Archtiect Sign

Brit Builds an ADU: the First $2,500

A white envelope about to enter a USPS collection box.

A check heading out to our new architect.

Today, a little past Thanksgiving 2018, I wrote a check for $2,500. I have the money in a savings account and will transfer it to checking shortly. Yes, $2,500 is a lot of money! I could buy a really nice bicycle for that amount, maybe even one with electric assist. Instead we are spending this money on an architect, specifically Christopher Strom Architects.

Christopher Strom Second Suite Sign

A sign for Second Suite, a subsidiary of Christopher Strom Architects, at a build site for an ADU.

Chris Strom is a well-respected architect with deep knowledge about Minneapolis accessory dwelling units (ADU). He runs a side site, Second Suite, aimed at helping landowners develop ADUs on their property and was an adviser on Minneapolis ADU policy in 2014. Those are the main reasons we chose Chris to help us design and focus our ADU project.

Good architects are on a long time scale, however. When I contacted Chris early last fall, his first availability for new work wasn’t until summer 2019. So, we are spending $2,500 on a retainer to secure a spot in Chris’ schedule as one of the first steps toward actually building additional dwelling space on our property.

It’s exciting, and also a bit terrifying. A large project like this requires time, money and effort, and committing to the first step means our ADU is moving from dream to reality.

Why finding an architect is one of the first moves

Architects contribute to so many aspects of the design and building process that they’re a logical first step for your own ADU. You can’t just go to a builder with a sketch. You need to know that the design will be structurally sound and fit into your city’s zoning laws — things architects are paid to understand.

Do a Google search for architects and ADUs in Minnesota, and Christopher Strom is one of the first names to come up. He has a strong interest in the field and knowledge of specific local ordinances. I also liked his website.

So, I emailed him, we had a phone conversation, I double-checked a few things, and we finally signed an agreement to start the planning process this coming June. We expect architect’s fees to be about 10 percent of construction costs, so finding a knowledgeable person whom you can envision working with for several months — and whose work you may live with for a lifetime — is a big deal.

I recommend interviewing two or three different architects, though expect the costs to be similar. For me, finding someone as excited about ADUs as I am was essential. I tend to trust my research and go with it if no red flags show up. 

Chris’ major concern was financing. Many people have strong interest in building ADUs but few understand the costs involved. Typically, detached ADUs cost upwards of $200,000, and internal ones run about $100,000. These costs center on utilities, which are tied to the main house (for a detached ADU you have to dig a trench to connect the new space to the existing one), plus all of the costs of constructing a small house: a roof, insulation and the finishings.

Most people assume an ADU is like building a fancy garage rather than a second house on their property. Having spent a few years researching ADUs, I was prepared for the costs and am looking forward to making a space our own.

Chris Strom Papers

A sneak peak at a previous Christopher Strom ADU project.

We likely will work with Chris for more than six months, from pre-design (how we want the ADU to look) through the design phase, figuring out a construction budget, modeling and tweaking the design, and finalizing construction documents, which lay out process, finishings and other specifications. For construction itself, we expect Chris will help choose a general contractor, conduct site visits and modify the design as needed.

This will cost between $10,000 and $20,000 — and it will be worth every penny to have a professionally designed space that suits our needs.

Images gratefully shared with permission from Christopher Strom. Sourced from Instagram.

Brit Anbacht

About Brit Anbacht

Brit Anbacht is a millenial policy wonk and general nerd. They work from home full time. Brit sometimes drives but ever more frequently takes the bus for errands. They live in south Minneapolis, and can be found occasionally on twitter @britvulcan.