A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
“Being a former draftsman, I’ve always wanted to design my own home so my wife and I thought, ‘Why not start with a small project like a garage apartment to gain experience and also provide the benefit of sharing a living quarters for my son Michael?’” –Al Elizondo
Al and Shannon Elizondo first learned about ADUs when they came across a book at Barnes & Noble about granny flats. They had been living in a townhome and where tired of not having any exterior living space as well as the expensive monthly HOA fees. When the Houston housing market picked up considerably (just before the oil prices plummeted) they sold their townhome at a record price for their complex and left the shared wall living behind them for good.
The key factor that convinced Al and Shannon to build their own garage apartment was increasing their housing flexibility. They built the ADU first with the plan to eventually build a house on the front portion of the lot which would allow them the option of using the ADU as a potential income property. The ADU was constructed in 2013 and the primary dwelling in 2015.
Growing up in the Chicago area, Al always liked the high pitched roofs of the Folk Victorian style homes. So he drew his inspiration from those homes, but added the modern twist of a useful front loading two-car garage for the main house as well as a single car garage for the ADU.
“We drove through the Houston Heights area and saw a lot of beautiful homes with garage apartments, but noticed that all of the properties only had a single drive way that lead to the garage apartment. Although this is a nice feature for the person living above the garage in the ADU, it leaves the home dweller with no choice but to park outside on the street. This is the reason why I designed my Folk Victorian house with a front loading two car garage so that it gives us the utility of garage parking and also does not block the ADU’s parking because it has its own private driveway.” -Al Elizondo
What they ended up with is two detached dwellings on the same lot, but with the benefit of a single homestead exemption. This made a lot of sense to Shannon and Al, given the pricey property taxes in Houston.
Al spent nearly eight months researching and designing his garage apartment and created a final design, with three major design considerations:
Storage was also a key consideration since the unit is only a one bedroom. Al designed the attic with an “open storage area” by making the roof high pitched and then adding collar ties and knee walls to support the roof, which maximized storage space.
“Most new construction homes come with preassembled attic trusses which, by design, block any storage space in the attic. It’s important to draw and instruct the structural engineering firm to display the attic with an open design and have the framers build the attic roof by hand as opposed to purchasing the prefab trusses.” – Al Elizondo
The ADU was designed within the City of Houston building codes, which happen to be some of the strictest in the state. Setting up the utilities was difficult because Shannon and Al have separate meters for both dwellings, so service companies got confused about starting a new service for the same property. However, the biggest challenge in creating the ADU was financing. No banks wanted to finance a loan to build a one bedroom garage apartment.
“I visited at least 4 different banks and was politely declined with the suggestion that I should build a 3 or 4 bedroom house instead. The reason being, as I was told, that a 1 bedroom garage apt would be much harder to sell than a conventional home if I should default on the loan. Which is really interesting because now that the ADU is built, I get a lot of inquiries asking if the unit is for sale! Well, I was not financially ready to build a traditional home, so I came up with the idea of obtaining a home equity loan against my townhome. Getting the home equity loan from my credit union was the highlight of my ADU build because it made it possible. As an added bonus, getting the loan at a rate of 2.75% was also a big highlight. Yay, for credit unions!” – Al Elizondo
Al’s favorite feature of the ADU is the 9’x10’ covered balcony which offers enough space for a grill and a couple of chairs to extend the living space. He’s most proud of the travertine shower tile with the built-in shampoo niches since they did the work themselves.
Al anticipated that he would use the ADU for his son who previously had been living in an apartment complex with rising rents and no garage or utility room. Al’s son Mike, is really enjoying the ADU which is only three miles from Houston’s Galleria area which makes commuting to and from work very convenient. If Mike should ever decide to leave, the ADU can be used as either a short or long-term rental, but for now, it’s serving them well as a home for their son.
“My favorite thing about the ADU is the fact that we are able to provide a fully functional and comfortable place for our son while he works on starting his career. The ADU is serving us really well because our son lives on the same property and often helps with the maintenance and also to watch the place when we’re out of town.”
Al’s biggest surprise about his ADU is how many passersby stop and ask if the property is for sale.
“Their comments are usually in the form of ‘I like the garage apt next to the main house. Is it for sale?’ Because the garage apartment has its own separate driveway, people find it attractive and would like to use it as a home. Since we built the ADU in 2013, there have been three houses in our block who have completely renovated their homes which is a welcome improvement and good for the community. I just hope the taxes don’t rise as fast as other parts of the city. I know it’s a double edge sword, people improve their homes and their community, but then the taxes goes up along with it.” – Al Elizondo
If he had it to do over again, Al says there are two things he would do differently:
So what advice does Al have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Make sure you research the property that you plan on buying and confirm with the City Planning and Development department that multi-family dwellings are allowed as per the deed restrictions. Not all areas of Houston allow ADUs.” -Al Elizondo