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Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU): Career Opportunity, Income Generator, and Housing Solution

ADUs are small houses, attached to foundations creating housing for extended family or renters
April 24, 2024

Accessory dwelling units (ADU) are small homes, attached to an existing house or not, that are permanently located and tied to the grid. They offer housing for multiple generations and can be a source of rental income—or a new product offering for contractors.

Welcome to another episode of the ProTradeCraft Career Toolbox, the podcast where we dive deep into the trends, skills, and opportunities shaping the construction and remodeling industries. I am your host, Don Fernando. Today, we are thrilled to have Sheri Koones with us, an acclaimed author whose latest book sheds light on the burgeoning world of Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs.

Understanding ADUs: A Primer

In her groundbreaking new book, "ADUs: The Perfect Housing Solution," Sheri explores the architectural and design aspects of ADUs and delves into their potential to revolutionize the housing market as more homeowners look for flexible and creative living solutions. The ADU movement presents a golden opportunity for remodeling contractors.

Today, we'll discuss how this trend could be the stepping stone for new contractors aiming to expand into full home building. Sheri, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us today.

Thank you, Fernando. Happy to be here. I received my hard copy of your beautiful book just yesterday, and it's really gorgeous. It's so nicely done. I'm really, really impressed. I hope that a lot of people will get it because it's kind of a coffee table book. It's just something that you could really—it's just a pleasure to look at. Thank you, thank you. Well, not everybody's into the jargon of the newly emerging world of housing like ADUs. So, could you start by giving us kind of an overview of what ADUs are and why they've become such a hot topic in today's housing market?

Are ADUs the same as Tiny Houses?

Sure. As you said, a lot of people don't know what ADUs are. And when I was writing this book, I would tell friends, "I'm writing about ADUs," and they'd say, "What is that?" And they'd say, "Oh, that's Accessory Dwelling Units." And they said they'd never heard of them. And then when they hear about it, everybody wants one. 

Before I say anything else, I just want to distinguish between tiny homes and ADUs because everybody confuses them and says, "Oh, you're talking about tiny homes." Tiny homes, as you know, Fernando, are mobile. They're not code-compliant, and generally, they are not attached to the grid. They have water tanks and so forth. 

ADUs, even though they're small—and sometimes they're what you might consider tiny—are code-compliant, have a kitchen, and have a sleeping area. So, they are really a full area for somebody to live in. And it's a small house. It's a small house. As a matter of fact, I have a house in one of my recent books that was like 350 square feet.

Meeting housing needs across generations

ADUs are erupting as a very important aspect of residential housing because there's a shortage of housing, including affordable housing and even middle-range housing.

Another big population that's very interested in ADUs is seniors. A lot of seniors years ago would move into senior facilities, but people now who are 65, 75, and even 80 are still very vital. They're much younger than our parents were. And they want to live in the community. They want to be close to their kids.

Exploring ADU placement and usage

ADUs can go in several different locations. Some people will put them over the garage. That location is already there, and it's not being utilized. And even people who don't have a backyard can put it over the garage. Some people are attaching the ADU to their house to get additional space but have some privacy. Some people are putting them in the garage, in the basements. I haven't actually seen any of those, but I know that they can exist.

And then other people are just putting them on the property apart from the house. But they're a great solution for a variety of different things. One is people are putting them on so that their adult children have a place to live.

Some towns around the country are offering incentives to build an ADU on the property. Interestingly, a lot of the codes have changed since people built their main house. And people are putting mini-splits in them, more efficient ways of heating and cooling their house.

Transitioning to building ADUs: opportunities for contractors

I think anybody who is a builder and knows the building trades can definitely build an ADU. And I think what's been interesting is that a lot of builders who maybe weren't getting enough large homes to build and maybe there's not a lot of property in a town to build a lot more houses can build ADUs and they can do very well as a business.

I think that builders and architects, in general, are not great at promoting themselves. And I've been writing books and it's been a real challenge to even promote my books. Even some of the people who are in my books don't help promote the book or even buy the book. So, I think that you have to go on social media the way I do. I'm relentless about it. I enjoy it. I like interacting with people. But you need to go on social media, on LinkedIn, on ADU, and get in touch with some of the local publications.

Tapping into local media resources

Every town has a publication that says, "I do this," and maybe put a sketch of an ADU that you get an architect to design for you and say, "I'm your person if you want to build an ADU." I bet if a contractor that was going to build their very first ADU got in touch with a reporter at the local paper and said, "Look what I'm doing. I'm building an ADU," the reporter would be really turned on by the idea because it's a trend.

It's something that the reporter can dig into. And then they come out and interview the customer, the family that you're building the ADU for, you, the builder. And you'd get tremendous promotion. I bet you we'll launch you into the business just that one project could launch you into the business. And that's what you call guerrilla marketing, right? Which is a kind of marketing without paying for an advertisement.

You need to be proactive. I have no budget for promotion and I do it all myself. And I'm in newspapers across the United States and Canada. Not sometimes the ones that I want to be in, in addition. But I think it's important to put yourself out there and to say, "I'm available to do this." I really looked out in weeks. I'm speaking at the Greenwich Library and I got the first selectman who's very pro-ADUs to come and speak with me, which was really a coup.

ADUs are shaping legislative trends

And interestingly, they only have so many seats. It's sold out. They had 80 seats in the library. And it's not for two weeks. It's not until April. That shows interest. That shows interest, forgive me, not so much in Sheri, but in ADUs. There is a great interest. And for those that don't know it, there is a movement afoot throughout the nation. 

Places that didn't used to allow these are now writing them into their legislation. States are beginning to allow them into their legislation because it's seen as a means to help mitigate or reduce the affordability crisis.

It's not just for young people. I had a woman at the last presentation I gave, and she was my age and she said, "Oh, my husband and I, we want one." 

You know, we all want one. So, it's a great opportunity.

Thank you, Sheri, for sharing your insights with us today. This has been incredibly informative, and I'm sure our listeners are now inspired to explore the world of ADUs further. Thanks again for joining us. And to all our listeners, be sure to check out Sheri's book, "ADUs: The Perfect Housing Solution," available now. Until next time, this is Don Fernando signing off. Stay curious and keep building.

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