Building For In-Coming Family




We’d like to talk about today is building for in-coming family. You may ask, what is an in-coming family? It could be college return students that graduated but don’t have any place to live, aging parents, or multi-generational living. This is a great way to save on the cost of living. Particularly if you have a property that’s larger than you need it to be, but you’d like to share it with people and still have your own private space. It’s very popular right now to talk about an ADU, which is called an auxiliary dwelling unit. The state of California has recently passed laws that allow us to modify homes to actually create a situation where you can have a duplex and in some cases, you’re even able to modify your existing garage to turn it into a living space. So imagine taking a piece of real estate that you live in and being able to add second unit on it and be able to have that second unit pay as much as half to three quarters of the cost of your mortgage just by making some improvements and adjustments. Auxiliary dwelling units used to be called granny units or granny flats, but due to the law have changes, the best designation for it is ADU. Now in some cities it may be better to actually do a remodel or addition and not specifically define it as an ADU. This is because there are some cities that have excessive fee’s associated with building ADU’s so it depends on where your property is, what city it’s in, and what the planning restrictions are. We will work with you to determine the best way to move forward with adding or modifying your property either for additional people or to sub out a portion of it for an independent rental unit. This is a very neat way to maximize the value of your property. We can actually take a large home and modify it so that there’s two independent dwelling spaces. One way to do that that most people don’t think about it, is if you want to age in place but you have a two story house and you don’t want to deal with stairs, instead of moving we can come in and we can increase the insulation between the two levels, provide full separate access and egress from the first floor and the second floor, take the stairs out between the two on the inside of the house and put them on the outside of the house. So you could actually develop an ADU on the second story of your property. You can live on the first floor and rent out the second floor that has its own separate entrance and private space. So now you have eliminated the stair problem and increased the value of your property.  All of a sudden your property is doing work for you. That’s kind of a vertical split that most people don’t think of. Another great option is to do a garage conversion. This works out really well with larger homes that have say a three-car garage. A three-car garage is typically going to be anywhere from 600 to 700sf which is a perfect size for a small ADU. We’ve had clients ask us to go ahead and convert their three-car garage and build a new two car garage attached to it.



It’s good to know how many people you’re expecting to have living with you. This will fall into lifestyle design questions. Typically, ADU’s are for one or two people and that’s really what the planning departments and cities have in mind when they’re allowing you to build. Because of the law changes with ADU’s cities are now allowing us to increase the density on a single-family residence.  One or two bedrooms and one or two bathrooms is typical with ADU’s. However, we can modify this to fit the specific needs of your project. Another lifestyle design that’s  important to identify is things that you’re especially interested in. For example, if you like to do crafts, or have any hobbies, or particular collections. It’s great to tell us about these things early on so we can add special rooms or storage in the design of your project to showcase those.



If you’re dealing with aging in place or if you’re having family members that are senior members that are coming into the project, it’s important that you make sure you have level access at the front entry and level access from the garage to the home. You also want to design the project so there’s enough room for wheelchair space even if that will be in the future. It’s good to have a little bit wider doors. Typically if you go with a 34in door instead of a 32in there’s enough room to get a wheelchair through that and then have a little bit larger bathrooms, you don’t have to add a whole lot but if you add an extra foot instead of the classic developer design 5ft wide bathrooms, you actually have enough room that you can have a wheelchair in the bathroom and still have enough space to be able to turn around. Some other things that can be added for those particular needs are a zero lip shower as we call it which is a shower that does not have a curb like standard showers do. A smart thing to do is add grab bar support in the structural framing before the drywall and tile goes up. This way, if you ever want to add grab bars in the future, the backing is already in the wall. This can save you a lot of money, time and effort in the future.



Value increase for your project is a common question we get often. There’s lot of different ways to look at this.  You’re going to want to look at the dollar value of your existing home and what the retail square foot cost is for it. Then figure in maybe typically about 80% of that value per square foot is what you’re going to get when you’re finished your addition. For example, let’s say a 1,000sf in a market that the retail price for a house is $300 a square foot would be $300,000. Say the value of the home is $700,000, adding 300,000 can put you in a different market category. So you may not get the full 100% increase but you will likely get somewhere around 75-80% of it. Those are numbers we can look at on a specific project basis with you. We can guide you in terms of what’s your property worth, what it will look like, what the neighboring area is like, and what it’s likely to be worth when we finish with the project. You can always rent out your secondary dwelling unit to an outside rental or for family members. We  have also done several projects where we’ve actually added a second story to a one story house and basically doubled the square footage for them while still meeting all the planning restrictions and requirements.


We’ll go over in detail with you in the first meeting city codes and requirements. Like we mentioned before, what’s better an ADU or an addition or remodel? This really is a case by case basis. In some cities the ADU costs are actually quite high in terms of development for an a ADU versus a room addition. We always like to look at it both ways to see which one is the most economical and which one will meet your needs. Something else to check early on would be utility hookup fees and that includes sewer versus septic, electrical, water, gas. We take a look that early on in the project because if those aren’t there and need to be added, there would be a cost item associated with that.



Offsite improvement requirements are very important. If you own a piece of property and where your property sits there is no sidewalk, curb, or gutter, you can plan on having the building and engineering department asking you to put that in. One of the trickiest ones is under grounding electric utilities. If you have power lines that are either an easement on the edge of your property, front, back, side or along the street there may be a requirement to underground your electrical utilities. Now there’s lots of different situations that come up with that. In some cases it’s just an added $50-$60 a month over thirty years. What they do is they actually assess  every homeowners property to make those improvements. In other cases the planning department wants you to make these improvements before you start your project. Most properties don’t have  to go through this but it’s important to review that before you get too far into the planning process.



Budgeting is another item to keep in mind. In terms of finances, we want you to have a 10-15% contingency on hand. That’s a fancy word for having some extra financial cash resources for the project in the event something pops up that you’re not planning on. Having 10-15% at the start of construction is a good amount. Sometimes that number can be reduced during construction. With a little bit larger projects you can tighten those numbers up a little bit. But it’s good to have it and know it’s available. Another good thing to do is pay off the land first if you’re doing a custom home. If you pay off the land you can then borrow against that land to make the improvements on your property.



Project scheduling is another important element to take into account. Most people don’t realize this but 50% of the work is in the soft cost development, design, design development, construction documents, and permitting. The other half is actually building the project. In California it’s going to take that much effort in order to get all the environmental approvals, the drainage, the site conditions, and lot coverage. After all of this is acquired, we can then get a set of construction documents, structural engineering, title 24, and green building code requirements all in place to actually pull a permit. Once a shovel is in the ground to begin construction, we call that the general construction phase. So project scheduling is very important. It’s also important to consider the weather along with scheduling your project. If you want to build a project in the Summer, it’s best to start mid-January to get everything ready, approved and ready for construction so that you can build when it’s not the rainy or snowy seasons.


We have an interesting example of a potential client that owns a lot of land but doesn’t know what to do with it. A local gentleman has a really nice property near a golf course with a really beautiful view. He has about 3400sf on a pretty good sized lot. The lot’s maybe a half acre and the house has a three car garage, single story. This gentleman’s problem is that he has too much real estate and happens to be what they call land poor. He also owns a commercial building in San Dimas. So the gentleman’s dilemma is that he has a cash flow problem. And his answer was to sell one of the properties to fix the cash flow issue. However, we gave him three choices that could benefit him greatly in the long run. One he can split the property he has now and develop an ADU and have it pay for where he lives and allow him to age in place. Two, we can build a separate ADU on that property for him to move into and then rent his house. If he rented his his entire home out, it would rent for close to $3500 a month and since he doesn’t own anything on it, the home will pay to build his ADU and he can retire in place. The last option was to build a home on his beautiful view property. He’s owned this property for years and he’s always wanted to build a house on. However,  he was trying to build a 7,000sf house when realistically he only needed a 1200sf house. We discussed these options with him a little bit and we’re going to go take a look at the property to discuss it further with him. And possibly build for him a 1200-1500sf house which has the ability to add another 1000sf to it. This would actually meet their desires to age in place. So he’s got three different choices all of which are financially feasible and much less expensive than just selling and moving somewhere else.



We hope this blog was able to help you understand what and how it’s like to work with an architect and how to make the process of your project work well in the most cost-effective and productive manner.