Wait, What Is an ADU?

By Andrew Manning

We know ADU stands for “accessory dwelling unit” but when it comes to what that actually means, the next part can get a little tricky. You can get permitted and have a legal ADU on your property. You can also have a bonus room, a rec room, a guest room … but those wouldn’t be legal ADUs unless you have a permitted second space. 

It’s why real estate professionals are always really careful when marketing homes with additional structures on the property. You can’t include phrases like “ADU! Ready to rent out!” in a listing description if it’s not in fact a legal ADU because technically, the buyer couldn’t rent it out. And then, instead of an ADU, the seller would have a massive legal problem on their hands if the property was sold. 

On a related note, there’s also something called a Junior ADU or JADU. If the lot size accommodates it, you can have a full second legal residence (the ADU) in the back and then you can convert the garage or build a second, smaller residence called a JADU, which is often a studio apartment on the property. JADUs are gaining popularity but like ADUs, restrictions apply, so check with your neighborhood and county on square footage and other requirements for these structures. 

I’ve heard about some agents (not anyone I know, of course) who tell their clients that for an additional $20,000 or $25,000, the client can convert the garage into an ADU. The truth is, this is highly unlikely unless the property is one of those homes in the Hollywood Hills with a garage that sits right on the street. With the current high cost of materials and the requirement of separate heating and electric in the ADU, it’s often quite costly to run lines from the street to the garage to get the structure up to code as a legal ADU. 

When space permits and the situation makes sense for the homeowners, ADUs can be quite beneficial and today, quite elaborate. More basic ADUs can be bought on Amazon (it’s true!) for several thousand dollars – you do have to put it together though – or you can spend upwards of $250,000 for a fancy, prefabricated ADU built by modern architects like the ones Marmod Radziner is building, which are at the forefront of this trend. (Check those out here.) 

It’s a very cool process. Many prefab companies will lay the foundation and deliver the home in pisces. Then, like a puzzle piece on a train track, they’ll set up the home, put in the steel beams, measure exactly where every part of the building should go and then lock it into the train track and slide it all together like an ADU-shaped Rubik’s Cube. 

Those who don’t go the prefab route are getting creative with their ADU choices, converting old boxcars or airstreams and making them super luxurious living spaces to rent out as short- or long-term rentals. 

No matter how you create one, ADUs are far from a quick fix but they can be a fantastic feature for a homeowner seeking to add space and uniqueness to their property.

Wondering if an ADU is right for you? Email me to set up your complimentary real estate consultation.