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Turning a garage into an in-law unit as empty nest alternative

Stacy Lince’s family of four and her widowed mother, Lee Reich, were paying a collective $4,000 per month (and rising) to rent their separate homes in Santa Rosa, California. Deciding to pool their resources, they bought a modest home with a detached garage that they could convert into a home for grandma.

When they started the project, the city fees were nearly a dealbreaker at $25,000, but a local tragedy intervened. When the Tubbs fire destroyed 5,000 homes in the area, the city radically cut fees for secondary units and the Stacy and her mom were now looking at only about $5,000 in fees.

The 380-square-foot converted home is less than a fifth the size of the home Reich had shared with her husband, but she loves the cozy space, likening it to “a hug”. She managed to carve out a bedroom and spacious bathroom, separated by a sliding door from the living room and kitchen.

After significantly downsizing her possessions (largely by giving away books and her king-sized bed), Reich says she now fits easily into her custom-designed space. The home lacks only a dishwasher (Reich says she is happy hand-washing the same bowl and cup every day) and a washing machine (there is a shared washer/dried unit in a shed behind the main house).