Q&A with ATL ADU CO Client Dirk Brown
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Tell us about yourself. How long have you lived in Atlanta and what do you do for a living?
My friends still joke with me because in the 90's I sold my house in Midtown and moved to Buckhead, but I thought it was "too far"...so I moved back in town! I bought this house in Virginia Highlands in 2000 and rebuilt the inside while preserving the historic charm on the exterior. I have always worked around innovation in software/product development and that carried over to housing innovation. I am also a real estate investor and armchair architect and restorer.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are still relatively uncommon in Atlanta - so what led to your decision to build an ADU?
I wanted to do something more productive with our backyard. I used it for parking, but otherwise it was unusable space. And I was aware of how many people wanted to move into the neighborhood so I saw that as an opportunity. I sort of fell on the idea of ADUs. I was doing some research and I knew the city had passed the ordinance for ADUs around December 2018. I actually went to Portland since it's the momma land of ADUs and I took Kol Peterson's class. It went through financing, architecture, site, design, and zoning coupled with a tour of ADUs.
You dove in head first! So why do that research and then work with ATL ADU CO rather than put your knowledge and experience with renovations to the DIY test?
A friend of mine told me about ATL ADU and their turn key service. Honestly, I had several friends who were like "Oh my gosh, you could do that for so much cheaper". But a good contractor friend and I priced it out, line by line, and found that doing it myself was not that far off. Then when I considered finding the architect, bidding the plans, finding the contractor, zoning and permitting, ATL ADU rolled all that up into one easy decision. There's also not that many ways to configure 750 square feet. The designs they already had fit the neighborhood so well and all I had to do was pick the paint color.
How did you finance the project?
I had owned this property for 20 years, and had equity in the home, so I did a cash out refinance. My mortgage only went up around $300 per month.
How was your experience during construction?
It was fantastic. Based on their knowledge of zoning they kept the process moving through the City Planning Office. The building team from foundation to roofing was courteous, efficient, and clean. The entire process took less than a year from survey to move in during 2020 when everything else stopped.
How do you utilize your ADU currently?
It has always had a long term tenant. I decided since they were living in my backyard I preferred long term.
How has it been utilizing your ADU as a source of income?
From my experience as a landlord, it's been pretty effortless. We re-listed on Zillow this summer when our first long term tenants moved out after 2 years. Within one hour I had a showing and a deposit. Before I could take it down from Zillow two hours later, I had 16 inquiries on it. Basically, we created a product that didn't exist -- a 2bd/2ba detached, efficient home in Virginia Highlands but at the rental rate of an apartment.
What would you say to others who are considering building an ADU?
The economics of it are incredible. You already own the land and that's the expensive part, not really the building. So you have to maximize what you've got. If you're in a neighborhood where you can get great rent, you're going to get paid back for it.
It's also got a lot of flexible uses that add value for people. Short term rental, long term rental, office, retirement. I'm thinking I might rent out my primary house and use the ADU when I don't permanently live in Atlanta.
I think the part that most people struggle with is, "oh somebody is going to be living really close to me". We already live close to each other in Virginia Highlands so that's not a big leap for us. And if you choose the route we have with long term tenants, it creates an additional neighbor and more community. We still get drinks with the couple who previously lived in our ADU!
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