Do you need more living space for your family? A home office? Interested in building a she shed (female equivalent to a man cave)? Want to earn rental income? An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) may be a solution for you!
An ADU is a dwelling unit with a full kitchen and bathroom, which is an accessory use to a primary or main single-family residence. The ADU can be used as a rental, but cannot be sold separately from the primary or main single-family residence. The existing residence must be a legally established structure.
On May 30, 2019, an ordinance was adopted for the county of Los Angeles that allows homeowners in single-family neighborhoods to build an accessory dwelling unit as long as there’s room for it on their property.
Recently, we chatted with Jill Swisher, an architectural designer and founder of Seed Architecture, a boutique design firm specializing in residential architecture in Los Angeles. Jill has an enormous amount of expertise and experience with ADUs from design to construction. We highly recommend Seed Architecture if you are curious or ready to move forward with an ADU or a remodel.
We were excited to hear about the new ordinance that was adopted earlier this year for ADUs creating new opportunities for housing. What has changed recently? What’s the impact of the change?
The new ADU rules are a major change and a huge plus for many homeowners. For me, the most exciting part is the ability to now legally convert detached garages to usable space. Many homes in Los Angeles have detached garages at the rear of the property that is either accessed from an alley, or a driveway. Most people today no longer use their garages to park. But the City of Los Angeles required homeowners to maintain covered off-street parking, so legally these buildings, in most cases, couldn’t be converted for other uses.
This meant 350-400 square ft buildings were sadly under-utilized until now. The city has changed the rule to allow homeowners to convert their existing garage to a living quarter, and only maintain off-street parking (no longer covered - in most cases, this means as long as you can park two cars in your driveway, you are ok) or you can build a new ADU. The change was finally embraced by the city as a means to hopefully lower the housing shortage that we are facing. The city is hoping that homeowners will convert and rent these units out.
What’s the biggest misconception about ADUs?
You have to live within a 1/2 mile radius from public transit in order to qualify.
In your experience, what is the biggest challenge that homeowners face when strategizing and implementing a plan to add an ADU to their property?
My biggest recommendation is to hire an architect or designer to create the space so it’s well thought out, flexible, maximizes storage, and privacy. I also highly recommend getting a survey to determine if your existing garage is within your legal property boundaries. Lastly, know that most likely your existing garage, if original, will need structural upgrades.
Can you share what your process is like? Design and implementation?
I love designing homes for people. It’s always exciting and fresh because every project is different. My process is very fluid because each project is so different, and every client’s needs are different. I map out a plan that fits each individual project. Renovating your home is very exciting, but can also be incredibly stressful for clients. I work really hard to streamline, educate, and communicate from design through construction, so it hopefully becomes less scary, and maybe even enjoyable!
How do I know if an ADU is right for me?
There are several things to consider: do you have family members who need housing? Do you have aging parents who might eventually move in? Do you need additional income, now or in the future? A rental unit is a great way to add income and help the community with the housing shortage. Even if you are providing a place to stay for your grown kids or aging parents, you are freeing up a rental unit somewhere else.
Any other helpful tips you want to share?
If you decide to build an ADU, consider your neighbors in the process too. It’s easy to place windows and doors where they don’t disturb or intrude on your neighbors privacy, and direct noise away from buildings that are close. Plant trees for privacy and visual enhancement between properties, and/or buildings. Many of us live in close proximity to one another. It can be done, and pleasantly, if buildings are thoughtfully designed.
About Seed Architecture
Seed Architecture is a boutique design firm specializing in residential architecture. We believe a home should not only be beautiful and inspiring but also celebrates and complements the messiness of real life. To us, functionality is synonymous with good design.
About the Dana Cataldi Group
Named by the Wall Street Journal and Real Trends as one of The Top 250 Best Real Estate Agents Nationally for eight consecutive years, Dana Cataldi is a recognized influencer and industry expert. As one of seven original partners and one of the first females at her former brokerage, Dana is above all a bold and dedicated leader with a stellar reputation. Though focused primarily on the Westside, Dana’s referral base has expanded to the far corners of Los Angeles. From the beachfront properties of Redondo Beach to the canyons of Topanga, it’s safe to say that Dana’s candid, driven and loyal nature follows her wherever she goes.
Photo credit: Steve King