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Why Build

From rental income to housing a teacher, there are many reasons people want to build a second unit. Here are some ideas to get you started. Listen and learn from your neighbors.

Common Ground in Pacifica

It was the letter every renter in the Bay Area dreads and Anna knew instantly she would not be able to afford her apartment. She had just learned a new building owner planned to double the rent. Retired and living on a fixed income, Anna did not know what to do.

She headed to her daughter Veronica’s house, down the road in Pacifica, for a chat. “I think we can build a little house here for me,” she announced to a skeptical audience.

Tired of increasing rents, the idea of trading uncertainty for a fixed loan payment appealed to Anna. She also liked the idea of her keeping her money in the family. Plus, a small backyard second-unit would allow her to be close to her two grandsons.

Veronica was initially hesitant because neither she nor her mom knew anything about construction. But the benefits outweighed the challenges and they moved forward.

Anna knew she wanted a “small and cute” beach-style house. Both women wanted a local architect and builder, people they knew they could trust with such a critical project. Mother and daughter walked around the neighborhood looking at the different cottages in Pacifica. During these walks, they were able to find both an architect and a builder who could do the job right.

The new home took only a few months to complete. Today, three generations barbecue on the patio and the dogs run back and forth between homes.

“I love it,” Anna said. “It’s the perfect amount of space. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” And when asked about her plans for the future, when her mom is no longer there, Veronica had this to say, “Maybe I’ll move in. The boys can have the big house.”

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Independence in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay homeowners Bill and Ruthie are like many other couples looking to set their adult children up for success when they are gone. But their days are packed with even more emotion than most parents: their 33-year-old son, Alex, has severe developmental disabilities.

They knew they needed to create some distance between themselves and Alex so he could learn to live somewhat independently before they became too elderly to care for him at home. They agonized over what to do, or even how to start thinking about Alex’s future without them by his side.

Bill and Ruthie thought the best option would be for them to move out of the home they had long shared with Alex so he could remain in familiar surroundings with care givers. They looked at many options – buying or renting a second home nearby, moving to an area with lower housing costs, even docking a sailboat at the local marina – but none were feasible.

They felt they had reached a dead end, until Ruthie discussed their dilemma with a neighbor. The city, the neighbor told her, had made it easier to build second units.

The next day Bill and Ruthie were talking with city planners.

Today, Bill and Ruthie spend a few nights each week in a second unit they added to their existing home while Alex has round-the-clock care in the main house. The second unit creates the emotional and physical space they feel is necessary for Alex to grow comfortable without them.

An added bonus is that Alex’s caregivers have moved into the main house with their children. Now three generations enjoy spending time together. As Ruthie says, “Our family got bigger.”

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Reasons to Build

There are as many reasons to build as there are Second Unit owners. Some include:

  • Rental Income – Renting out a Second Unit can provide a steady source of income to help pay a mortgage, supplement social security, save for a rainy day or just add flexibility to the household budget.
  • Housing Friends & Relatives – Second Units are a great way for adult children, aging relatives, people with special needs or guests to stay together, but also maintain separate lives and privacy.
  • Downsizing – Some homeowners move into their Second Unit themselves, while family, renters or others live in the main house.
  • Flexible Space – As a homeowner’s needs change over time, Second Units allow for flexibility for nannies, renters, kids returning from college, caretakers and more.
  • Aging in Place – A Second Unit can be a lifelong home with easily accessible entries, showers, appliances, fixtures and many more comforts.
  • Community Benefits – Building a Second Unit is an easy way for a homeowner to help address the housing crisis in San Mateo County by providing a home for a school teacher, a firefighter or other community member who might otherwise have to commute a long distance to find a home they can afford.

Recent changes in state law have made it easier to build a Second Unit. Under the new laws, the review process has been streamlined, parking requirements have been reduced and fees have been lowered. The lot size requirements have also changed, so many more lots can accommodate Second Unit now. It’s a great time to consider building a Second Unit!

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