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How to Avoid Getting Overwhelmed During the ADU Process

Building an ADU doesn’t have to be stressful. Read on for some ideas on how to manage your project from start to finish.

It seems like everyone in California wants to build an ADU these days. After the recent legislative change, most residential properties in California are eligible to add a second unit. Homeowners across the state are looking to increase their living space, passive income, and home value. But that comes with a caveat. Just because everyone is building (or thinking about building) an ADU doesn’t make this a small decision, it’s just the opposite. ADU project budgets can run anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000, depending on the type of project and specific goals.

That’s quite a bit of money. Building an ADU is somewhere in between buying a nice car and sending your kid to college. It is one of the more significant decisions you may make in your life, so it's easy to see why many people can get very stressed out at some point during the process. It is normal to get overwhelmed by information or get frustrated by delays, overages, or breakdowns in the process.

That doesn’t have to include you, though. There are easy strategies that you can engage in that will make the whole experience much more straightforward. This article includes a non-exhaustive list of ways to reduce project stress. We will be writing more articles on this topic in the future.

Research the Entire ADU Process Before You Do Anything

To build an ADU, you need to go through the stages of feasibility, design, permitting, budgeting, financing, and contracting. This process could last anywhere from six to eighteen months. Even if you are at the very beginning, and just researching your options, it is essential to start familiarizing yourself with every step. This way, you will get a sense of the big picture and begin to understand how all of the different phases connect.

  1. Feasibility
  2. Design
  3. Permitting
  4. Financing/Budgeting
  5. Construction

    With more context, you will have a clearer understanding of why there is a specific order of business. Furthermore, it will become clear that there are small, easy things that you can do early on that will prevent significant risks down the line.

    For example, permitting is directly relevant to design, budgeting, and contracting because it will inform what you are allowed to build. If you ignore the permitting phase, it will cause significant problems as you proceed. It is impossible to predict the future, and you never know what challenges might arise. However, there are plenty of mistakes that you can avoid and ways that you can significantly reduce your costs.

    Do your homework early and often.

    Don’t Talk To A Contractor First

    This piece of advice is counter-intuitive, but if you are interested in building an ADU, you should not go straight to a builder. They are not the right resource at the beginning, and you will only get frustrated by their inability to help you. The problem is that the vast majority of ADU contractors are not going to help you with the permitting and design, and they will turn you away until you’ve taken care of the pre-construction phases.

    It is easy to get discouraged if a contractor turns you away, but there is a straightforward reason why they are doing this; you aren’t ready to work with them, and they don’t have time to assist you with pre-construction.

    To clearly emphasize: you will not get an estimate on your ADU project if you haven’t taken care of the proper permitting. Read more about the

    Instead, what you should do first is answer the most fundamental question: are you allowed to build an ADU on your property?

    Even though the state laws legalized ADUs for most homeowners, you still need to comply with local zoning and building codes. You can answer this question by researching your property’s ADU feasibility and potential on the Housable website. Just type in your city and address, and you will get a preliminary answer on whether you can build. You can also view information about construction, permit fees, zoning laws, and other vital details.

    It would be best if you talked to a contractor much later, after you have completed feasibility, design, and permitting - all services that Housable offers without commitment. We can even introduce you to a contractor at the right time, making it easier on you!

    If you need financing, you should also speak to a lender before you talk to the contractor.

    Finally, after you’ve completed your pre-construction phases and you’ve gotten a permit, you can connect with contractors on Housable’s marketplace platform where qualified ADU contractors will bid on your project.

    One Step At a Time

    Even though you should have an understanding of the entire ADU process from the beginning, it is essential to focus your attention on the phase you are currently on. For example, if you are still in the design phase, you shouldn’t worry as much about the total project budget, because that information will come later when you get an estimate from a contractor.

    Focus on what is in front of you, and make sure that you are making the right decisions now. A small amount of progress in the right direction is more important than a lot of momentum in the wrong direction.

    Get The Green Light From Your City Planning Office

    This step is critical. You should not proceed to the design phase until you have gotten direct confirmation from your city planning office that you are eligible to build an ADU on your property. (Remember this is the feasibility phase, not the permitting phase - you are only getting an answer on your eligibility as opposed to a sign off on a specific project).

    Don’t guess. This is a mistake that might cost you down the line if your property has some specific challenges.

    How can you get this confirmation?

    Your first option is to go to the city planning office yourself. Dealing with planners is time-consuming, and it might take you a while to get an answer. Headaches abound. You also run the risk of not asking the right question and missing some specific information - you don’t know what you don’t know. We encourage you to use our Property Check tool to see what your property might look like with an ADU. Our tool can get you information on your properties approximate zoning and if there are any construction roadblocks ahead. However, we encourage homeowners to still follow through with the first step. Finding out if your zone is as simple as a five minute phone call to your planning office to confirm your properties zoning status. While we can provide a very close answer and help see potential issues down the line, they will always have the correct and up to date information.

    Get the feasibility step right, and you will prevent a whole host of issues later on.

    Take Notes and Write Everything Down

    This is obvious advice, but it is as true as ever. Document, document, document.

    The best strategy is to record every conversation you have in regards to your project. This way, you can refer back to it later and keep track of everything. Otherwise, write down every important detail and keep it in one place. Missing or forgotten information will not be helpful when you need it later on. The good news is that Housable helps you keep track of your project, and we log all of your information in your database. This way, anytime you need information, you’ll be able to go back and get it online.

    Keep Things in Perspective

    Your ADU project may have some bumps in the road. That is normal, but remember to see things in context and remember your original motivation for doing this. Imagine what it will be like when you complete your ADU. Imagine how much better your life will be when you have a second unit on your property, and how it will help your family’s living situation and financial profile.

    You may have to spend more time and energy dealing with problems than you initially thought, but it will all be worth it in the end.

    Housable is here to make your ADU project happen. We offer feasibility, design, and permitting, and connect you with a contractor when you are ready.

    Set up a free ADU consultation by calling 415-300-2387.