Accessory Dwellings

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Jane Doe’s ADU: A Second Home on a Tight Budget

Doe ADU Back Door

exterior of Jane Doe’s ADU

Quick Facts

  • Setting: urban
  • Type: stand-alone detached unit
  • Use: owner’s full-time residence
  • Square Footage: 450
  • Year Built: 2013
  • Designer: Dave Spitzer
  • Builder: owner
  • Cost of Materials, Permits, Design, Shell: $40,000
  • Finish Labor: sweat equity
“I am on the poor side of a contractor/home owner, so my focus might be more on money, but truly I am a wanna-be architect too.” – Jane Doe
Having family close by was the primary motivation for Jane Doe (owner has opted to remain anonymous) when she decided to create an ADU on her property. She was working on very tight budget as she constructed a 450 square foot dwelling so that she could live in her own backyard and a family member could live in the primary dwelling.
Jane says her greatest inspiration was to have a flexible place which she could live in herself or rent out to family or tenants. In order to fund construction of the ADU, Jane refinanced her car, sold stock, worked, and scraped money together.
“I am in the category of low budget and a owner/builder. My design was an existing plan that an architect had done prior, so I did not have the cost of an original custom design. The architect was great since he has done this before, and even with his own house.” -Jane Doe
Jane Doe loves the lighting and the dark floors in her ADU kitchen

Jane Doe loves the lighting and the dark floors in her ADU kitchen

Jane hired Dave Spitzer of DMS Architects to help with the design of the ADU. After the shell was constructed, she did all the interior finish work herself. With regard to sustainability features, Jane says that simplicity was her focus. By keeping the structure and furnishings simple, she reduced the building’s environmental impact. She’s also proud that she found the door at a salvage yard. 

Jane’s favorite features of the ADU are her lighting, her dark wooden floors, and the colors she chose. She feels the ADU doesn’t have quite enough storage space so she’s planned “fancy storage” and she’s saving up to install it later.

“I’ve built three houses before and know when to off-load certain elements of the build, so I had the framers and the roofers. But I did all the inside myself, so the highlight of building my ADU was getting it done!” – Jane Doe

As a homeowner, Jane was unfamiliar with the development process, so the biggest challenge to creating an ADU on her property was working through the planning and permitting process. Jane believes it makes sense for the ADU to match the look of the primary dwelling, so she would have made the ADU similar even if the regulation were not in place in Portland.
“Every city has their planning department which can vary tremendously. The ADU process in Portland is almost the same as new residential construction.” – Jane Doe
Once the ADU was complete, Jane moved into it so that a family member could live in the primary dwelling. Landscaping and trees separate the two units and provide some privacy.

“Having an ADU is great for a generational solution. It’s really good because seniors on social security can’t afford expensive housing. The demographics have changed. At first glance it looks like most of the people are young people, but there are a lot of Baby Boomers. You might have caretakers. The baby boomers are reaching the accessibility age. With 450 square feet you just walk in. No steps to navigate.” – Jane Doe

Jane is pleased that the ADU is meeting her needs currently and providing flexible housing options for her family in the future. However, she was not anticipating the property tax increase that came with the increased value of her property.

“When the appraiser came out, I was appraised for quite a bit more than the cost to build. This cost $40,000 for everything, but I was assessed at $70,000. That means I have to somehow scrounge around every single month to put aside tax money.” -Jane Doe

Jane cautions prospective ADU owners to learn as much as they can about taxes and fees in advance so that they won’t be surprised.
So what’s Jane’s advice for homeowners considering building an ADU on their own property?

“Have a good contractor. For the finishes, shop, shop, shop. Look carefully at what’s required by the city because once you go down the engineering path it becomes very expensive. It would be well worth someone’s time and money to pay for a private planner to make sure that your house will fit on the site. It would be the wisest $800 you’ve ever spent. I am pleased it serves my family member’s needs. It was a good thing. But you have to look over your shoulder and plan!” -Jane Doe

About linamenard

Hi. My name is Lina Menard and I'm a small house dweller, designer, blogger, and builder. I'm currently collecting ADU Case Studies for Through my company Niche Consulting LLC, I help people design and build the home (and life) of their dreams! I also tell my stories about simple living in small spaces - like a travel trailer, a yurt, a backyard cottage, and tiny houses on wheels - at Niche News.
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