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I built an ADU in my backyard that brings in $3,000 a month. Now I urge other California homeowners to do the same.

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joyce higashi in her san jose aduJoyce Higashi in her ADU.

Courtesy of Abodu

  • Joyce Higashi is a San Jose native who built an ADU in her backyard in 2020 for $230,000.
  • She leases the unit out to traveling nurses for three months at a time and charges $3,000 per month.
  • Higashi has become a self-proclaimed “ADU evangelist,” since building her own. 

This story is based on a conversation with Joyce Higashi, who built an accessory dwelling unit, also known as an ADU, in her San Jose backyard in 2020. Now, she advocates for ADUs at events throughout the Bay Area. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

I am a San Jose native. I left for 15 years. I went to school and lived in San Francisco for a while. I never planned on moving back to San Jose but somehow I landed back here. 

I bought a house in 2000, when I turned 40. It’s the first and only house I’ve ever owned. It’s a small house on a big lot, and I always thought I was going to expand on it but that never happened. 

I left my job at the Oracle Corporation in 2015, and now I am semi-retired. I am planning on doing something to go back to work but haven’t found that yet. So in 2017, I told myself, in the meantime, I need to have some passive income. 

That’s when I decided to put an ADU in my backyard — back before ADUs were even remotely popular in California. 

the exterior of Joyce Higashi's ADU in San JoseThe exterior of Joyce Higashi’s ADU.

Courtesy of Abodu

Through ADU builder Abodu, I had a 500-square foot one-bedroom ADU built in my backyard. I paid $230,000 for it, start to finish. 

Now, I rent the ADU out for $3,000 a month to traveling nurses for three months at a time. 

It was really hard to find what I was looking for at the beginning 

At first, I looked into doing a custom build because I thought that was the only option I had at the time. Again, this was before ADUs were popular here. 

It was so confusing for me: you have to get an architect to design it, then you have to do all this engineering, you need soil inspections, and then permitting — which is supposed to be a nightmare. 

On top of that, I talked to a couple contractors trying to figure out how much it would cost and how long it would take. No one could tell me exactly because it all depends on how much the architect is and how much the permitting is. 

I got a little frustrated with the idea, plus I didn’t really want to design one. I have no desire or skillset to design a house. But all of the pre-approved plans that I had looked at were kind of boring. They looked like boxes. 

I just didn’t want to spend that much money for something that was just okay, so I put it on hold for a bit. 

Then, I became a prefab convert

Then two friends within the same week had seen Abodu on the news, and said “I think this is what you want to do.” So I looked it up online and saw that they were prefab units. 

At first, I wasn’t interested. In my mind, prefab meant mobile home, and I did not want a mobile home in my backyard.

But then I went to the showroom in Redwood City and immediately, as soon as I walked in, I went oh my god, this is this is it. I loved it. It was much bigger than I expected and it had high ceilings and a lot of lights. It was very modern, which is very much my aesthetic. 

an example of what the interior of an Abodu looks like.The interior of another Abodu ADU.

Courtesy of Abodu

One of the reasons I picked it was because I didn’t have to make a single decision about the design. Everything I wanted was just sitting there. I told them I want it exactly like it was in your showroom and they said, fine, we can do that.  

I took out a private loan through a bank to finance it. 

COVID slowed down the process, but it all worked out

In early 2020, they sent someone out to do the foundation. Then, the day it was supposed to be there, it was delayed because of the weather. Then COVID happened, so it actually got delayed two months. 

It got delivered in May. I didn’t realize because they had taken care of everything but they had to shut my street because this ginormous crane came. 

The crane took the ADU off the back of a truck, hooked it up and then the ADU flew over my house into my backyard in about four minutes. 

Then once it landed it was connected to the utilities and got a final inspection. After that, I built the deck and I did the landscaping. 

an aerial view of Joyce Higashi's home in San JoseAn aerial view of Joyce Higashi’s ADU.

Courtesy of Abodu

I started renting the unit out in 2021 to traveling nurses. 

I didn’t rent it out all in 2020 because, you know, it was COVID, and my original plan was to do Airbnb.

But then someone told me about traveling nurses. So I listed my unit on Furnished Finders — a site for traveling nurses and other traveling professionals — and someone reached out. 

I got my first tenant in May of 2021 and I have never had an empty day since.  I’ve loved the nurses — the rental is a minimum of three months and most of them have extended their stay. 

Now, I am an ADU advocate

I just love going to networking events and talking about ADUs. Because I don’t have a job title, I just like to say I am an ADU evangelist. 

joyce higashi on her porchJoyce Higashi on the porch of her ADU.

Courtesy of Abodu

I give presentations at networking events in the Bay Area. I explain what an ADU is, what an attached versus an detached is, that kind of stuff. Then I should just show my pictures. I give them different resources. 

On the last Friday in February, I gave a presentation about ADUs at an event and I invited people to come see the unit on Tuesday because that was the day my tenant was moving out and it was before the tenant was moving in.

When they opened up the LaCantina doors, those that came to see the unit were blown away. It’s like its own little private oasis. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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