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Lessons I Learned From Building An In-law Suite

The last time I wrote a blog post was July 30, 2018.  We were a little busy the last half of 2018. After realizing the need to have Debbie's parents closer and then not being able to find a suitable house, we decided to add on to the house we've lived in for 20 years. They moved in between Christmas and New Year's. While we learned much more than what I can write here, I thought sharing some lessons might be helpful for others in similar circumstances.

Never Say Never

In our 20 years in our home, I said dozens of times (maybe 100 times) that I would never add on to this house. Not just "never," but "never, ever, Amen!" I thought adding on made absolutely no sense in any conceivable scenario.  An addition would:

  • over-build our house for the neighborhood
  • suck up too much space in our yard
  • be a terrible investment when we eventually sell in the future
  • be a months-long process that would be disruptive to our lives (we built this house and the one before, so we know the reality)
  • other things that I can't remember... this list is 20 years long

Most of these objections may still be valid concerns, and we won't know the investment outcome for quite some time. So how did I get past these concerns?  Read on.

What Money is For

I'm a financial planner and investment advisor. I think in long-term financial outcomes. I'm also a guy that loves his family dearly and believes firmly in the importance of taking care of one another. Those two things can compete at times. On the one hand, we need to set aside for a future retirement that is of unknown length and financial amount and also for short to medium-term needs. The best we can do is estimate and prepare by saving. Then along comes this project... not exactly in the budget while getting two kids through college. So, plans change. As an advisor who eats his own cooking, we rolled up our sleeves and figured out how, along with our pending residents, we would make this work.

In short, we made no changes to our retirement savings plan, but definitely changed our short/mid-term savings quite a bit. That savings had been growing quite a while. I liked seeing it on the balance sheet. Now it would be gone, forcing us to ask and answer a very important question, "What's the money for?" The answer was simple. It's for us to help those we love.

One more thought on this. When we were in the process of rearranging our backyard and going through the building process, it was easy to get caught up (and frustrated) with a building, patio, fences, etc. It's a lot of work, taking a lot of time, energy and emotion. The only way to get through is remembering, this is not about a building, it's about people we love. 

It's Not All Glamorous

We've had several folks tell us what a great thing we are doing. Maybe, but no one ever talks about how glamorous it is. When we first starting thinking about this 3 years ago, I had visions of selling our house and buying a place where both sets of parents could join us. Everyone would have their own living space and we would see each other on a regular basis. Maybe it would be on a pond. Maybe I should start looking at a john boat for fishing. Maybe it would be perfect. Maybe I should snap out of it.

Taking care of people is messy. Moving your parents is messy. Trying to plan space for someone else to live in is difficult. Not knowing how one parent with Alzheimer's will react is terrifying. 

Recently, friends of ours were moving his mom in with them and daughter-in-law was going to be the care giver. It didn't go well and daughter-in-law had a very difficult situation to the point other arrangements had to be made. It was devastating. Several years ago, my brother and his wife prepared to move her mom in from out of state. They bought another house, listed their house and made a good deal of renovations on the new place. Mom passed away before they could even move her. Again, a very difficult, disruptive, emotionally and physically draining experience.

I don't share all this to depress anyone. It's just part of the deal. We would do it again. We don't know what the future holds and how the health of our parents will unfold. Actually, we don't know that about ourselves either. We have learned a lot in the process and continue to learn as we go. If you or someone you know is considering such a move, Debbie and I are glad to answer questions about our situation. We don't know all the answers for all situations, but we certainly are better educated than this time last year.

Any information presented here is general in nature, believed to be reliable as of the date published and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal, tax, investment or individual financial planning advice. Competent, licensed professionals should be consulted when implementing any kind of financial, estate, tax or investment strategy.

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