Converting a smaller garage- how much and is it worth it
September 24, 2009 9:30 AM   Subscribe

How much would it cost to convert a garage into an efficiency and how much could I do with a small garage?

I am buying a house with a small detached garage in the back yard. I'd like to turn it into a small efficiency/inlaw quarters. The garage is about 20' x 14'. I live in Miami. Some tell me that it is pretty easy to do and not to worry about permits. I am curious what the whole permitting would cost, rough estimates of the conversion itself, and if it would raise taxes/insurance on the property? I'm not talking real estimates, just like 10k-20k, 40k, etc. What happens if you have unpermitted remodeling, and then try to get it permitted? Is it possible? What does that do to the value of the house in a sale? I'd honestly like to go the permitted route if possible, I am just weighing it all out.

There's electricity already, it just needs plumbing for the kitchen, appliances, and a bathroom. It's concrete flooring with garage doors that swing outwards (french doors?), no insulation, no a/c.

Would an efficiency realistically fit in the space? I'm bad visually/spatially. Could you put a small kitchen, small bath or 1/2 bath, and open living area in?
posted by aussicht to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't be so sure about that "not to worry about permits" bit. That's the sort of thing you can have bite you in the ass, sometimes years later. My uncle bought a house that had an inlaw apartment in it constructed without permits. He had a hell of a time with the town since the area wasn't zoned for multiple residency dwellings. He also demanded, and got, a substantial amount off the asking price because he knew the legal wrangling would cost him. He COULDN'T get retroactive approval and had to undo everything. (and the sellers who did the work illegally lost a ton of money on the sale).
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:52 AM on September 24, 2009

Operating without permits is a bad idea - even if you don't get caught at the moment, as Kellydamnit said, it could come back to hurt you when you go to sell the house.

Once you find out what the rules are concerning permits and whether adding a second dwelling on your property is even permissable, speak to an architect. (Some cities require an architect's plans before issuing a permit anyway.) They'd best be able to tell you how to fit all the necessary fixtures into the space. 20' x 14' sounds like a small dorm room, might get a little cramped when you squeeze in a bathroom and such, but it could probably be done. (Is there any kind of upstairs loft area in the garage that could be used for sleeping?)
posted by LolaGeek at 10:11 AM on September 24, 2009

I'm not an expert, but regarding the permit issue, we've been looking at houses on the market lately to buy, and there are an awful lot that have portions of the property that built on without permits (here in L.A., anyway). If you ever think about selling, from what I can tell it makes it more difficult for resale because:

1. Some properties have been required by the city to convert back. Buying the property before this is done takes over this obligation.

2. I could be wrong, but there seems to be this perception (which I carry with me at times) that work that isn't permitted isn't done as well. It's not that you wouldn't do the job well, but there are a large number of people who don't, and I suspect that the stigma of having unpermitted additions brings down the value of the house.

3. Not knowing what a buyer is getting into with an unpermitted addition also adds more hassle, and people think that this hassle is worth money. I tend to lean away from houses on the market where I'm going to have to worry about this question.

Anyway, just my perception that I'll throw out there. People who know better might say otherwise.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:17 AM on September 24, 2009

Why don't you just call the Miami building department to get the rules? In my experience, in a different city, getting permits is no big deal. I did a $30K renovation in my house and the building permits cost a whole $70.00 and took ten minutes at the planning department downtown to purchase. Not a big deal at all but YMMV (your municipality might vary).

In your case, you'll probably have to worry about zoning too since you're adding a unit and your neighborhood might not allow that without a variance. This is a bit of a hassle but again, better to do it beforehand than risk losing your investment later.
posted by octothorpe at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2009

In your case, you'll probably have to worry about zoning too since you're adding a unit and your neighborhood might not allow that without a variance.

And if there is an HOA on top of any zoning you might not be able to add anything that would be considered a second permanent dwelling.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2009

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