For John and Barbara-Anne Foley, converting a garage into an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) was just what they needed to allow them to save money in a downsized space while living close to family.

John and Barbara-Anne Foley say their ADU in Sandwich is “working out perfectly.”

“It’s working out fantastic,” said John. “Our two grandchildren are next door, and they pop over every day. We are very happy here. We really wanted to be near our family and that seems like an idea that America is probably going toward. We might be ahead of that curve on that.”

The Foleys, who have lived on Cape Cod for 40 years, began considering buying or building an ADU in 2020. ADUs are small homes or apartment units on the property of a single-family home. Meanwhile, their oldest son, Patrick, wanted to stay on Cape Cod with his wife, but they couldn’t afford to buy a house.

“We made a deal with them,” said John. “We would take the proceeds from selling our house in Harwich and help them buy a house with the understanding we would convert part of the property into an ADU.”

After looking at a number of houses, they found one in Sandwich with a two-car garage that looked promising as a future ADU. A little research revealed that although they were in a historic district, an ADU was allowed by right (zoning laws that reduce the barriers to obtaining a permit to build).

The first architect they consulted came up with plans that were too elaborate, so Barbara-Anne, an outreach coordinator for a veterans group, contacted Housing Assistance, and things began to click. With help from Housing Assistance staff, she became aware of less expensive options and visited an ADU in Mashpee. Keith Trott, director of housing production and maintenance for Housing Assistance, helped them refine their vision for a 900-square-foot unit.

The couple’s revised plans incorporated what they had learned from Housing Assistance and included a small deck on the opposite side of the house to give them some privacy. Construction began last December with John, who works in construction, acting as project manager. Supply-chain issues slowed things down slightly, but the Foleys were able to move in to their one-bedroom ADU in July. “It’s the first time we’ve ever built our own house and we did as much customization inside as we could,” he said. “Outside it looks like it’s almost always been here. It fits in quite comfortably.”

John thinks ADUs are “the wave of the future for the Cape,” but said some towns could do more to make it easier for residents. One solution would be uniform regulations Cape-wide. “They could settle on common criteria, such as enough square footage on the lot, the setbacks, the septic system’s big enough and one or two more [requirements]. If it’s different in every town, people will go crazy trying to find an existing house that will work. I think the Cape is way too slow on getting this up to speed, because there’s no more land to build on. Towns should be encouraging ADUs.”

John said he’s looking forward to many happy years in the ADU. “My grandchildren are three and a half and one and a half, but when they’re 17 and 15, we figure they’re going to bop over here and say, ‘mom and dad are driving us nuts,’ which will be wonderful for us.”

He said his daughter-in-law’s friends have seen the ADU on social media. “They love it and they’re all asking, how do you do it? So it is getting a little bit of push with people her age, early 30s, whose parents are thinking of doing the same thing. It’s working out perfectly for us and our son can stay where he was born and raise his family here.”

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