Seven First Steps To Success In Attaining Your A.D.U.


Scherer Carriage House: main house is at left, ADU (accessory dwelling unit) at right.

An ADU is an additional living unit with kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping facilities in addition to those of a main residence. It may be physically attached or detached from the primary residence. Also known variously as “granny units”, “second units”, or “carriage houses”, ADU’s provide opportunity to use what may be surplus space on a residential lot to house in-laws or relatives, or to provide supplementary income to make one’s mortgage more affordable.


Scherer Carriage House: example of an accessory dwelling unit scheme with habitable area over detached garage.

Throughout our Monterey Bay region, whether you live in Carmel, Monterey, Capitola, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, or the unincorporated areas of Monterey or Santa Cruz counties, opting to have an ADU might be the right lifestyle and/or financial choice for you.

Here are Seven “First Steps” we regard as essential considerations for those who are thinking of constructing an ADU:

1. Clarify your goals: are you motivated to build the ADU to provide for the needs of a family member, as rental property, or both over time? The answer to this question will affect your decision-making from the start. Every subsequent decision, from fundamental budgeting considerations to even such a basic consideration as where to place the ADU’s front door will be influenced by who is to live there, and their relationship to your family.

2. Establish your budget: begin to investigate what the up-front costs are likely to be. These will fall into three categories, namely regulatory fees, professional fees, and so-called “hard” construction costs. Work with staff at your local regulatory agency to obtain an estimate for permits and related fees. Once you have determined what, if any, professionals you’ll retain getting their proposals is a relatively straightforward process. If you are unfamiliar with construction costs, work with a contractor or professional estimator to pencil out a construction cost estimate.

3. Develop a pro forma: think about the ADU as an investment. Begin to investigate what the up-front costs are likely to be, and if appropriate, what revenue stream the ADU could create for you.

4. Research your local regulations: carefully review the local regulations applicable to your prospective ADU. The regulations will determine if your property is eligible to obtain an ADU, and if so, such things as how large it can be, how many stories, its placement in proximity to property lines, etc.

5. Identify ancillary requirements: once you establish zoning feasibility, research what, if any supplemental reports and determinations may apply to your prospective project. Depending on your specific site and jurisdiction, these may include such things as a soils report, wastewater plan, archeological study, biotic habitat determination, and the like. None of these may apply, but if they do, you will need to know that!

6. Consider obtaining a property survey: A survey may or may not be value-added to your project. If you have a large lot, your options for placing your ADU will be relatively unlimited. But on small urban lots placement of your ADU will be constrained by property line and set-backs, and your placement options may come down to a game of inches! If this is the case, having a survey will be invaluable to obtaining your optimal result.

7. Retain an Architect: while this might be a first-time experience for you, the research and the process of obtaining an ADU is relatively routine for most Architects. While not a necessity, having a registered Architect working for you from scratch will help you to best anticipate the regulatory, technical, and constructability issues you will need to address.

These are what we would regard as the Seven First Steps to Success. Subsequent steps include conceptualizing your design, testing it for “fit” with your neighborhood and your neighbors, developing a successful design, obtaining permits, and building an elegant and cost-effective asset. We can help you through the entire process.

We hope we’ve peaked your curiosity about the opportunities of having an ADU can afford you. If a consultation with us would be helpful, don’t hesitate to write or call: we’re here to be of service.

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