Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)

As the shortage of housing stock continues unabated, the profile of so-called accessory dwelling units (ADU) are small homes that share a plot of land with more significant, single-family homes. Sometimes called “granny flats,” ADUs are generally around 1,200 square feet or less and provide a viable, low-cost alternative living accommodation for both renters who cannot afford more expensive homes. Author Sheri Koones says that ADUs offer sustainability benefits in addition to economic ones and are part of an increasing shift toward low-impact, energy-efficient homes.

Though you cannot sell an ADUs separately from a single-family home, You can rent them out in areas where zoning permits, helping mitigate housing shortages. They also provide homeowners with a way to earn some extra income.

Types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)

Here are some of the common structural forms of ADUs

1)  Detached new construction ADUs, sometimes called backyard cottages, granny flats, laneway houses.

2) Garage conversion ADUs

3) ADUs above a garage or workshop. In some areas, you may call them garage apartments or carriage houses. For example, the Fonz lived in an ADU above the Cunningham’s garage in the TV show Happy Days.

4) Addition ADUs or “bump-out ADUs.”

5) Basement conversion ADUs, also commonly called basement apartments, mother-in-law units, in-law units.

6) Internal ADUs, where a conversion is part of the primary house but not a basement

ADUs Share Some Common Traits

ADUs share some common traits and face common design and development challenges. However, the fact that they’re secondary housing units on single-family residentially zoned lots places ADUs into a unique housing category. And ADUs also have some other distinguishing characteristics that help further define, differentiate, and distinguish them from different housing types.

  • ADUs are accessory and adjacent to a primary housing unit.
  • The ADUs are significantly smaller than the average US house.
  • ADUs tend to be one of two units owned by one owner on a single-family residential lot.
  • The ADUs tend to be primarily developed asynchronously from the primary house by homeowner developers.
  • An extensive range of municipal land use and zoning regulations differentiate ADU types and styles and dramatically affect their allowed uses
  • Vast numbers of informal ADUs exist compared to permitted ADUs.

Some foreign countries have attached or stand-alone living quarters, much like the ADU in the US, but it is called a Casita. It is smaller than the main house, has a kitchen and bathroom, and may have more than one bedroom.

How Many ADUs Are There?

In the twelve academic studies and professionally funded surveys conducted on ADUs, the surveys found a whopping 10-20% of all the housing units are informal ADUs. So could 1/10th of all residential housing stock be informal ADU-type development? If so, that means there are more than thirteen million ADUs out there.

Many signs legally permitted ADUs will become more mainstream. For example, recent statewide laws in California marked a tipping point for ADUs in that influential state.

Some cities are jumping on board the ADU train by improving their ordinances and development regulations to make ADUs easier to build. Unfortunately, many cities are watching from the sideline.

Why Are Some Cities so Eager to Improve their ADU Codes?

For starters, households in the United States are now one and two-person households. Yet, most of our legacy housing stock, and even our new residential housing stock, is designed for families of 4 or 5 people. That may have made sense 70 years ago. But, things have changed.

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