When Peggy Delinois Hamilton relocated to the Washington, D.C. area and began working full-time after spending eight years as an at-home mother of two children, childcare was one of her top concerns. She decided that a live-in au pair was the best choice for her family.
“I like the live-in because I don’t have to worry about issues with transportation on the caretaker’s part,” said Hamilton. “I don’t have to worry about them having competing obligations.”
Finding and keeping a live-in nanny in a competitive childcare market can be a high stakes game. To lure and retain experienced, nurturing caregivers, many families shell out as much as $100,000 to create stylishly appointed living space for their au pairs. From kitchens with marble countertops and stainless steel appliances to bathrooms with luxury showerheads and rich wood cabinetry, local designers create living quarters so enchanting and thoughtfully designed that a nanny wouldn't dream of leaving.
“If you’re a live-in nanny, you want your own space. In fact, nannies won’t take a job from a family that won't provide it,” said Jackie Wood-Gobuluk, owner of Metropolitan Nannies in Herndon, Va.
"We try to create a close mimic of the main house and the primary
— Christopher Dietz, Dietz Development
The spaces most often used for nanny suites are the lower level or attic, says Christopher Dietz of Dietz Development. “We try to create a close mimic of the main house and the primary kitchen and bathrooms of the main house,” he said. “We don't do Formica or IKEA cabinets. We generally use … granite, marble or Silestone. You don’t want people to say, ‘Wow, we can tell you really cut corners on this space.’“
Maintaining a continuity in quality while being budget conscious requires judicious planning.“We may splurge on custom window treatments and a bedskirt and save on things like furniture using retail pieces,” said Marika Meyer, principal of Marika Meyer Interiors in Bethesda.
When an Arlington, Va. family enlisted architect J.P. Ward of Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Inc. to design an au pair suite for their home, they wanted him to maintain continuity in both color and materials. A cathedral ceiling, granite countertops, and under cabinet lighting were key as he blended the rich aesthetic quality of the original home with the new space. “We used a higher end tile and materials that blended with the rest of the house,” said Ward. “It turned out to be like a high-end studio apartment that you could get high rent for.”
The au pair’s space has a separate entrance, something that offers privacy to both the nanny and the family. “We made it so that the au pair has an independent way of coming in and so they’re not working 24 hours a day,” said Ward.
Contractors say the cost of adding a nanny suite can range from $5,000 on a property where there is an existing bathroom and space for a bedroom to more than $100,000 on properties where plumbing must be installed or an small addition is required. “[A] bathroom is the biggest expense because of the plumbing,” said Ward.
Because such an addition requires a significant investment, Kai Tong of Hopkins and Porter Construction in Potomac, Md. encourages clients to think long term. “One of the most important and useful realizations when considering nanny suites is that, unlike your kitchen or bath or bedroom, the nanny suite will only be a nanny suite for a finite amount of time in your lives,” he said. “As your children grow, the nanny will move on, and the nanny suite is destined to become something else.”
In the Washington, D.C. area, adding an au pair suite to one’s home can make a property more appealing. “Particularly in neighborhoods with lots of young, affluent families, nanny suites are a popular, although not essential, amenity,” said David DeSantis, partner and managing broker of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. “Ideally these suites are somewhat separated from the family sleeping quarters and have their own entrance so the nanny can come and go freely.”
A nanny suite can offer a good return on investment. “The fact that it could be used as a nanny suite is a plus, but it's the same sort of thing as an in-law suite [so] it offers the ability for multigenerational living with some level of privacy,” said David Howell, executive vice president and CIO of McEnearney Associates in McLean, Va.
“Because these suites are pretty uncommon in this area, it's a real draw for those who really need one.”
In fact, having a nanny suite, particularly one with high-end amenities, can increase a property’s value. “I would say that they may make a difference in price from 5 to 10 percent as they … would count as an additional bedroom,” said real estate agent Nancy Itteilag, of Long and Foster Christie's International Real Estate.
Ann Dozier Michael, an Alexandria-based associate broker with McEnearney Associates, has a current listing that includes a nanny suite. “When you have a property listed that can serve the various needs of buyers, then that will add value because you have a larger buying pool,” she said.