The latest tips and advice on overcoming the many challenges of planning and building an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) from the hottest ADU market on the planet – California.
As part of our mission to stay abreast of latest trends in homeownership, we often attend events from various experts in the industry. Most recently, we attended a helpful webinar, hosted by Maxable, focused on How to Hire an ADU Designer.
Since Maxable’s mission is to guide California homeowners through the ADU construction planning process, they are well versed in the many options and obstacles frequently encountered by homeowners. Having assisted over 285 ADU projects to date, their perspectives are invaluable for anyone in the market for an ADU.
We grouped the many insights shared during their session into nine themes, which we feel gives a good overview of the current ADU marketplace in California.
9 Expert Tips on Planning an ADU
- The ADU Process is Still Complex & Evolving
- Homeowners Need to Become ADU Experts in the Process
- Knowing Current ADU Rules & Regulations Can Save You Time and Money
- When Hiring, Give Priority to ADU Experience & Local City Experience
- For Traditional-Built ADUs, Know What You Need Your Architect/Designer to Do
- The Number One Reason for Building ADUs Remains Having Family Live Nearby
- Think of Long-Term Usage When Planning Your ADU
- Know the Most Valuable Skill of an ADU Architect/Designer
- Be Patient and Have Realistic Expectations
1. The ADU Process is Still Complex & Evolving
The fact that there is strong, persistent demand for ADU service firms, such as Maxable and How to ADU, is continued proof that homeowners need assistance navigating a labyrinth of choices, regulations, and risks. Adding to the complexity, is the difference in how local municipalities interpret state guidelines, as well as how they enforce local rules.
2. Homeowners Need to Become ADU Experts in the Process
Given the complexity and changing nature of the ADU landscape, homeowners need to take a proactive approach to learning as much as possible about planning, designing, permitting and building ADUs. Though it is not feasible to know “everything” about ADUs, it is possible to know which questions to ask and which details to confirm throughout each stage of the process.
No one will care more about a given ADU project, its associated rules and long-term implications than the homeowner!
To put this reality in perspective, here’s a quote from an ADU homeowner shared by Maxable:
“I went to the city 3 or 4 times to ask questions. Talk about a run-around! There was maybe one nice person out of ten [that] I spoke to – and I left even more confused than when I first got there!”
3. Knowing Current ADU Rules & Regulations Can Save You Time and Money
A good example of how knowing the rules can save you money, is that in California the Development & Impact fees are waived for ADUs that are less than 750 square feet. Again, this type of detail is of most importance to the paying homeowner, while inexperienced staff members may be unaware of this exclusion, and could incorrectly bill this fee.
Also, be sure to investigate current energy efficiency and safety regulations that may pertain to your ADU. In California, requirements for solar panels and automatic sprinkler systems are closely tied to the requirements of the main house. If the existing house is not required to have a solar system or sprinklers, then neither will the ADU.
4. When Hiring, Give Priority to ADU Experience & Local City Experience
Maxable gave an apt medical analogy to the process of hiring a designer for an ADU. The surgical field, for example, understandably consists of narrowly skilled specialists (e.g. brain surgeons, hearth surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, etc.). A similar approach should be taken when hiring an ADU designer, since ADUs are a distinct kind of residential property with unique challenges.
Additionally, homeowners would be wise to work with professionals that have a demonstrable track record of navigating local building requirements specific to ADUs. Having existing personal relationships with local officials is also invaluable to making sure that any issues are mutually understood and constructively resolved in a timely manner.
5. For Traditional-Built ADUs, Know What You Need Your Architect/Designer to Do
Though we are partial to prefab ADUs for the right situations, when going the traditional-built route, homeowners must do their homework upfront to know what they will need from an architect/designer. The list of work and responsibilities is long, including being consistently available to answer any questions the builder or inspectors may have. Any prospective designers that you perceive as having poor communication skills should be avoided.
The most important delivery an architect/designer will provide is a full set of construction drawings. In order to receive credible construction cost estimates from a reputable general contractor, you must be able to provide complete construction drawings. Beware of any bids you receive that do not rely on accurate and complete drawings.
6. The Number One Reason for Building ADUs Remains Having Family Live Nearby
We have encountered the similar conclusions from other sources that the current primary reason for homeowners wanting to build an ADU is to house an aging parent. The close, but still separate, nature of ADUs is directly driving the rising adoption rate of multigenerational households, as well.
7. Think of Long-Term Usage When Planning Your ADU
This tenet underscores why we are such strong proponents of ADUs – their ability to evolve over many years to adapt to the key needs of the homeowner, family and extended residents and visitors is extremely important. Many homeowners investing in ADUs understand this benefit and are working with their designers to anticipate different uses in segments of 5 years or so, e.g. immediate use; in 5 years; in 10 to 15 years; etc.
8. Know the Most Valuable Skill of an ADU Architect/Designer
The most important skill for a reputable ADU architect/designer to have is knowing how much their design will cost. Allowing any designer to provide custom designs that are detached from cost estimates is a risky proposition for homeowners.
Maxable gave an example of how a custom designed ADU roof increased the building costs by $30,000. This was an unexpected cost increase to the homeowner. The homeowner loved the design but had no idea that the construction costs would be impacted so drastically.
9. Be Patient and Have Realistic Expectations
This tenet is true for all construction and renovation projects, but it is especially true in markets that are seeing an explosion in ADU projects. If you are impatient, take heart that you are not wanting an ADU built in Los Angeles County. If you are based in LA County, be sure to work with someone with experience that knows how to navigate the process and that can set a realistic timeframe for you. We are hearing that a traditionally built ADU can take 12 to 18 months to complete in California.
Additional ADU Articles
- An Interactive 360 Degree Virtual Tour of a Custom ADU by FineCraft
- Top Prefab ADU Companies
- Choosing Between a Prefab ADU & a Stick-Built ADU
- Why Homeowners Should Invest in a Prefab ADU
- The Impact of ADUs on Your Neighborhood: Perceptions vs. Reality
- Boxabl: Transformable Design + Automation = Affordable Housing
- These Features Will Make Your ADU More Desirable & Valuable
- Does an ADU Add Value to Your Home? Surprising Trends from HomeLight
- Want a Nontraditional House? Here’s How to Finance It!
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