Accessory Dwelling Units Are Coming

Accessory Dwelling Units Are Coming

This week's Zebra Report comes from our CEO, Shauna Naf, who has just returned from the ADU Academy in Berkeley, California, hosted by Earth Advantage. Please enjoy.

Accessory Dwelling Units are not new, but their adoption into Single Family Residential zoned cities on a more consistent basis is a fairly new phenomenon. Driven by the need to create more housing and density in our urban areas, cities and states are allowing these to be built in backyards, as well as carving out spaces in homes to accommodate them - think basement, garage, and attic conversions as well as renovating larger floorplans to carve out multiple living spaces within existing walls.

This last week, I had the opportunity to attend ADU Academy in Berkeley, California hosted by Earth Advantage. In addition to connecting with ADU aficionados from the west coast, Montana, and all the way to Florida, I learned quite a bit more about what is going on in markets that are ahead of most of Washington State in terms of design, building solutions, financing, and even challenges that others have overcome.

In addition to the learning and networking, I also joined in on an exclusive tour of ADUs in and around Berkeley. These are not only providing housing options, but they are also solving problems for the future owners or tenants.

Let's take a look at some of my favorite things I saw on the tour!

160 sq ft | Total cost: $75K (including $35K trailer)

This unit, a tiny home on wheels, is only 160 square feet, but it contained a living space, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It can be hooked up to permanent facilities, installed on concrete, or it can remain on the trailer. They can also be stacked! In fact, 39 of these are being used to create an apartment building to house formerly homeless people. Check it out:

What's awesome about this one? The price tag! At $75,000, this was the least expensive unit around AND the trailer costs $35,000 of that. So if it is removed from the trailer and the trailer reused for other purposes, that makes this unit a cool $40K. This was also a very durable unit - metal siding and all.

390 sq ft | Total cost: $92K

This unit was in the backyard of a primary residence - the back housed Grandma while her kids and grandkids lived in the primary residence. This studio was only 390 sq ft and it was the cheapest to build of all the permanent ADUs on the tour at about $92,000 ($235 per square foot). However, she put in a lot of sweat equity and was very selective and frugal in the finishes she selected (such as an Ikea kitchen). In addition, this was formerly a garage, so some of the infrastructure was able to be reused.

This home featured a number of space-saving amenities such as a Murphy bed, and a walk-in closet with mirrors. Also, this structure was created to not interfere with the two amazing trees in the backyard.

618 sq ft | Total cost: $350K

Isn't the entry into the backyard for this unit amazing? Orange tree, bougainvillea, and trumpet vine make walking to the ADU feel like a sanctuary. This ADU was 1 bedroom with 1 bathroom and was built when the height limit for an ADU in Berkeley was 16 feet. At that height, a full second story was a challenge which is why there is a non-bedroom loft space at the top of the stairs. Great for an office, yoga, etc.

In Washington State, having the height limit be no less than 24 feet as per HB 1337 is a game-changer in terms of having a second story.

This unit also has solar panels (as the owner has the roof slope facing south) and smooth Hardiplank siding. The owner indicated that building the ADU was her retirement plan to allow for cashflow from rental, but she also designed it for when she can't live in the main house anymore for a space to age in place - with open space and curbless showers.

388 sq ft + 200 sq ft storage| Total cost: $375K

This ADU was the most controversial on the tour as it wasn't intended to be used as a rental or for permanent housing, but several of the tour members thought it was intended for housing. An ADU for occupancy locally must include permanent cooking facilities. However, this unit sported a hot plate, so it really didn't qualify.

According to the owner, this was designed as a Painter's Studio. At 380 square feet and tucked behind the primary residence, this ADU did the best job, in my opinion, in working with the existing tree infrastructure.

I absolutely loved the pop-out window above the sink on this home as well as the wide and welcoming driveway.

1000 sq ft | Total cost: $500K+

This ADU was under construction during the tour. We had the privilege of meeting with the owner who had prepared an entire spec sheet on how she was able to secure quality tile for under $3 a square foot. They wanted tile throughout because they have dogs and wanted a surface that would stand up. The structure was designed by, but the owners were doing some of the finish work themselves and had some very custom selections.

For example, they had chosen a Portuguese tile for the backsplash, but could not find a quartz that was complementary. They decided to choose something different for their countertops - a high-quality walnut slab!

This owner was another who currently lives in the primary home, but having the ADU will allow them to move to the back when they were ready to downsize. They intend to rent the ADU out to others now, but when they move into the ADU, they will rent out the primary home. They really love their neighborhood and did not want the need to downsize chase them into another area.

I really loved all the windows in this home - from the triangle window in one of the bedrooms upstairs to the wide garden window in the primary bedroom to the corner window on the stair landing.

1000 sq ft | Total cost: $550K

This was a very interesting garage conversion since the garage was shared with the neighbor next door on a zero-lot line. Half of the garage frontage remained. The garage was housed behind a primary residence that had been converted to multifamily housing.

What I loved about this ADU was the outdoor spaces and the blending of the indoors and out with wood and green paint. The front door area had covered porch area with a bench to remove one's shoes. The olive tree in the front made the entry feel very set apart from the back of the multi-family house. There was a small fenced grass area (presumably for dogs) and a great patio for relaxing. Big windows, a neutral background, and wood accents in the home still let the outside shine through no matter where you were in the home. Even the tile in the bathroom was green to continue the indoor/outdoor feel and the toilet was positioned to float about it, lending to the feeling of space.

1000 sq ft | Total cost: $800K

This ADU was something else! It was originally designed as a single story due to the 16-foot height max, but as the build got underway, Berkeley allowed ADUs to go up to 20 feet. They stopped the build and went back to the drawing board to add a second story. That is part of the reason the price tag per square foot on this unit was so high. But the solutions that are packed into this space are also to blame. And did I mention the tile? Oh my goodness!

This ADU was built for two tall men, one of whom looked for storage opportunities at every corner. Above doors, in wall cubbies, over the shower, in the toe-kick in the kitchen, even in the banquette that is under construction. The kitchen is custom-custom-custom with counter cubbies for a compost collection bin and knife block. The countertops are about 6” higher than standard to support their tall frames.

They even invested in soundproof flooring for workout room. They have two sets of lights in the living room - one set for functionality and the second set to highlight their art. The tile is to swoon for (which I may have already mentioned). Did you see the super-small powder room sink, perfect for narrow bathrooms?

The goal of this build was free up the primary house as a rental and they will live in the ADU.

Teak Masterpiece

I heard that one of the companies that had a booth at the ADU tour afterparty was hosting an open house in which they had not one, but two modular teak ADU units on display in their showroom. I had to check it out. That company is Masaya who harvests and reforest teak in Central America. Although their primary focus is on furniture, they also have seven modular ADUs ranging from 120 square feet up to 1200 square feet with two bedrooms and an office that can be purchased and installed on individual lots. Check them out:

Other cool stuff

What else is new? Panelized designs! Although you may not have 15 minutes to watch this video, start it and skip through it to see how fast a build can come together. In this case, a local designer has created some plans that another company has panelized for super-easy and less waste installation.

It is also worth noting that the most captivating ADUs had really thought about the relationship between the primary residence and the ADU with care given to shared and private outdoor spaces. This is a very big deal when thinking about how someone might live in that ADU space. Designers need to be careful to avoid the feeling of living in a fishbowl, especially when using a lot of windows to let in light. Carefully situating the ADU on the lot and giving it its own private courtyard is a good way to make a small space feel special.

Final Thoughts

I was very surprised to see the number of people who currently live in the primary residence who were building an ADU in their backyards for themselves to move into as they age. This speaks to the power of neighborhoods and the power of Aging in Place. ADUs are a wonderful solution to building additional density in neighborhoods. In most cases, one couldn't even see the ADU from the street and I would not have guessed there was one hiding in the back. They can fit seamlessly into our communities and I am excited for what the next chapter brings!

Also, for those of you who read and enjoyed our Accessory Dwelling Units: Not Just a Way out of the Housing Crisis issue from Oct 11, 2023, we have an update on the Whatcom Housing Alliance (WHA) design competition that we participated in with our Madrona multi-generational ADU design submission! Although we did not win the competition, we received honorable mention as the only design that considered both resale and rental potential of the home. We also received recognition as the only plan which included a full bathroom, bedroom, and living space on the second floor. Thank you to everyone who took a moment to vote!

By Shauna Naf, CEO
Shauna Naf has successfully led The Lones Group through the challenges of real estate markets and small business since 2007. Many clients of The Lones Group rely on her thoughtful direction and advice to orient them toward business success. As a community leader and Rotarian, Shauna works to drive goodwill throughout Whatcom County alongside fellow local business leaders. An expert in branding and graphic design, Shauna is regularly called upon by local colleges to critique budding student designers and provide career guidance. In her role as CEO, Shauna is a passionate advocate of increasing housing options and affordability, developing ADU and middle-housing expertise, and helping industry professionals achieve peak performance.