Rundles Wrap Up: An accessory dwelling unit of my own

Sounds good

When I was about 10, my mom and dad decided to move the family into a larger home, and they got a rather stately colonial that would be their home for 40 years. For decades, that house had been the ideal configuration for a modern home, but in the early 1960s when we acquired it, my parents decided it needed a “family room,” which they promptly added. None of my friend’s homes had family rooms.

Of course, 10 years later every house had a family room, and 10 years after that began the craze for a “great room.” I remember it struck me funny when I first got married in the 1980s and in my in-law’s rather spacious home, no one hardly ever ventured into the “living room.” By the late 1990s the living room in most new designs became little more than an offshoot to the entry. Over the same time kitchens morphed from closet-like utility rooms into centerpiece entertaining spaces.

Times and tastes change. Our parents’ generation, emerging from The Great Depression, favored wall-to-wall carpeting – a sign of “making it.” We Baby Boomers pulled up the carpet in favor of the hardwoods.  

The latest housing trend, however, isn’t faddish or a show of upward mobility. It is, rather, a tangible economic statement on the future of the middle class, and not altogether a good one.

I recently saw an advertisement for a Lennar Home called the NextGen, which features a separate suite with a private entrance and access to the main house, billed as a place for an aging parent or adult kids. During some research I discovered that these “granny” suites or “multigenerational homes,” whether attached or built as detached cottages, are referred to as “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) and are quite contentious in cities across the country.

No one, it seems, minds the concept of junior or granny coming to live in the family home, even in a separate space. However, what riles the zoning police – and apparently the neighbors – is the idea that these spaces could be rented to anyone as a way for the homeowners to generate extra income. 

ADUs are said to increase the value of a home in some areas of the country by as much as 60 percent. Indeed, some homebuilders pitching the idea are targeting aging Baby Boomers on fixed retirement incomes and young homeowners just starting out with the idea that rental income would not only help with expenses, but in the qualification process to buy a house with a mortgage in the first place.

Of course, homebuilders are touting changing demographics in the U.S., and “aging in place,” as they argue for ADUs before zoning commissions with a decided bent toward single-family home neighborhoods. But, as always, we must follow the money: With the declining household size and an economic squeeze on an ever increasing segment of society, ADUs offer the residential developers the ability to sell more, higher-priced properties. Lennar Homes reports that while still a small portion of its overall portfolio, NextGen homes, introduced just four years ago, are seeing sales jumps of 27 percent each year. 

It’s interesting to note that the last time the country experienced a need for an extra push was during The Great Depression in the 1930s and on into the war years in the ‘40s. Since then and until recently, apparently, the kids went off on their own after 20 or so, and granny and grandpa went into the home. Today, nobody can afford it, I guess.

Personally I wouldn’t mind having an aging parent or a grown kid in the house – or even, God forbid, being the aging parent with my own ADU if it came to that. I wouldn’t even mind the extra income an ADU would offer.

It troubles me, though, that our country has changed so much that these arrangements are becoming no longer a choice but a necessity. While ADUs are an interesting response to reality, I can’t help but fear for the sustainability of such an economy.

Categories: Economy/Politics, Industry Trends, Magazine Articles, Real Estate