How to manage an accessory dwelling project.
If you want to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in California (and who wouldn’t, with the state becoming more ADU-friendly than ever), you may be asking, “Can I manage the project myself?” Yes, you can. Or you can hire a project manager. They’re both good options.
Planning to be your own project manager?
Here’s the basic outline of what you’ll do, plus our best ADU project management tips.
Preliminary research. Most people want to know about costs right away. We recommend looking at actual costs from real projects like yours. That will give you a good idea of whether it’s a good time to add an ADU to your property.
Once you have an idea of what an ADU actually costs, you can start looking at the requirements in your city. See if your city has a guide to building an accessory dwelling (like this one, published by the City of Santa Cruz). The guide should provide details about working with your local government. It’s also a good idea to talk with your city officials. You don’t need all the details at this point, but it helps to know what to expect in terms of permit fees, wait times, and general design requirements.
Important: Recent changes in ADU-related law may make some parts of city guidebooks obsolete. Use them to gain a general understanding of the process, but consult a knowledgeable project manager or ADU designer for current information.
Design. You have a few options for design. You can hire a designer to create a custom backyard cottage, apartment addition, granny flat, in-law apartment, or guest house. If you don’t want a fully custom job, you can buy a design and then hire someone to tweak it for your property.
Although some designers offer a free design estimate, be aware that this estimate will be wrong—no matter which designer you ask. Nobody can give you an accurate price without spending a great deal of time studying the site, talking with the homeowners, and researching city requirements.
If you talk to a designer and feel a connection, the best thing to do next is to hire them to do a design proposal so they can do all of that.
As part of this proposal, your designer will advise you on what kind of preliminary work needs to be done (e.g., surveys, applying for variances, etc.). He or she may be able to help with subcontracting and coordinating this work. You can also ask your designer about permit fees.
Permitting. As part of the design process, you’ll need to research and apply for permits. In California, this has recently become more streamlined, but you’re still at risk of being overcharged. It’s important to know all the rules or work with a designer who does. As your own project manager, be prepared to spend a lot of time at the city permitting office.
Construction. As project manager, you’ll have to choose a general contractor and any subcontractors that are necessary. Your designer may be able to introduce you to some candidates, but you’ll need to interview them and decide whom to hire.
You’ll want to make sure you hire a licensed, experienced contractor who handles everything legally.
Paperwork. You’ll be dealing with proposals, plans, bids, contracts, and invoices. It helps to have a way to keep everything digitized, backed up, and organized.
See what the New Avenue system can do. (It’s free to use.)
A word on contracts: The designers and contractors you work with will probably have their own. Be sure to read them carefully and consider having your attorney read them.
No attorney? Don’t like reading legalese? If you work with New Avenue’s designers and contractors, you’re protected by New Avenue’s tried-and-true contracts, whether you hire a project manager or do the job yourself.
Communication. Whether you hire a project manager or do the job yourself, there will be a lot of communication involved. You’ll have questions for your team. They’ll have questions for you. Everyone working on the project will need to talk to everyone else. It helps to have a system in place.
One option for that is the New Avenue system. (Did we mention that it’s free?) It’s like having a Facebook page or Whatsapp group for your project—everyone on the team can post messages and documents, so it’s easy to stay connected.
Yes, you can manage your own ADU project in California.
As your own project manager, you’ll need to keep an eye on every aspect of your construction project. New Avenue makes that easier with a network of proven professionals and a powerful online system.