Contractor's work bench with plans and tools

Thinking About Talking to a Contractor to Build Your ADU? Here's What you Need to Do First.

We recommend approaching a contractor only after you've done your ADU homework. Doing pre-work will save time and reduce your stress.

Have you recently discovered the world of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)? Welcome - you're in good company with tens of thousands of your fellow Californians.

ADUs - think second units, like garage conversions or backyard apartments - are fantastic because they dramatically increase the potential of existing residential properties. ADUs allow you to transform your property for much less than the cost of construction or purchase of a new home.

Imagine if your property had an entirely new apartment in addition to your house. You could rent it out or house family members.

ADUs are generally pretty straightforward to build. With that said, there are some things you need to know before you start the process.

Most homeowners don't have much experience with residential development. Thus, many people make some crucial mistakes that end up increasing the time and cost to complete the project.

In this blog article, we are covering the things that you need to get right before you talk to your contractor. Following these tips will make life a lot easier, and also set you up for a much better working relationship with your ADU contractor or builder.

Why You Shouldn't Go To A Contractor First

Contractors and builders are very busy people. In addition to managing the physical construction process, they are dealing with business development, financial, and legal operations.

They get frustrated or demotivated when potential customers approach them who haven't prepared. Most of them don't have time for hand-holding; they want to work with self-reliant customers.

If you speak to a contractor before you've gotten your proper permits, they won't take your project seriously. They will most likely turn you away and ask to come back when you've taken care of feasibility, design, and permitting.

Your contractor will not be able to give you an estimate if you haven't completed the necessary pre-work.

If you want your project to succeed, you need a contractor who is motivated and excited to work with you. We strongly recommend meeting them halfway through the necessary preparations.

Get your ADU pre-construction work (feasibility, design, permitting) done first, and then you can start a conversation with a great contractor. At this point, you will be in a great position to receive an estimate.

What To Do Instead

There are three critical things you need to take care of in advance: feasibility, design, and permitting. Welcome to the pre-construction process.

Also, we recommend meeting with a lender and developing financing strategies early on.

Feasibility is the process of ensuring that you are legally allowed to build an ADU on your property. The city planning office determines legality through zoning laws, fire and earthquake code, and state building codes. You need to become familiar with your local municipality's zoning to understand your eligibility.

Design is self-explanatory: taking your project ideas and drafting them onto paper.

Permitting is the process of preparing complete blueprints, including foundation, framing, and structural plans, and submitting to the city planning office for approval.

Once your project is approved, then you are ready to talk to a contractor.

Your ADU Pre-Construction Options

If you have a large budget and are interested in designing a complex project, your best bet is to speak to an architect first - preferably someone who has worked with your city's planning office before.

A good architect knows the local zoning codes and can create a permitted project that is ready for construction. Beware that architects and contractors sometimes have misaligned incentives (aesthetics vs. efficiency). Your best bet is to find an architect-contractor team who has worked together before; a pre-existing relationship increases your likelihood that they will deliver the result you want.

In the past, your only option was to work with an architect. But things are changing quickly, and you now have far more cost-effective strategies available to you. Enter Housable.

Housable is the leading ADU Marketplace in California. Our company is serving the rapidly growing demand for ADUs across the state. We are making it far more affordable to start an ADU project without commitment.

Get a Zoning Answer Faster Than Ever

Before Housable, if you wanted to learn whether your project was eligible for an ADU, you needed to go to your city planning office and meet with a staff member. It was a slow, complicated process, and if you had a unique property, it might have taken a very long time to get a final answer.

Housable makes it easy. First, use our free property check tool to get a preliminary understanding of whether you are eligible to build. Then, if things look good, order the Property Report ($100-150), where we will call your planning office on behalf of you and provide a guaranteed answer of whether you can build or not.

(The free property check is not a final answer because it does not include confirmation from your city planning office. If you don't get that confirmation, you run the risk of wasting time on a project where you can't build. Better safe than sorry.)

Sleek, Affordable Designs

You probably have big dreams about what you want to do with your ADU project. But like most homeowners, you aren't ready to commit the big bucks when you're still figuring it out.

Even a few years ago, you would have had to spend upwards of $10,000 to get started on the design process.

Now, you can spend as little as $300 with Housable, and start choosing concepts from our ADU design library. Again, with no commitment, and you'll be able to provide feedback to our drafting team to create the ADU that works for you.

Now, if you're interested in creating an artistic masterpiece, Housable isn't the solution for you. We prioritize efficiency and functionality to provide the lowest price to the maximum number of customers.

What we can guarantee is a simple set of designs that will lead to a great ADU on your property.

Permits That Allow You To Break Ground

The whole point of pre-construction is to get you ready for a contractor. Permit set orders are for customers who are getting serious about their ADU project.

At this point, you need to have a clear idea of what you want, and we will go into action to create your blueprints and permit set. This service includes floor plans, structural plans, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical, and anything else that the city needs for approval.

If you order a permit set order, we guarantee that your project will be approved. You must have previously ordered the design report to qualify to be a permit set order customer.

With a completed permit set order, you are in an excellent place to succeed on your ADU project.

Almost there! But there is one more crucial thing to consider before you approach your contractor.


If you can pay out of cash savings, you're one of the lucky ones - feel free to call a contractor at this point.

Otherwise, it is crucial that you develop a clear financing strategy before you talk to a contractor. You may not understand the total cost of the project yet, but if you have a ballpark figure of what you'd like to spend, it will be more than enough to speak to a lender first.

It is best to work with a lender who already understands the ADU market, as there are several nuances to this world that make it different from conventional home financing.

You can connect with ADU lenders on the Housable marketplace.

Learn more about ADU financing by reading the blog post entitled "How To Finance an ADU."

Connect With A Contractor

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated the amount of work that is required before you speak to a contractor.

It may seem like a lot, but it is imperative to set yourself up for success. The Housable process has made this process simple, affordable, and you don't have to commit to anything before you're ready. Focusing on pre-construction earlier in the process will make everything easier later on.

When you're finally ready to speak to a contractor, the Housable marketplace will connect you directly with qualified contractors who have previous experience with ADUs. We offer a seamless flow between your first property check and breaking ground on the project.

In sum, for as little as $3k, you could complete your pre-construction and be ready to build.

We are here to support you. If you have questions, please set up a free ADU consultation by calling (415) 843-2387 ext: 986.