Are you looking to bring your family closer together? Do you want to provide some extra support to your parents, an affordable housing option to your recent college graduate, or expand your home to make room for several generations?
With the high cost of living in California, that’s a tall order, especially if, like most people, you don’t live on a Silicon Valley billionaire budget. But that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach.
Whatever your family situation, an ADU can help you bring your family’s dream to life. Here are eight great reasons to consider building an ADU in San Jose.
What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?
First, to understand the benefits an ADU can offer your family, it helps to understand what an ADU is.
An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a self-contained living area contained within a larger single-family property. It can be attached to or detached from the main dwelling.
Many ADUs fall under the category of “tiny houses” though not all tiny houses are ADUs. To qualify as an ADU, a unit must have foundations and complete utility hookups. So those ready-made, roll-on tiny houses don’t count as ADUs.
Also, ADUs are closely tied to the fortunes of the main property. Even a completely separate unit with fully independent hookups on a separate part of the property cannot be sold independently of the main property. San Jose allows both the main property and the ADU to be rental properties, but they remain as one complete unit if the primary residence goes up for sale.
You Might Know Them As…
ADUs go by a wide range of names, which tells you something about the many building options you have and what ADUs can be used for. You might know an ADU as:
- Accessory apartment
- Accessory dwelling
- Accessory suite
- Accessory unit
- Auxiliary dwelling unit
- Backyard cottage
- Basement apartment
- Carriage house
- Garden apartment
- Garden house
- Granny cottage
- Granny flat
- In-law suite
- Junior accessory dwelling unit
- Laneway house
- Mother/daughter house
- Mother-in-law apartment
- Multigenerational homes
- Secondary suite
- Tiny house
- Two-family house
Whatever you call it (an extra apartment, a quiet space, the breathing room necessary to get along with your in-laws) ADUs provide you with that little bit of space you need to elevate your home.
Types of Accessory Dwelling Units
Regardless of what you call them, ADUs fall into one of three types:
- Detached ADUs
- Attached ADUs
- JADUs (junior ADUs)
The category is based on the details of the construction, though it’s also related to the degree of freedom the ADU has from the primary residence.
The most independent unit is the detached ADU, which has its own freestanding structure, foundations, and independent utility hookups. It could be a renovated detached garage. It could be a converted garden shed in your backyard (provided that shed has foundations, plumbing, electricity, etc.) This also makes them the most expensive unit to build.
However, detached ADUs offer the greatest degree of freedom from the main unit. Someone could live a completely independent life, especially if they have their own private entrance.
In the middle of the spectrum are attached ADUs, which share at least one wall with the main residence. However, they still have their own foundations and utilities and remain a separate unit from the primary house. You couldn’t walk through your kitchen into the unit--attached ADUs must have their own entrance and no internal connections to the primary residence.
Then there are junior ADUs, which offer the most closeness. These units are completely integrated into the main house--think of it as adding on an apartment wing to the main property. Someone walking down the street might not even know that there’s a whole separate living space.
However, junior ADUs are not to be confused with spare bedrooms. They’re fully functional living spaces in their own right, which means they have everything a living space would need (utilities, a kitchen, plumbing, etc.). Unfortunately, they’re also the most architecturally complex and are frequently frowned upon by local building jurisdictions and zoning ordinances.
Why Build an ADU in San Jose?
Why are ADUs so popular--and why should you build an ADU in San Jose?
The answer is simple: family.
It’s no secret that the cost of housing in California is mind-boggling. Even considering the range of housing costs, from a median home value of more than $1.3 million in San Francisco to $355,030 in Sacramento, the overall price is still well above the national average.
San Jose is no exception. It’s not San Francisco, but that doesn’t make it that much more accessible for the average middle-class family, considering that the median home price is still over $1 million.
That means for many families, affordable housing is out of reach, whether you’re a young family just getting started or a multigenerational family looking to find a space that can accommodate everyone.
Accessory dwelling units give you the space to keep your family a little bit closer, no matter what your unique situation may be. Here are nine reasons why building an ADU in San Jose may be the perfect choice for you and your family.
1. San Jose is ADU-Friendly
The city of San Jose recognizes that the housing situation is untenable for many residents. That’s why they’re looking to increase affordable housing options in any way they can, with a special emphasis on ADUs.
San Jose isn’t just encouraging ADU building. The mayor is aiming to make San Jose one of the most ADU-friendly cities in the state of California.
In August 2019, the city rolled out measures designed to make it incredibly easy for homeowners and families to start ADU construction, both by expediting the building process and reducing the cost associated with doing so.
One of the key tenets of the mayor’s plan is creating an “express lane” for expedited ADU permit approval. Staff created a universal checklist consolidating all building requirements into one list, as well as master plans with pre-approved designs allowing homeowners to get approved faster and at a lower cost. Without revisions, homeowners could walk out with a permit and an approved plan in less than 90 minutes.
But for some, it’s not just about solving the housing crisis. It’s about solving the problems that keep families awake at night.
Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, who backed Mayor Sam Liccardo’s plan to simplify the ADU building process, recalled growing up in San Jose’s East Side with relatives from Mexico staying in her parents’ backyard granny flats while looking for work in the U.S. Without those units, she said, her family wouldn’t have been able to launch the American dream.
Now, she and other members of San Jose leadership are looking to make that dream accessible to other San Jose families.
2. Communal Living with Privacy and Autonomy
Of course, there’s the idea of living together as a harmonious family and the reality of occupying overlapping space with your own family. A cramped house for a multigenerational living situation just isn’t working if your family spends more time getting on each other’s nerves than getting along.
This is where ADUs offer an improvement to communal living.
The benefit of ADUs is that they are fully-functional independent living spaces, whether it’s a completely detached, renovated garage or a basement apartment. You can share a space with a loved one, but instead of having a spare room, your loved one has the space to live a complete, independent life or integrate with the family at their own discretion.
On one hand, you have the privacy and autonomy afforded by a completely separate space. On the other hand, you still have the closeness and support of living with family. And that can work for a huge range of family situations.
3. A Home for Your Elderly Loved Ones
Let’s say, for example, that you’re trying to find a living space for your grandmother.
She’s lived independently for decades. She has so much vivacity and joy in her life that you aspire to be like her when you’re eighty (and you’re half-convinced that she might live forever).
The problem is, her retirement income can’t keep pace with the skyrocketing cost of housing in San Jose. All her friends and loved ones are here--her whole life is here--but she can’t afford to stay in the current market, either.
And because she’s independent and fully functional, it doesn’t make sense for her to be in assisted living either, nor does she want to live in a spare bedroom. After all, she’s lived independently for decades and is fully capable of living on her own--to be forced to live in a relative’s spare bedroom because she can’t afford other options is a blow to her pride.
An ADU offers you the perfect balance. Your grandmother can still have the independence she craves and maintains access to her social network, but she also has access to housing she can afford. It’s a good arrangement for you, too, since you can build a unit your grandma can age in gracefully. Plus, your kids will love having ready access to grandma.
Unfortunately, not all elderly loved ones are as independent as your grandmother. Maybe you have an elderly parent or older relative who suffers from health issues or dementia and can no longer live alone.
The cost of nursing homes in the US is somehow even higher than the cost of rent in California, with a semi-private room costing $7,441 per month. Also, if your loved one is still functional enough not to need a nursing home but cannot live alone, you’re stuck in an awkward limbo.
Here, again, ADUs can provide a workable solution for your family. You can keep an eye on your loved one while still providing them with some space to keep what independence they can.
4. Freedom and Support for a Loved One with Special Needs
Every family has unique housing needs. But with the housing market so competitive and expensive in California, the issue is even more complicated when families have to account for a relative with special needs.
Let’s say, for example, that you have an elderly relative who is gradually losing mobility. This drastically limits the housing options you have available, on top of already limited options due to income and housing costs. Plus, even if you find a workable unit that allows renovation, the scale of renovations could make the property infeasible.
You also know that your loved one can’t live in your house, either. The renovations necessary to make your house accessible would be so extensive that it’s completely impractical in the long-term, and in any case, your elderly relative doesn’t want to feel like they’re burdening you.
An ADU allows you to build a living space with all the accessibility that your loved one needs at a price you can afford. Plus, you can still give your loved one a degree of autonomy and privacy that makes it easier to adjust.
However, special needs extend far beyond physical and are not limited to aging relatives. Maybe you have an adult child with special needs who cannot live independently. Maybe they cannot hold a full-time job to support themselves, maybe they cannot independently manage their finances, maybe they cannot manage their routines without support.
This is a difficult situation for many parents. You love your child more than life and you want to support them to have a full adult life, but you also know the realistic limits on what you can and cannot afford. An ADU offers a perfect balancing act.
As parents, it provides you an affordable housing option and the ability to quickly and easily be there to support your child. And for your child, it offers a degree of autonomy that would be impossible in a spare bedroom while still providing all the necessary support.
5. Helping Your Boomerang Kid Find Their Footing
In your parents’ days, kids were released into the world once they finished college to figure it out on their own. Nowadays, with the job market teetering and $1.6 trillion in student loan debt weighing down college graduates, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Nowadays, we have a rising phenomenon of boomerang kids. There are several variations on boomerang kids, but they boil down to the same thing: adult children who move back in with their parents, often for financial reasons.
Maybe it’s an adult child who’s going through a rough patch with their job and needs a bit of support to get their feet on the ground. Maybe they lost their home in the California wildfires and are still recuperating. It can even be a recent college graduate who moves back in while they navigate finding a job that can support both California housing and their student loan payments.
Either way, you find yourself in a tricky situation. You’re used to thinking of your kid as your baby, while your adult child has become accustomed to a degree of adult independence that is difficult to relinquish. Returning to their childhood bedroom makes the dynamic even worse.
The truth is, boomerang kids can be great for family relationships. But it helps to create a situation where both sides have the footing to feel like equal adults, even while you support your boomerang kid.
Accessory dwelling units are perfect for boomerang kids because they provide that vital independence to keep their confidence up while they find their footing. It’s housing they can afford, without moving back into their old bedroom, and they can accept support from their parents while still having a relatively independent adult life.
6. Keep Your Family Closer
Above all, regardless of your family situation, ADUs are a chance for you to bring the whole family closer (while still giving everyone the autonomy they need).
Let’s say you’re considering having your parents move in with you. It’s a win-win scenario--they need affordable housing, and you could use the extra hands around the house. The problem, of course, is that you and your parents have gotten used to living apart, and consolidating an entire life into a spare bedroom is frustrating on both sides.
ADUs give you the chance to strike that perfect balance. You have the opportunity to support your parents and they get to spend more time being with you and the grandkids. There’s no need to worry about driving to and from separate residences and the headache attached to trekking back and forth. Instead, everyone can come home to the same space.
However, even if you’re delighted to have your parents with you and they’re delighted to be there, it takes some adjustment to combine previously independent lives. ADUs allow you to retain a bit of breathing space so that everyone still has relative privacy. You can get out of each other’s hair without one person vacating the house.
Plus, when you each have your own routines, keeping a bit of separation makes it easier to retain those routines without driving each other batty.
7. A Space for the In-Laws and Out-of-Towners
One of the more common nicknames for an accessory dwelling unit is a mother-in-law apartment. It’s fairly easy to figure out why.
Picture your in-laws. Draw on what the experience of spending time around them is like, highs and lows, warts and all.
Maybe you get along beautifully with your in-laws. Maybe you get along pretty well...but you’d get along better if you had a bit more breathing room when they visit. Maybe you don’t get along that well at all and the idea of having your in-laws in your guest room is enough to warrant an extra cup of coffee (or ten) and an assessment of your rations (a.k.a. the liquor cabinet).
With an ADU, you can stop pulling your hair out (or contemplating the merits of pulling someone else’s hair out). An ADU allows you to get closer and spend quality time together as a family while also giving you enough space to take a deep breath when you’ve had just about enough of each other.
8. Have Your Own Retreat
Maybe your family is small and the prospect of relatives coming to live with you is a question for the far-off future. Or maybe you’ve got just enough space to make do.
Still, you find yourself looking at your home and wondering what it’s missing. You’ve got enough space, but between the kids and the pets and the many messes that life creates, you don’t have a space that’s just yours.
Guess what? An ADU can give you that too.
The beauty of ADUs is that you can build it to be...well, whatever you want it to be.
Maybe you run a home decorating business on the side and want some space to truly do your thing. Maybe you work from home often (or work from home full time) and want to have a workspace where you can shut the door and tell the world to bother you in about two hours. Maybe you’re a photographer and have long dreamed of setting up an at-home studio.
Whatever you want an ADU to be, it can serve that role for you. It’s a fully functional space that gives you a retreat from the joys (and havoc) of life the rest of the time.
Ready to Build Your ADU?
Your family is one of the most important things in your life. They’ve been there for you, through the highs and lows and all of the crazy adventures in between. Whatever your family looks like, you know one thing for certain: you want to be there for them just as much as they’ve been there for you.
ADUs allow you to do just that, on a budget that most families can afford.
If you’re thinking of building an ADU in San Jose, we would be honored and delighted to help your family through the process. Click here to find out more about our expert ADU services.