Crisis. Opportunity. Ambivalence.

15 thoughts on “Crisis. Opportunity. Ambivalence.”

    1. My assertion is that this temporary offer to let individual property owners build ADUs is functionally a trap. It won’t be long before the popular consensus is that anyone who owns a multi-family building (including a little tract house with a garage apartment) is an evil profit maximizing slum lord who used the fire crisis as a loop hole to do something unsavory at the expense of “hard working Americans.” I don’t want to find myself in that category when the county goes looking for revenue enhancement and decides to start regulating evil-doers.

      Also, the opportunity cost is huge. For the amount of money required to meet all the usual code requirements and pay extra for labor and materials in a hyper inflated market to convert a garage into a studio apartment I could just put a downpayment n another property – almost certainly not in Sonoma County. In fact, I could pay cash for a house in many other parts of the country for that kind of money.

      1. I agree Johnny, it’s a trap!

        Once your money is sunk into the property, the authorities know you can’t easily extract it if they raise their vig too high. (um, did I mis-spell ‘tax’? Or ‘fee’? Interested, they’re all three letter words…)

        If the local (and state) governments weren’t responsible with their tax and regulatory authority before the emergency, what reason is there to assume their new-found reasonableness will last beyond the emergency?

        If I were in your shoes, I’d only consider doing this if I was going to sell the property immediately after finishing the remodel. But then there’s the question of whether you could just make the same profit by selling the property as-is to someone else wanting to take advantage of the local government temporarily being reasonable.

        And then there’s the question of whether they really mean it or not.

  1. I live in Santa Rosa and spent the last year (prior to the fire) watching the development of a local ADU ordinance and talking to the local Planning Department about building a small backyard unit. I live a couple of blocks from the Junior College in a very walkable neighborhood, so I thought the proposal would be encouraged. However, the fees and requirements, along with the bureaucratic and construction hassles, led me to abandon the project. My goal was to make the unit affordable, and there was no way to do that without taking a huge financial loss. Prior to moving to Santa Rosa I lived in an unincorporated area elsewhere in the County. I went through a similar process with County Planning trying to develop an affordable backyard unit, with similar results. I’m not at all surprised that there is an affordability crisis here in Sonoma County.

  2. Seems like it all hangs on cost and whether you really need or want to rent that space. If renting it is the ultimate goal, now seems like the time to do the work to make it legal as a rental. Otherwise, I agree with a lot of the other comments and think having the multi-purpose space, possibly with some minor upgrades, is useful. I live in a 650 sq. ft. house no garage and I really miss the old garage I had years before. It was a really useful space where in a pinch you could put someone on a cot but you could also dry beans on a tarp and do a lot of other stuff you’d rather not do inside a well outfitted house. These days I do a lot of that stuff outside but I live in Maine and outside is not always a hospitable place to be.

  3. Your 80% comment reminds me of an old anecdote from a college classmate (who was studying engineering; I wasn’t). One prof freshman year was talking about mechanical engineering of things when he said, essentially this: “80% is cheap. Getting the last 20% probably doubles the cost without really noticeable performance benefit.”

    I tend to end up with 80% solutions…often after considering the “ideal” (100%) way, then value engineering backward.

  4. Nice set up. I have a detached 1 1/2 car garage with a carport in front of it. I usually park the car under the carport but I’ve never used the garage for anything aside from storage. It would take a bit of work to set it up as anything else and I’m neither handy nor have the cash to pay someone else to do it.

    But it was a selling point for me when I bought the house. My home was built in 1942 and is just short of 1000 square feet (after someone added another room). A garage big enough to use for storage and to fit my vehicle(s) in when needed was good in my eyes (the typical garages in the neighborhood I’m in are single car, which I dislike).

    All that to say, I’ve never bought into converting the garage into just another room. I like having a garage: it’s flexible and useful for the inevitable stuff that you don’t want in the house but still want to keep! Just my thoughts.

  5. Don’t do it. Seems to me like temporarily suspending regulations doesn’t mean a whole lot unless the longterm perspective of the local authority/community also changes. After some years the fire will be a memory. When this current short term pain is gone, how do you think the locals will view your budget built duplex conversion? In another post, you wrote these types of ad-hoc ADU’s are common in this area, but in those instances the owner occupies the main unit. What is the risk you will be seen as an absentee slumlord? A profit maximizing opportunist who took advantage of a difficult situation? Or will everyone let it be even though part of the yard is now used to park 4 cars out front?

    Do it if you think the local authorities won’t put up any fuss 5 years on from now. Or do it if you’re fine to rent the unit only until this crisis is over. Otherwise, don’t do it.

  6. I applaud your choices. This reminds me of two other stories (one my own) of similar choices.

    We bought our first house in a popular (i.e., over-priced) neighborhood within walking distance of a university (where we worked) and all levels of school. The house was less than 1,100 square feet and had only one bathroom. Most families who could afford that neighborhood turned it down because it wasn’t big enough. With six in our family, we could barely squeeze in but managed to swing the purchase. My husband was in graduate school and needed a large study place; the garage served that purpose and was good enough except on the coldest of days.

    Another inspiring story I read many years ago (forgotten where) of an Anabaptist family of seven (mother, father, four sons, and one daughter). Their values meant they wanted to live simply and put as much money as possible toward charity. The parents chose to buy a small two-bedroom home with a large, dry basement. The parents got one bedroom, the daughter got the second, and the basement was turned over to the boys, who turned it into a great headquarters, four “bedrooms,” and general rumpus room. When all the children were grown and gone (it happens faster than we would think), the parents were left with a home that was suitable for a senior citizen couple. I always thought that this was a much better choice than buying a six-bedroom home with a large mortgage to boot.

    In our family, we call such spaces as the garage and the basement “dirty space.” We think most homes don’t have enough — places that can do multiple duties: workshop, laundry room, rumpus room, office, guest bedroom, extra closet, etc. By not making huge modifications, such spaces can be flexible for changing needs.

  7. Do it. Convert the garage to an ADU.

    For the reasons you stated, it may be best to do as much of the labor yourself as you can. I also recently heard that construction material costs (eg. Framing, in particular) may spike in the next year.

    You won’t regret it….once you’re done 🙂

    1. Look for a major push on converting garages to ADUs in Sonoma County to help ease the current crisis caused by the fires. The usual bureaucratic inertia has been sidelined for the crisis and public officials are being cooperative and flexible. It’s no guarantee of progress, but I’m with Kol. This is the right time to do it.

  8. Do it. Build the ADU by converting the garage.

    For the reasons you stated though, you’d probably have to be willing and able to do much of the labor yourself. Also, I heard construction material prices (framing, in particular) may start to spike in that region too.

    Nonetheless, you should do it. You won’t regret it…once you’re done. 🙂

  9. Off topic, but where did you get that shelving unit in the shed room? i have some in my pantry picked up at a yard sale. Would love to know where to get a few more to store my canned goods on.

    1. I bought those shelves about fifteen years ago at a warehouse sale of discontinued items from Design Within Reach. That was just before DWR moved its distribution center from Union City (in the East Bay south of Oakland) to Hebron, Kentucky. They were manufactured by a company in Spain and I’ve always referred to them as “The Spanish Shelves.” I don’t know why I remember any of this. I can’t remember my own mother’s birthday without looking it up…

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