There is a shift happening throughout American cities. New urbanist policies are being implemented to promote denser living and more mixed-use neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are being rezoned to allow for additional units, new buildings are being erected, and lots are being split in half to accommodate two new houses per one old house. Another movement all of itself has seen a meteoric rise that has roots in the minimalist movement: Tiny Living.
Let's face it. Us Americans like our space. We like big yards, multiple bedrooms with the option of a home office, a basement, and garage. However, there is a growing contingent of people that is bucking that trend and we decided to join them. We made a decision eight months ago to live tiny. Not because it was cheaper (because it wasn't), but because we believed in reducing the clutter and living simply. In October we moved from a 1,300 square foot house to a 460 square foot backyard cottage. You read that correct, 460 square feet. That roughly translates into a living room/kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and 1.5 closets to boot.
Our backyard cottage is technically considered an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), allowed by the city of Portland in residential zones and used to promote denser living by having the little houses situated behind a main house. These are a bit different than tiny homes, which boast 180 square feet of hobbit-like, yet beautifully designed shacks on wheels. I love the idea of tiny homes, I've even put my parents in a tiny home hotel for a week, but if you took away a third of my square footage, my marriage would probably suffer as a consequence.
When you share 460 square feet, it's almost like living with a toddler. One second everything is clean and shiny, and the next it is an absolute wreck. One dirty coffee cup in the sink makes the place feel dirty, much less two pairs of shoes out, a purse on the couch, mail on the table, and oh yeah, an entire business operating out of the space.
While a small space may be easy to dirty, they are fortunately very easy to clean. There is nothing better than walking up the stairs to our second story, sun-filled master bedroom with a made-up bed and the curtains drawn to make you feel like you are living in a secluded palace in the canopy of the trees. There is an amazing cross breeze from the windows and a plethora of light from the large dormer windows and overhead skylight. We wakeup to birdsong each day and have incredible evening light flood the space each night.
As a renter an ADU is an amazing option compared with lots of the apartment buildings on the market. First of all, they're probably a lot newer, and second of all, they can help renters live in what would otherwise be very unaffordable parts of town. As a property owner, ADU's are extremely attractive because it gives you an additional income stream that can range from offsetting your mortgage, or in some cases, far surpassing it.
A typical ADU can range in price, anywhere from approximately $35,000 upwards of $100,000 on the very high end. It's a significant cost, however, even if you were to have a long term rental in the ADU and received a $1,000 per month in rent, the payback period for a $45,000 ADU is 4 years. That's an incredible rate of return and if you were to capitalize that return, the value in your property just skyrocketed. On the resale side of the equation, you now have buyers that would not normally be able to afford the $1,900 a month mortgage payment, but because there is an additional income stream with the property, that place looks like an incredible buy.
Whether you are looking to move into an ADU, built one, or buy a property with one, we say do it. And if you do decide to live in one, just make sure to clean up after yourselves, get a bed with storage underneath, and make sure you have a healthy relationship going in with your partner!
Links to check out:
ADU's in the news: Portland Business Journal "5 reasons why Portland is a tiny house hotbed"