Q&A with Client/Investor Molly Gunn
Updated: Mar 22
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you lived in Atlanta and how did you become a real estate investor?
I grew up in Atlanta, so I’m a rare Atlantan. I went to school in Philly, then worked in D.C and Boston before moving back to Atlanta. I always wanted to open my own restaurant, and when I moved back in 2005, that’s what I really gunned for. So, in 2008 I opened the Porter Beer Bar with my husband. And we were happy bar owners for about 12 years until the pandemic hit! During that two-year period, it was not only exhausting, it was miserable, so we sold the business in 2022.
We started investing in real estate in 2017, which grew out of my husband's distrust of the stock market, and he wanted to find another vehicle for retirement. Eventually he talked me into real estate, and after running a restaurant, real estate is the easiest thing on earth! We have six single family rental houses - we have built one ADU, we’re under construction on the second, and we’re about to apply for permits on the third ADU.
Molly's first ADU was completed in November 2022 in Chosewood Park. The orientation of this 1bd/1ba RTown is unique because it is street facing on a corner lot.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are still relatively uncommon in Atlanta - so as a real estate investor, what led to your decision to add ADU’s behind your rental properties?
We all saw the run up of the market in 2020-21, and while we purchased two properties in 2021, shortly after that, we didn’t see anything that made sense for us in terms of buying single family homes. So ADUs provided a safe way for us to keep investing while the market was insane. We liked all of our rental properties and felt good about the neighborhoods we had bought in. And the more expensive the property you’re on, the more an ADU makes sense. Plus every time you buy a new property it’s a risk.
Most importantly, we found the numbers worked for investors like us looking for cash flow. We knew if we didn’t hit the 1% rule (gross monthly rent / purchase price) the first year, we definitely would in the 2nd or 3rd year. And everyone loves to talk about appreciation, which is great, but it’s the icing on the cake. If you have enough of an emergency fund and cash flow, no matter what happens, you will always be able to hold onto your properties, even if something like 2008 happens again. In short, ADUs provided a safe way for us to put something on properties we already owned, that we knew would cash flow and make sense.
ADU number two is just one mile away in Peoplestown. This 2bd/2ba Kwood is nearing completion.
Why did you decide to work with ATL ADU CO rather than take a DIY approach?
Our philosophy has always been that if we find a quality product or person that we like working with, we are extremely loyal to that person or product. Once you have that relationship, things only get better and easier. And while my husband is very handy, we’re not interested in managing projects. When you are dealing directly with a contractor, you are using all of your management skills on a daily basis to make sure things happen in a timely manner.
Working with ATL ADU, who essentially manages the contractor on our behalf, is an enormous convenience. So many people try to save a buck and they end up spending double because they had to fire someone, learn on the job, etc. Also, ATL ADU has done this and can very confidently say, “this will get through the permitting process in the City of Atlanta”. Having been a business owner and worked with the City of Atlanta, that has a ton of value for me - to not have to personally interact with the city.
And the ATL ADU designs, I haven’t seen anything else as beautiful, that feels so spacious despite their small size. The quality of the product that we ended up with was an attractive factor in continuing to work with ATL ADU on our second, and now third, Accessory Dwelling Unit.
The Peoplestown ADU seamlessly matches the primary house and the neighborhood aesthetic. The primary and secondary units are each long term rentals, so we separated utilities on this project rather than tying into the main house.
How do you utilize your ADU currently?
We thought about Airbnb but having come out of the hospitality industry we knew it could be really exhausting. With long term tenants you have a true relationship, so that has been our approach. Our tenants find a huge value in having four walls to themselves and having a yard. I’m looking for folks who work strange hours and want their own space if they need to sleep during the day (restaurant industry, nurses, doctors), who also have pets so they want a yard. Those are my niche clients because they stay the longest and I’m adding the most value for them. If they want a yard and their own four walls, the ADU is the way to go. It’s generally cost prohibitive to rent a single family home in the City of Atlanta, so there’s not another option.
What would you say to others who are considering building an ADU?
People should consider ADUs for a multitude of reasons. You already own the land. That’s the major financial and economic argument. So, if you can make it cash flow for just the price of adding it, it’s absolutely worth it. It has worked well for me and I believe it would work well for any investor. Even in this high interest rate climate, it can result in positive cash flow. And if interest rates go down and you can refinance, it will cash flow even better. If you’re buying in 2023, there’s not a lot of real estate that is going to cash flow. So, if you have capital to deploy, and you don’t want to buy a new property, or put your money in index funds or the stock market, build an ADU.
The site of ADU number three in Woodland Hills, which will go to permitting soon. Molly is not only building a successful real estate business, she is also creating environmentally conscious, workforce housing, that requires no additional parking in the city.