What it was like deciding to build an ADU

Nov 7, 2022 | 2 comments

We know that many homeowners wonder what it’s like to actually build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Who else is building them? When and how do they decide to take the plunge and move forward? What is the actual experience like?

To get some answers, we were delighted to interview Susan, a homeowner in Vista and client of SnapADU. In this interview, she shares a candid view of her experience designing, permitting & building an ADU.

Hope you enjoy her story!

Whitney Hill
Co-Founder of SnapADU


Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your ADU. First, our readers would love to know a bit more about your family’s decision to build an ADU. Could you tell us about your thought process and any other alternatives you considered besides an ADU?

Absolutely, happy to share in case it can be helpful to others. The decision to build an ADU was motivated by my daughter’s need for affordable housing when her life situation changed unexpectedly. An accessory dwelling unit on my property in Vista seemed like a clear choice. My daughter’s preference was to live in a dwelling solo without roommates, plus she also had a dog, which would make renting more difficult. Additionally, others in our neighborhood are adding ADUs, so it felt like a good decision for increasing the value of my property.

We know every homeowner has a unique set of priorities. What design features were most important to you?

The important design features were the sliding doors in the kitchen and bedroom, the clerestory windows in the living room and bedroom, a spacious bathroom and the kitchen island. The final plan for our ADU incorporated all the design features we requested. To get to that final design, I started with a one bedroom build-ready plan from SnapADU and made a few modifications. I expanded the overall size from just under 500 square feet, to about 700 square feet. That additional square footage allowed me to make the bedroom larger, plus add some additional storage.

Susan’s Sketch of her Customized ADU Floor Plan

Approved Custom Floor Plan

It’s a big step to move forward with a construction partner. How did you decide on a contractor to design and build your ADU?

I spent hours researching companies on the internet. I only wanted to consider organizations that offered a one-stop-shop approach to the design & build of an ADU. The SnapADU website is phenomenal and offers real-world detail that I couldn’t find anywhere else. The floor plans, the project photo gallery and all the information about building an ADU motivated me to attend one of the webinars hosted by Whitney Hill. The customer testimonials posted by SnapADU, as well as reviews with high ratings, convinced me SnapADU was the right choice. I was also excited about the project management app so I could handle and record all my decisions in one place.

How did you finance the construction of the ADU? Did you have any issues with that process?

In order to finance the project, I tapped into the equity in my home and secured a 30-year mortgage on my residence. I timed the loan based on the projected construction schedule for my unit, and I ended up with financing sooner than I needed. The upside of that is that the interest rate is good because rates were still low then, but the con is that I made some mortgage payments prior to the construction of the project. It’s tough to time the financing exactly to when you will need the funds, as schedules can shift in both directions.

What was it like working with SnapADU throughout the design and build process?

Working with Snap during the design was quite easy, as I provided my marked-up plan and they took everything from there. And the finished home is outstanding. The constructed ADU is as great as those described in other client testimonials. The SnapADU employees are nice and great to work with. In particular, Sean, one of the superintendents, did an outstanding job representing the company. His strength is customer service and he made sure my concerns were addressed.

Parts of the process along the way were a bit frustrating, as it sometimes felt like things were delayed but out of my hands, so to speak. For example, waiting for inspections or work schedule changes are something that happens in nearly every construction project, but I would like to see SnapADU get better at keeping clients in the loop on all those changes so we know what to expect. Even if there is no action for me to take, I’m someone who would like to know. The job calendar can be a great tool, and with a few tweaks, I think clients could walk away feeling like SnapADU offers the best experience digitally they could possibly have when constructing a new home. But try not to show a best-case scenario schedule to the client, as that can be disappointing.

We appreciate that feedback, as we’re constantly aiming to make improvements to our processes. Since you first mentioned this to our project management team, we’ve already been working on a clearer schedule for clients, plus regular updates even if there is no status change.

You’re very welcome, and I’m glad to hear that. I know the company is growing, and I had high expectations going in as well. But I want to give you my honest feedback. Also, I do know that ADUs are a relatively new space and companies take time to really get to 100%. SnapADU is exemplary for having a woman cofounder, as well as women holding leadership positions in the company – a diverse workforce is important and I really believe in what the company is doing with ADUs.

Thank you so much, and we very much share your excitement about ADUs. To close out the interview, do you have any advice for other homeowners thinking about adding an ADU?

Because I did not consider the property around the ADU until later, I would recommend that homeowners think about patio space and landscaping for the project. Typically, it’s going to be more cost effective to do that with a landscaping company or even DIY, so it’s something you can add after the ADU is built. But it’s good to budget for that expense upfront when thinking about the all-in costs.

In the end, we really are happy that the ADU will bring our family closer together. As I’m growing older, it will be great to be close to my daughter.

Susan, thank you again for making the time, and we hope you and your family enjoy your ADU for many years to come.

Want more? See all of the photos from the ADU, plus a video tour.

Learn more on this topic

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  1. Great interview! Susan’s experience with building an ADU provides valuable insights for others considering a similar project. It’s evident that she made a thoughtful decision to accommodate her daughter’s housing needs and increase her property’s value. The emphasis on design features like sliding doors, clerestory windows, and a spacious bathroom highlights the importance of customization.

    Susan’s thorough research process, which led her to choose SnapADU as the contractor, showcases the significance of a user-friendly website, real-world detail, and positive customer testimonials. The financing aspect, tapping into home equity and securing a mortgage, offers practical advice for homeowners looking to fund their ADU projects.

    The feedback on SnapADU’s performance during the design and build process is constructive. It emphasizes the importance of effective communication and schedule transparency in construction projects. Susan’s suggestion regarding considering patio space and landscaping as part of the budget is also valuable advice for future ADU builders.

    Overall, Susan’s journey provides a helpful perspective for homeowners contemplating ADUs, and her experience with SnapADU sheds light on the evolving landscape of ADU construction.

  2. Susan’s interview provides valuable insight into the process of building an ADU with SnapADU. Her experience highlights the thoughtful considerations and decisions involved in creating an accessory dwelling unit. From initial motivations to financing and working with the contractor, Susan’s journey offers practical advice for homeowners considering a similar project. It’s inspiring to see how ADUs can bring families closer together while also increasing property value. If you’re looking for a reliable ADU contractor, SnapADU seems to offer a comprehensive and customer-focused approach based on Susan’s feedback.

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