Affordable housing is a challenge facing people of all ages but is acutely painful to seniors on limited incomes in high-cost markets. Even in cases where seniors can afford a home of their own, they may prefer aging in place in smaller quarters closer to family members.
A space that includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and living area may be more than enough to meet many seniors’ needs. And if the unit is located on a son or daughter’s property, family members can work together to support each other’s needs. For example, grandma can babysit the grandkids while her daughter grabs groceries for everyone.
Independent living units on the same lot may be called granny flats, garage apartments, or guest houses, among other terms. They can also be used to house an adult child instead of an aging parent—or provide rental income.
Collectively, secondary, self-contained housing units located on the same lot are called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. Some units are attached to the main home or positioned over a garage. Others are independent outbuildings.
A recently released study by Freddie Mac relied on data from Multiple Listing Services (MLS) to identify properties that included an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). In 2000, only 1.6% of active for-sale listings had ADUs. By 2019, that figure had more than quadrupled, growing to 6.8%.
This year, manufacturers of outbuildings report a significant increase in demand from homeowners, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some buyers desire extra space for a home office, a yoga studio, or a “she shed.” Others are looking for larger units to provide housing for family members.
Considerations for Senior Centric ADUs
Small, standalone living units on an adult child’s property are an attractive housing solution for many elderly parents who want to maintain their independence but could use occasional help from their family. During a pandemic, ADUs are also an excellent way to keep seniors safe while preserving family contact.
If you would like to install a unit on your property for an aging parent, there are several ways to improve your results:
Step 1. Check Local Requirements
Many communities prohibit accessory dwelling units. Where they are allowed, you must comply with requirements that may include size and design restrictions or limitations on occupants. For example, some areas only allow owners and legal relatives to inhabit an ADU, whereas others permit short-term rentals.
Step 2. Incorporate Universal Design
Be thoughtful about the floorplan, accessibility, and the usability of kitchen appliances, cabinets, and bathroom features. An ADU built with universal design concepts provides a more enjoyable space for any occupant but is particularly essential for aging in place.
Step 3. Provide Privacy
Make sure your ADU is positioned so that the inhabitant(s) enjoy privacy from the main house—and neighbors. Create a secluded oasis through the meticulous placement of windows, landscaping, and fencing materials.
Step 4. Consider the Long Term
An ADU can enhance a property’s value for many years to come. When planning and designing, be sure to consider resale value, too, so the unit will serve your immediate needs and provide an attractive asset for future occupants and owners.