short one, could upend your life in order to help them. For many middle-aged couples, neither is it an attractive proposition to move Mom or Dad into your house. Understood.

That's where an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) -- also known as a mother-in-law apartment, backyard cottage, built-out-basement, etc. -- comes in. ADUs are rapidly growing as many cities in modern America confront a housing shortage. My colleague Dee Gill has written about the economics of building and operating an ADU as a rental property or Airbnb:

And she lays out the permitting and construction options for ADUs in a separate article:

Here, we size up the ADU in its more traditional role: multigenerational housing. First, back to caregiving. The bulk of it remains the domain of women. But these days, most women work and many are single. So devoting yourself to caregiving, in addition to its physical and emotional cost, comes with an enormous financial penalty. Women who leave the workforce to become caregivers suffer an estimated lifetime cost of more than $320,000 in wages and foregone Social Security benefits. Anything that makes the caregiver role less onerous -- like having Mom in an ADU -- is worth considering.


I've covered more on the financial cost of becoming a caregiver in an earlier article:

Given increased life expectancies, there will be record numbers of elderly getting ever older. Yes, boomers want to "age in place," but if that place is far from the offspring who will take care of an aging parent, that might not be realistic. Now, assisted living and other senior living arrangements may be less palatable to families given the excruciating experience of COVID-19 outbreaks.

An ADU can be a detached unit plunked down in the yard, attached to the home, or a conversion of a basement or garage. Zoning regulations typically restrict them to 1,000 square feet or less. It could be the best of two worlds: Everyone gets their privacy. But there's no maintaining two separate residences, no brutal commute between them.

Freddie Mac estimates that between 2009 and 2019, the number of first-time listings of homes for sale that advertised an ADU grew at an annualized rate of 8.6%. It estimates the percentage of listings with an ADU has grown from 1.6% in 2000 to 6.8% last year.


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