ADU Real Life Stories

Bringing a dream to life Half Moon Bay homeowners Bill and Ruthie are like many other couples looking to set their adult children up for success when they are gone. But their days are packed with even more emotion than most parents: their 33-year-old son, Alex, has severe developmental disabilities. They knew they needed to create some distance between themselves and Alex so he could learn to live somewhat independently before they became too elderly to care for him at home. They agonized over what to do, even how to start thinking about Alex’s future without them by his side. Bill and Ruthie thought the best option would be for them to move out of the home they have long shared with Alex so he could remain in familiar surroundings with care givers. They looked at many options – buying or renting a second home nearby, moving to an area with lower housing costs, even docking a sailboat at the local marina – but none were feasible. They felt they had reached a dead end until Ruthie discussed their dilemma with a neighbor. The city, the neighbor told her, had made it easier to build second units. The next day Bill and Ruthie were talking with city planners. Today, Bill and Ruthie spend a few nights each week in a second unit they added to their existing home while Alex has round-the-clock care in the main.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Building an ADU – Bottomline, Hire a Professional!

Words of Advice about the ADU Development Process, from Those Who Have Gone Before You

Recently, I conducted a brief survey of those who have attended one of my ADU classes.  Of those who had completed or nearly completed construction, I asked a question:

If you completed an ADU or are in the final stages of building one, what advice would you offer to prospective ADU owner-developers?

Sometimes, you can do research on your own using Google. But, other times, it’s more useful to get advice from homeowner/developers who have already gone through the process. Below are the 25+ responses to that question.

  • Make sure you’ve set aside a significant chunk of time so the process is less stressful. Prepare to be patient with yourself and the contractor.
  • Spend a lot of time planning with your contractor, make all your decisions ahead of time, then let them build. This avoids change orders, keeps the project on budget and on time.
  • Take this course!! Note: We are using equity from sale of previous home, plus a standard mortgage for the newly purchased existing (main) home, as main source of funding. So equity is being used, but not a home equity loan. ADU is for aging family member (mother/mother-in-law).
  • Take your time with the planning and be sure to get a small space expert to help you with the design. Placement of water tanks, washer/dryer, closets, bathroom, etc. can be done well if you have someone who knows what they are doing. Stick to a small footprint. A lot can be done in a small space.
  • The City permit process is a bureaucratic quagmire (and expensive, too). Avoid it if you possibly can.
  • Know what your project is from the beginning
  • Get multiple trades estimates or GC estimates for the entire project
  • Get in writing what your trades people are doing and what you are doing if you are GC-ing yourself
  • Know the cities rules!
  • It will take longer, and be more expensive than you originally think. Also, bid everything extensively.
  • It costs a lot more than $100k, think more like $180K to have it build and signed for you
  • I would want them to know doing it yourself is a lot harder than I thought, and nothing seems to get done as quickly as you’d hope. Dealing with the city is HARD.
  • I probably over built the house. Designer was overly cautious.
  • I discovered that even though I hired a general contractor to do the job, I was much more involved in the project than I thought I would be. I needed to make all of the design decisions, buy all of the fixtures, and (most importantly) watch for and point out mistakes made by my contractor or one of his subcontractors.
  • Have a contingency fund — in my case around 20% is needed.
  • Go slowly, work with a designer who has experience.
  • Give yourself more time then you think you’ll need. Know that it will be consuming but fun… at least so far!
  • Get the builder in on the design phase.
  • Find contractor and designer that you can trust
  • Find a good designer and you can save money with a drafter in lieu of an architect. If you use a designer/drafter team, you’ll need to make sure that one of them is competent to submit the plan set and shepherd it through the process with the City.
  • Everything will be more expensive and take longer than you initially planned for … so plan for that!
  • Do your homework. It’s more complicated than it may appear.
  • Do your homework and have a good plan in place before you start, but be prepared for the plan to change daily. Make sure you are working with a contractor with whom you trust completely, because they are the most important person in the whole process. Don’t cut corners and don’t waste time trying to save a couple of bucks by doing things yourself that some one else really should be doing.
  • Do it!

It is probably going to cost more than you think.

You are allowed to do most of the work yourself if you plan to occupy. (City will provide you with handy sheet detailing what you can and cannot do.)

For myself in the future, I may consider just finishing space (ie basement/attic) as opposed to the whole process of the ADU.

I’d also like to see some prefab designs or construction packages. As much as anyone likes to have a personalized design, it is overwhelming to make all the choices and if you want as a rental anyway, it may make sense to go with a cheaper option.

  • Be patient
  • Hire a designer!
  • Wow. educate yourself. and plan. plan. plan. and definitely consider a design build company to work with. in retrospect i feel that the pros outweigh the cons of hiring a design build company. at the very least hire an architect who works alongside a builder and have them collaborating from the jump start. and last but not least prepare yourself for the potential of dealing with tree representatives that work for the city and promote unreasonable tree code…

Admittedly, there’s some common cautionary advice themes here !

  1. It’s going to take longer than you think.
  2. It’s going to cost more than you think.
  3. Plan to spend significant time/energy planning and designing the ADU in advance with skilled pros.

But, here’s one more anecdotal takeaway I have noticed from those who have completed an ADU. No one ever regrets having built an ADU. Indeed, for many homeowners, building an ADU is the most life-changing thing they’ve ever done to create flexibility and financial freedom in their lives. That additional little tidbit of advice may be useful for those who are considering whether to undertake an ADU project on their property.


Building an ADU-Options for Senior Living

Revised 2018 | Blog -Jan 2020

What is Aging in Place?

Aging in place is a term that has been coined for individuals who reside in a dwelling of their choice, for as long as they can, while they grow old.  This entails maintaining the right resources and services, depending on each senior’s needs.

Many people who decide to age in place must make home modifications in preparations for their needs as they grow older.  

Aging in place modifications include:

  1. Accessible bathtubs
  2. Increased railings
  3. Removing furniture that could be a hazard or cause a fall
  4. Having no lip or threshold between doorways
  5. Adding ramps to outdoor staircases
  6. Increasing the size of doorways to make them wheelchair accessible

A new resource that has helped make aging in place a more practical solution is an Accessory Dwelling Unit.  An ADU is a tiny home that shares the same property as a single-family home.  They just became a lot easier to build in California when legislation was passed allowing two units to be built on single-family properties.

These smaller spaces are perfect for facilitating aging in place.  They can be customized for foreseeable needs like accessibility and convenience.  

We know that choosing the best option for senior living can be difficult.  That is why comparing options can help people make the best-informed decisions.

Aging in Place vs. Nursing Homes

One of the many options for senior living is a nursing home. Typically nursing homes are beneficial for individuals who have more complex health issues and need around-the-clock assistance from more skilled professionals like nurses or physicians.

However, not all circumstances are the same, so these guidelines may not apply to all. Everyone has unique needs that determine their best senior living option.

That being said, here are two factors that can strongly influence this important decision:

Cost: Aging in Place vs. Nursing Home

According to a survey done by MetLife Mature Market Institute (2016), the average cost per day in a semi-private room in a nursing home in California is $249.  

This totals to a total cost of around $90,885 per year.

If one wanted a private room, those prices would shoot up to $330 per day, or $120,450 per year. 

Compare that to aging in place in a granny flat: On average, the cost to build a stand-alone unit is $220-$350 a square foot.  

While these are ballpark numbers that can vary by build, location and architect fees, it ranges from a total cost of about $130,000 – $250,000 to build a granny flat.

Even though this option has a higher sticker price than a nursing home, we will explain how the added value of the additional property usually outweighs the overhead costs. Building a granny flat also increases the value of your home.

Care: Aging in Place vs. Nursing Home

One of the major benefits of a nursing home is that comes with around-the-clock care.  Nursing homes offer personalized assistance like help getting out of bed, bathing, eating, or other special attention.  

They also offer assistance for more complex health conditions like a skilled nurse or a physical or speech therapist.  

This personalized attention is great for individuals who have disabilities or special daily needs.  Also, if family members do not have the time or resources to take care of their elderly family members to this extent, nursing homes can be a very good option.

In contrast, if a family has enough time to help care for their elderly family members, aging in place in a granny flat can also be very beneficial.  

Many times, immediate family members occupy the main house: The lack of a geographical barrier allows individuals in need of assistance immediate help if something were to happen.  

Aging in Place vs. Assisted Living

Assisted living differs from a nursing home primarily because of the different services provided.  Many times, residents of nursing homes have more complex health problems, whereas assisted living communities generally require more custodial care.  

Cost: Aging in Place vs. Assisted Living

According to the 2015 Genworth Financial cost of care survey, the average cost of an assisted living facility in California is $3,750 per month.  

That is a total of $45,000 per year.

Again, this will vary based on where you live but these are average numbers.

Let’s take a look at the costs of aging in place in a granny flat again.  We already know that it can cost around $220 – $350 per square foot.

That may seem like a lot, but don’t forget that it also adds major value to the property!  For example, a home purchased in 1990 for $100,000 has a base value of $156,000 (from California’s Prop 13’s 2% increase).

Let’s say you then build a granny valued at $75,000.

You would add $156,000 + $75,000 = $231,000.

So $231,000 is the new assessed value of the home.

Care: Aging in Place vs. Assisted Living

Assisted living communities usually look more like an upscale apartment complex.  Most seniors would get their own unit.

There is also custodial care for individuals with mobility needs or may be living with dementia.  Qualified professionals are there to help with daily activities to make them safe and functional.

But with a loved one living in an assisted living community, physical distances can decrease family visits.

As for aging in place in a granny flat, being close to a loved one can be beneficial for safety reasons but also for emotional reasons.  Keeping an elderly family member emotionally engaged can increase their quality of life, happiness, and help maintain cognitive function.

Aging in Place in a Granny Flat vs. Independent Living

Aging in place in a granny flat and independent living are very similar concepts.  They both promote independence and maximizing time in personal homes.

A couple of the key differences are the distance to relatives and home modifications.  We will go over the costs and care of both and the benefits of the different lifestyles.

Costs: Aging in Place in a Granny Flat vs. Independent Living

Independent living is what it sounds like: living in one’s own home during their senior years.  To ensure safety and mobility of the inhabitants of the home, modifications must be made.

These modifications will have to depend on the shape of the house before the renovations.  Stand-up bathtubs, stair elevators, and additional railings are all precautions that have to be considered if the decision is made to live in one’s own home.  

Since house modifications vary so drastically, it’s hard to estimate the total cost–but keep in mind that mortgage or rental costs will be added on top of house modifications.  

For aging in place in a granny flat, we’ve gone over the costs to build and the value it adds but there is also financial value in downsizing.  The old house that the elderly family member moves out of can be rented out or sold for income.

Care: Aging in Place in a Granny Flat vs. Independent Living

An elderly person who is well enough to maintain living in their old home will not have many changes in lifestyle.  If they are not healthy enough to be on their own, professional help is available for hire with in-home care.

This can be very helpful because it does allow your family member to stay in their own home, but can be very costly in the long run.  

Aging in place in a granny flat has benefits because family members are close in physical and emotional proximity.  In addition, downsizing can ease the burden of aging.

A smaller house means less upkeep and fewer possessions to keep track of.  Elderly members still have their own space with easier maintenance, while maintaining personal responsibility.

Choosing where to house an elderly family member is no easy decision.  There are positives and negatives to all housing options.

When making the decision, the whole family should weigh the importance of each aspect of senior living.  That importance along with the needs of the senior should help determine which housing option is right for your family.  

Lastly, remember these three things:

  1. Communication is key.  Good communication between family members allows everyone to be on the same page so no confusion will toughen an already difficult process.
  2. Focus on what is important.  It is easy to lose sight of what really matters.  At the beginning of the journey, make a list of factors that matter.  Reference the list from time to time to maintain consistency.
  3. Don’t cut corners.  Moving a loved one into a new space takes time.  Cutting steps could really damage quality of life for your family member.

With the right amount of time and effort dedicated towards the decision, your family will be able to find the right option for senior living.