Kira and Brett McCracken’s Santa Ana, California home is a quick, 12-minute drive from Disneyland, so turning their garage into a profitable vacation rental was a no-brainer.

The couple wasn’t, however, just trying to make a quick buck. The McCrackens decided to invest the money and time necessary to add value to their property, offer an inviting getaway to travelers, and create a spot they would want to stay in themselves. “When it comes to ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), you should build a space that you personally enjoy being in because it’s connected to your home,” Kira insists. 

With the help of a local architect, specialized contractor, and designer Victoria Smith, they built a midcentury-inspired suite that has earned them the Airbnb Superhost title. But it didn’t happen without a few hurdles:

 

Get Ready For Hidden Costs

Garage ADU conversion before

Yellow Airbnb bedroom

Acquiring permits cost the McCrackens thousands of dollars before they even broke ground. “This type of expense is difficult to put on a line of credit, so we saved up cash for that,” says Kira, who stresses the importance of budgeting for all expenses, including ones that are typical of ADUs but don’t show up in regular renovations. She and Brett also spent a significant sum to outfit the space with the proper plumbing to access the water and sewage systems, which they learned were located quite far from the garage. “The biggest way we got dinged financially was the extension of our sewer line.”

 

Get Your Permits (and Be Patient)

Yellow Airbnb bedroom

It took a year and a half of patience and proactive follow-ups for the McCrackens to navigate the convoluted process and secure their authorizations. Though it’s pricey and time-consuming, Kira recommends getting an ADU formally permitted. “Hassle as it may, in the long run, it’s going to be worth going through the process to get the ADU officially added to your livable square footage,” she says. “There isn’t a checklist of the things you need to do before your ADU is approved either. You have to make your own way.”

 

Work with Specialists

Garage ADU exterior conversion

Because an ADU conversion is its own class of construction project, Kira and Brett sought out experts in the field. They hired a local architect who cares deeply about maintaining the value and integrity of the neighborhood to draw up plans using his knowledge of Santa Ana codes, as well as a contractor who specializes in ADUs and knows the requirements in and out. “Having people who are experienced was extremely valuable,” Kira says.

 

Transition Fully

Garage ADU exterior conversion

According to Smith, fostering a sense of home is pivotal. “You really don’t want it to hint at ever having been a garage,” she says. Soundproofing, insulation, and HVAC ensure a solid foundation that won’t seem drafty or half-baked, while quality materials and hardware provide a more finished feel. Natural light, which the McCrackens incorporated with French doors and a custom window that matches those of the main house, warms the space and eliminates any trace of the building’s dingy garage past.

 

Design Durably

Yellow Airbnb bedroom

In order to host an endless cycle of guests, Kira and Brett opted for hardwearing finishes like luxury vinyl flooring and quartz countertops that could support the frequent use. “The spots that have the most traffic and get the most beaten up need to be the most durable,” she says. “It’s a function-over-high-design approach.”

 

Focus on the Kitchen

beige and navy airbnb kitchen

Aesthetically, Kira chose to highlight the kitchen. “I love to cook, so I wanted it to be a showpiece,” she describes. She wanted colorful yet neutral cabinetry, and the Semihandmade Night Sky SSS Beaded fronts turned out to be exactly the right hue (not to mention they’re an elevated match for cost-effective IKEA bases). As a finishing touch, Kira picked white appliances to adhere to the midcentury style and matte gold hardware that’s her personal favorite.

 

Be Realistic About the Financials

Kira stresses that an ADU conversion isn’t an instant moneymaker. She and Brett spent about $150K on the project, while the value of their home only increased about $40K. “It isn’t a one to one ratio,” Kira says. Fortunately, the Airbnb has been perpetually booked, which means the couple will eventually earn back their investment and more.

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