A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
Editor’s note: this ADU is featured on the upcoming ADU Tour
Rambo Halpern is known as The Bungalow Guy. As a realtor specializing in historic homes, he has a penchant for carriage houses and he’s been keeping an eye out for this particular type of ADU for years.
“I specialize in Arts and Crafts homes and turn of the century houses, so I love the idea of the carriage house as a small apartment over the garage. I had seen them in Portland. I love old homes, because they’re beautiful and have character, but they’re not energy-efficient, so I decided to build myself a new home that would look like an old home. It seemed like good investment to create a carriage house, too. It was a possible place for my parents as they get older. It could also be a space to use as a home office or to play poker. Or it could be a rental to help pay the mortgage.” -Rambo Halpern
As he began designing his old-fashioned new home, Rambo kept a few key design criteria in mind for his carriage house. He knew he wanted it to be detached, to have good sound separation from the garage, and to mimic the architecture of the house.
“I also wanted good natural light, a big garage space for a shop, and I wanted it to look turn-of-the century even though it’s not.” -Rambo Halpern
Rambo sold another house and used that money along with some family money to finance his new home and ADU. As he developed the design for his ADU, Rambo found a set of carriage house plans online and had the designer modify them for him. His biggest challenge in the design process was the setbacks and the permitting fees.
“The required setback took a good portion of my yard away and gave me a wasted five-foot strip. There’s not a lot you can do with a five-foot strip that’s 30 feet long! I also paid nearly $15,000 for building permits. Right after I built my carriage house Portland waived the SDCs. Turns out, timing is everything!” -Rambo Halpern
Rambo wanted his property to be more energy-efficient than the turn-of-the-century beauties he usually sells, so he incorporated a number of energy saving measures in his home and ADU. Sustainability features of Rambo’s ADU include an on-demand water heater, skylights for natural light, argon-filled double-pane windows, dual-flush toilets, and a ductless mini-split heat pump.
Rambo and his wife currently live in the primary dwelling and rent out the ADU to a long-term renter. However, they may someday travel and use the ADU as a landlord suite. (See Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither.)
“My wife and I like to travel and if we retire we’d like to have a home base in Portland, so we may rent the main house.” -Rambo Halpern
Portland is one of the few cities that doesn’t have owner occupancy requirements for ADUs, so owners can Own Two, Rent One, Own Two, Rent Both, or Double Rental Opportunities. (For other examples of landlord suites, check out the Satish’s ADU: A Backyard Landlord Cottage and the Hammer & Hand ADU Profiles.)
When asked what he’d do differently, Rambo jokes: “I’d wait till they were giving away free permits!”
Then, in more seriousness, he adds:
“I might do a two-bedroom. It’s definitely big enough. It’s 800 square feet. I like that there’s a decent amount of living space. If I’d done a two-bedroom I would have been able to get a little higher rent.”-Rambo Halpern
Rambo has found that the ADU lifestyle appeals to people who don’t have a lot of stuff but want to live in a walkable neighborhood. Since building their carriage house, Rambo and his wife have had four different tenants.
“They’ve all been great. It’s mainly single people though we have a couple in there now. When I interview people I mention storage. I let them store a bike in the garage and they have a big storage locker. There’s also a double closet in the bedroom and some bench storage.” -Rambo Halpern
Rambo says his biggest surprise with having an ADU on his property is the amount of privacy he and his wife have from the ADU and visa-versa.
“I thought it would be more intrusive. It’s designed so we hardly see them. We did all separate utilities for gas, water, electric, so they pay their own bills. We see them on occasion and it’s nice to know that someone is on the property, keeping an eye on things, if my wife and I are out of town.” -Rambo Halpern
Rambo’s least favorite thing about having an ADU is the amount of yard it took up.
“It was a sacrifice. It would be nice to have a little more outdoor space. We were just getting into gardening and we used to plant in the strip behind the ADU but the neighbors planted bamboo so now there’s no light and it’s just a muddy strip.” -Rambo Halpern
On the other hand, Rambo says that one of his favorite parts of having an ADU is getting compliments that let him know he was successful in making his new home and ADU look like a historic property.
“Getting compliments is always nice. People often ask me when I did the remodel. That feels good. It appears that it is original to the property. It blends with the turn-of-the-century architecture in the neighborhood. It also has a higher degree of finish than most homes are done with these days.” -Rambo Halpern
So what advice does Rambo have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“I’d say it’s a great idea. It’s great that Portland allows it and makes it so easy. Research and pick a good builder or a design-build firm. I think there’s a lot of merit to working with a design build firm. Also, I’d say be very wary of tax consequences. My property taxes are very high because it’s a new home but someone who has an older home and adds an ADU is in for a surprise. A lot of people buy them to help with their mortgage, but with the taxes now it may be a lot of investment for not much return.” -Rambo Halpern