Guest Quarters: Is a Guest House or Casita Right for You?

View of guest house with wooden deck and nicely trimmed garden. Located in the Northwest region of the United States.

A guest house is one way that you can have guests over to visit for extended periods of time, while also giving you and your guests privacy and comfort.

As you embark on your journey to your new retirement home, have you considered building a guest house or casita too?

Such a feature can be useful if you have an adult child who needs to move back home or simply if you just want to provide comfort and privacy to guests.

Guest houses or casitas, referred to as additional dwelling units (ADU) in technical speak, can be useful in retirement because you don’t have to worry about being inconvenienced if guests are over. As we age, we tend to have certain preferences about our homes, so a guest house means no one is irritated over different habits.

Noted as a home trend in 2017, ADUs have been popping up across America.

If your budget, property and covenants allow, a separate living area away from your new home can be a great feature, explains Bee Heinemann, interior decorating expert at Vant Wall Panels in spring Valley, N.Y. “Separate structures have been utilized for a long time as a pool house, guest quarters, studio or office.”

Before adding an ADU to your new home’s plans, you’ll want to factor in the costs and logistics involved.

Follow these guidelines to decide if a casita or guest house is the right addition to your new property.

1. Consider Legal Logistics

The specific rules for guest houses and casitas vary by region.

“Check your city’s zoning and building laws carefully,” advises Tyler Riddell, vice president of marketing for eSUB Construction Software.

If your new home will be in a new-home community or an area with a homeowners’ association, ask the governing organization if guest houses are allowed.

“Remember that ADUs require you to submit plans, get permits and follow all regulations, as well as incorporate standards addressing fire safety, water lines and sewer connections,” explains Riddell.

Talk to your home builder and visit accessorydwellings.org, which lists regulations by state and city.

2. Know its Use

Talk to your partner or family members about the purpose of the additional space. Doing so will help you determine if it should be included in the construction project.

It will also help you with the design. If you are thinking about aging in place or have friends or family with disabilities, you might want features such as ramps instead of steps and wide hallways to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.

To get the biggest return on your investment, “consider making the guest space a multi-functional use space,” suggests Heinemann.

A home office could have a Murphy bed to accommodate guests or an in-law suite might include a space for arts and crafts.

You may even decide to build it as an income suite and lease it.

3. Understand the Costs

Even if the space is small, you’ll need to pay for features such as heating, air conditioning electricity and water. For this reason, the costs for a casita often add up quickly.

“ADUs can be expensive and range anywhere from $100 to $500 per square foot,” notes Riddell. “That does not include permits, the foundation and installation, which can tack on an extra $15,000 to $25,000.”

In addition to the upfront expense, you’ll want to think about the long-term cost. This might include an overall increase in what you pay for taxes, maintenance, utilities and insurance.

If you’re considering the idea of renting the place, take some time to calculate the monthly income you expect to receive from it, including costs such as vacancy rate. Then work out how many months it would take you to recover your initial investment, suggests Davis.

4. Think through Location

Designs for a guest house often consist of a spot over a garage, a small apartment attached to the home or a separate structure located on a different part of the property.

If the guest house is attached to your home, you’ll be closer to visitors. You’ll likely enjoy lower taxes and fewer zoning restrictions. Separate accommodations, on the other hand, might lead to higher taxes and more zoning restrictions.

A guest house that stands on its own, however, provides more space for everyone.

“Guests will love the separate quarters because regardless of how close you are to your guests, a little separation and privacy is always welcome,” notes Heinemann. “Be careful, however, as a beautiful guest house may cause people to overstay their welcome!”
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer who frequently covers home and lifestyle topics.

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