Quick! What’s an ADU?

Portland ADU

Portland ADU

Portland is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. A renaissance of SMALL. It’s the dawning age of the ADU.

Because big isn’t always more beautiful, personal, functional, or desirable. And big has a cost that is more than monetary. Big can own you. Maybe its time to rethink big. You’ve seen Dwell Magazine, right?

There’s a time for big, of course. When you’re raising the kids, working a stationary job that precludes you from running off to Hawaii every other month, frequently entertaining your hordes of friends, and well, just “keeping up with the Joneses.” Big says you’ve arrived, you’ve achieved, you’ve got it made.

California ADU

California ADU

Back to Basics

But then things change. The kids grow up, you are swimming in meaningless stuff,  you no longer care what your friends thinks, and you want “something”  more that you can’t quite define.

You may remember the “good old days” before kids and responsibility when you lived in a beat up van and mostly fished for your supper. You might start reevaluating what it means to be happy.  Like Poet Mary Oliver, you might ask: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Like these local folks who document their journey in their Portland blog.

Enter the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). Otherwise known as ancillary dwelling unit, granny flat, mother-in-law cottage, garage apartment, alley house, carriage house, guest cottage, or pied-à-terre.

Woodlawn, Portland ADU

Portland ADU

Regardless of what you call it, when done right, the ADU is a miniature home with a lot of carefully designed functionality and a ton of style.

These tiny homes can be downright ingenious, revolutionary even, with custom details and whimsical peculiarities you won’t find in the typical 2,000 square foot, cookie-cutter home. At 800 square feet maximum (or 75 percent of the overall square footage of a lot’s primary house, whichever is smaller) the entire living space must be reimagined.

Portland ADU

Portland ADU

Are ADU’s Legal in Portland?

But the thing is, these small living spaces are mostly ILLEGAL across the United States. Sorry, you can’t just convert your garage to a home for your Mom and Dad or your home-again grown kid.  A single-family lot is just that–meant for a single family, not a horde of relatives or renters. Your neighbors and city building permit folks will come unglued.

What’s a creative, adventurous home owner with a need for redefined living space to do?

Well, the first thing you need to do is move to Portland–where our independent spirit and ADU friendly zoning laws will welcome, nay encourage, you to reimagine your life and your living space along with it.

Except for Santa Cruz, California, and Austin, Texas, where ADUs have long been allowed, Portland stands alone in its aggressive advocacy of these game changing housing units. While 800 residential housing applications were approved in Portland in 2013, 200 accessory dwelling unit applications were also approved. That’s a 4 to1 ratio and a huge leap from previous years.

Polyphon ADU

Polyphon Architecture & Design ADU

How About a Loan to Build an ADU?

When lending practices catch up with this new trend, we expect to see ADU’s on every block in Portland. As it is now, you can’t get a loan for this type of housing unit. But the banking industry is scrambling to catch up with the new trend. In the meanwhile, some ADU trail blazers are showing that post construction appraisals come in higher than building costs. These homeowners were able to refinance their existing mortgages and regain their out of pocket building expenses.

Portland ADU

Portland ADU

Who Can Help Me with the Process?

If you decide to take the plunge and build your own accessory dwelling unit, we recommend that you hire a designer who knows how to make every square inch count. But if you are handy with a hammer and saw, you may be able to do much of the actual work yourself. You might also want to take a class. And definitely take the upcoming tour.

Your neighbors will welcome you and your building project, because it’s your design-savvy ADU or a high-rise apartment next door. Those are the alternatives when housing inventory is low and demand is high.

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