A Guide to Garage Conversions in California

Follow this guide to evaluate your garage conversion project and make sure all your bases are covered before starting the process.

Garage conversion ADU designed and permitted by Housable in Seaside, CA, completed December 2019.

Garage conversions are all the rage these days as Californians take advantage of the new change in statewide laws that made it far easier to complete these projects. Garage conversions, otherwise known as garage apartments, fall under the category of ADUs (accessory dwelling units). This classification means that you have the option of turning your attached or separate garage into a standalone unit to rent out, or keep as an extra living space for loved ones.

The other option is to turn your garage into additional space without a new bathroom- a home office or guest bedroom - but this might not be considered an ADU. Some such units could qualify as JADUs, so long as they can provide enough space for a kitchenette, so long as they share the bathroom with the primary home. Converting your garage is a great strategy to increase the passive income of your property without the need to build a new structure. It can also increase the overall value of your home! Imagine how many empty garages across the state could transform into useful space.

If you’d like to convert your garage, keep in mind that you must already have a single-family home located on a residential zoned lot. First, you need to determine whether you are legally allowed to convert your garage.

Find Out If You Are Eligible

You can determine your eligibility to build a garage conversion on your property in the same way that you would a regular ADU: search your address using the free Housable property check tool. This tool will run a basic search on your property and give you a preliminary sense of whether your property is qualified.

When you enter your address, we will use our software to analyze your property and determine your eligibility based on more specific factors - fire, earthquake, and flooding, to name a few.

After you’ve viewed your free Property Report and gotten the green light, you’ll have the chance to start designing your garage conversion using our design report. Keep in mind that if you proceed with construction without going through the proper permitting and zoning, you are at high risk of assuming liability or losing money. Without the proper permits, you may not be able to advertise the expansion as livable space.

Remember that we are talking about converting your garage into a fully functional unit that includes utilities and the like; this isn’t the same as painting the walls and tiling the ground. It's hard work, but it's worth it.

How much does it cost?

Garage conversions often have a much faster payback period than new construction ADUs for a few reasons. Construction costs are lower while these projects usually generate similar amounts in rental income. With lower capital requirements, it is easier to finance these projects and get started.

Typical budget for a garage conversion to ADU is between $80-120k (2 Car Garage 20ft X 20ft).

Please note this doesn't include soft costs of the plans and permit fees which can run 10-15% of total construction costs.

Home Flipping Case Study

Garage conversions are particularly popular among home flippers who see this as a great way to quickly boost property value and earn a solid return. Read more about home flippers finding profits in ADUs here

A customer used Housable’s ADU services to convert a detached garage in Seaside, California. The size of the project was 490 sq. Feet. The homeowner completed the project over a six-month time frame. The project cost was $110,000; the owner invested a total of $580,000 into the home and garage conversion and sold the property for $700,000 after completion.

The strong ROI demonstrates that the addition of an ADU garage conversion led to significant value add, and a 20.7% return on total project costs.

More photos from this garage conversion project in Seaside, CA:

Other Requirements

If you’d like your garage conversion project to qualify as an ADU, you must include a bathroom. ADUs are legally required to include a kitchen, bathroom, ample living space, and a separate entrance from the main property. One awesome thing about garage conversions however, is that they're not required to replace the parking for the primary home! Additionally, you are not required to replace the parking that is removed in the construction of the ADU either.

Living Space

Are you running out of space with a growing family? Are you looking to live closer to aging parents? Garage conversions are an excellent way to increase your living space without making significant property alterations or selling your home and moving to a new location.

According to SeniorLiving.org, the average annual cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is as much as $100,000! The high price tag demonstrates that if aging parents are capable of living semi-independently in their own private space, a garage conversion is potentially much better use of money than incurring nursing home or assisted living costs.

What if you already have a unit installed in the house that's unpermitted? No problem! In many cases, cities will allow you to legalize the unit if you pay the appropriate fees and obtain the permits and paperwork that would have been required during the construction of the unit. Here's an article about what you should expect if you are looking to go through this process.

Take the Next Step

Are you ready to start learning more about garage conversions with no long term commitment? First, check whether your property is eligible through Housable’s free Property Check tool. Once you’ve got that and you’re ready to make it official, look through our design catalog to see if any are right for you!

All of this is with no commitment, and you’ll start to get critical information about what it requires to convert your garage.