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Sheila Butler and her husband Brad first learned about ADUs when they purchased a piece of property that had a half-built shell in the backyard. The previous owners had begun construction of a guesthouse and never finished the project.
“I didn’t have any idea about ADUs. We brought the property and there it sat. We had a half-built shell and wondered ‘What do you do with it?’ The way it sat, it was not safe. Nothing was done correctly. They had not done their due diligence. It was not permitted. It had gas lines going into it, but it was not vented. It was not a safe situation, but it seemed ridiculous to tear it down.” –Sheila Butler
As they were trying to decide how to use the space, Sheila remembered that she had seen a guesthouse in Dunthorpe, OR that was “crystal-chandeliers gorgeous.”
“I loved the idea of having a place for family to stay. My husband and I both have family out of town and we both had parents who were retiring. We decided, ‘It’s there. It’s half-built. Let’s just finish it.’ The family in Dunthorpe lived in their guesthouse while remodeling the main house and I knew we would do that, too. So we fixed up the guesthouse first and then lived in it while we were remodeling our house. We have two big dogs so trying to find a rental place would have cost a fortune. I figured out what it would have cost us to rent for a year. It made sense to instead put that money into the ADU and then have an asset.” –Sheila Butler
As they designed the space, they worked with the existing shell, which was framed and had huge windows. They worked with a contractor, who has since passed away, to transform the space from a dangerous shack to a beautiful guest space. They used savings to finance the project and their goal was to make it an independent space within a reasonable budget.
“The contractor did a great job at helping me figure out how to fit everything into the space. He gave us hand-me-down materials from other projects, including overstock cabinetry. My favorite part is the murphy bed. It’s a very small space so we had a murphy bed installed to make the space more useful. It was custom-made by a cabinet guy and very inexpensive. We also used Energy Star appliances and low-flow fixtures.” –Sheila Butler
In their Lake Oswego, OR neighborhood, a guesthouse is supposed to look like the main house. However, Sheila was planning to remodel the house so she didn’t want to make the guesthouse look like the primary. The complicating factor was that she planned to fix up the guesthouse and live in it before remodeling the primary dwelling. Fortunately, the building officials were understanding and agreed to allow Sheila to make the guesthouse look as they wanted and then match the primary dwelling to the ADU. As they began working on the guesthouse, their biggest challenge was the inspection process.
“Inspections were an issue because it had not been permitted. They wanted me to pay all these permit fees as well as fines because it wasn’t permitted previously. I showed them the bill of sale, showing that it was on the property when we bought it and explained, ‘There’s no reason I should pay the fines for something I didn’t do.’ We ended up tearing out some of what was done because it wasn’t done to code. They wanted a separate mailbox for it. I said ‘There’s no reason it needs to have its own mailbox. It’s just a guesthouse.’ The neighbors said we couldn’t build it, so I said I’m not building it, I’m fixing it up.” –Sheila Butler
Sheila anticipated that eventually they would use their ADU for company, but first their family would live in the ADU while remodeling their house. (See Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither.)
“It was five people living in 400 square feet. You can imagine. But, you know what? It went better than expected. We didn’t have enough storage when we lived there. What we ended up doing to make up for it was to hang hooks everywhere. It’s not big enough for us to really live there. To live in permanently for more than 2 people, there’s not enough storage. It was stressful at times. But it went great! I think my daughters learned a lot about what you can live with and without and what your expectations are and how to get along. It couldn’t have gone any better under the circumstances.” –Sheila Butler
Once they began remodeling their primary dwelling, Sheila found it was also helpful to be on-site if the contractors working on the main house had questions for her. Sheila’s family now lives in the primary dwelling and the guesthouse is used for visiting family members. Friends have also stayed when they need to vacate their homes temporarily for one reason or another. One friend stayed when she was having her floors redone. Another family stayed when their house flooded. Sheila loves that she can host and provide a separate space for her guests.
“If it’s family staying we leave the door open and they come in and out of the house. If it’s friends who are there because their house flooded, we give them more space. I can invite people and feel like I can give them privacy. I am a big proponent of hospitality. It’s nice to say ‘Come on over and you’ll have your own space.’ On the other hand, there’s the responsibility and cost of keeping it up. We have to make sure it’s not leaking, pay the power bill, make sure the shower is caulked, etc.” –Sheila Butler
On the flip-side, Sheila’s biggest surprise about having an ADU on her property is that she sometimes forgets about it.
“I thought I would worry about it and be stressed about it and go clean it all the time, but you forget about it. When someone is there you know it, but it’s not on your mind all the time.” –Sheila Butler
If she had it to do over again, there are only two things Sheila would change: the bathroom door and the kitchen sink.
“The sink is in a corner so you’re kind of in the corner which is very awkward. We tried to put it out of the away, but the corner is not the best place to put it. I would change the bathroom door because it’s just a panel pocket door and it tends to get off the slider so you have to jiggle it.” –Sheila Butler
When asked if she has any plans to move or sell her property in the foreseeable future, Sheila is adamant.
“God no! I’m going to die in this building and you’ll have to take me out the back door!” –Sheila Butler
So what advice does Sheila have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Take the time to get really good plans. I think the blue prints and the floor plan are really key. Take the time to make sure it’s really what you need. Try to footprint it and use it to make sure it’s really going to work the way you think it will. Because odds are it won’t. Take the time to figure that out before hand. Make sure you can stay in budget because that’s very hard.” -Sheila Butler