In today’s economy, where housing has become so costly in many areas, finding a workable solution for parents to downsize to or move into due to illness, condition, or income can be a challenge. The answer is increasingly becoming what is now called “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs), usually built in the backyard of an existing property.
Realtor.com's Karen Spring writes about the need for affordable housing in areas with tight inventory for special needs such as this, where local governments are increasingly passing measures that make it easier for homeowners to build and rent out ADUs. “The homes are permanent, an entrance, kitchen, and full bath,” says Springer. Picture a self-contained dwelling on the same property as a standard single-family home in a miniature version, and you’ll get the idea.
“Since California loosened its restrictions in 2016, the number of applications in Los Angeles alone increased from 90 in 2015 to nearly 2,000 in 2017. With permits, cities make sure the units are safe and also capture property tax revenue,” says Springer.
The idea is nothing new. Having elderly parents occupying quarters above the garage or in the basement has helped extended families stay together, even offering opportunities for built-in babysitting arrangements. But ADUs go a step further. In her article, Springer quotes Rachel Ginis, executive director of Lilypad Homes, an education and advocacy group for ADUs in California’s Bay Area. “Interest in ADUs is rising at a time when the average family size has fallen to an all-time low of 2.6 individuals and people have become ‘overhoused,’” citing how ADUs fall under “in-fill housing”—ways to squeeze more homes into high--demand areas.
As ADUs become more prevalent, experts say it’s important to consider how they may affect a transaction either positively or adversely. Just as some buyers consider a pool a maintenance burden, an ADU may be regarded as either a feature or a detriment to buying. What many fail to consider, however, is the potential future use and value of an ADU, prompting an education of sorts by Realtors who may want to stress how important lot size is for these units. This is especially true if they have aging parents in the area and can’t picture putting them into an assisted living setup. Even if home buyers can’t afford to build an ADU immediately, it’s wise to show them the value of having the option to do it in the future.
ADUs are often designed to match the look of the primary dwelling (cities typically required it) and because of their diminutive size, can feature even more luxury items the primary residence, such as radiant in-floor heating, vaulted ceilings, and state-of-the-art kitchens with accessible height cabinets, along with a host of other creature comforts. Open spaces are created by eliminating hallways, and wasted square footage is replaced by efficient design, such as placing the laundry in the kitchen and creating recessed wall areas for built-ins in bedroom areas, living areas an bathrooms.
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