Concord Open House – Saturday, April 5


A wonderful project of ours is nearing completion, and we’re opening it up for you to see Saturday, April 5th, from 12-2pm. We’ll be there answering any questions you have about our process and how projects like this work. Feel free to share this invitation with your friends and family.

Click here to RSVP, and we’ll email you the address a few days before the event!


Correction: The event city is Concord, which is near Walnut Creek, but it’s not Walnut Creek.

This picture was taken recently, and the cottage will have siding and drywall completed. Come see how much can change in less than two weeks!

This picture was taken recently, and the cottage will have siding and drywall completed. Come see how much can change in less than two weeks!

Build an ADU in Portland


Backyard ADU

Building an ADU in Portland is a great idea. Construction costs are lower than other areas of the country, a big chunk of the city fees are waived, and the rental market is very strong.

There are many options when building an ADU in Portland. You can easily do a basement conversion, add an addition on to your current home, or build a detached structure. One of the more popular ways to build an ADU in Portland is a garage conversion. Many people want to keep their existing garage, but it often isn’t less expensive to do so and better to tear it down and build an ADU from scratch. A common project is to rebuild the garage with an ADU on top of it.

Costs to build an ADU in Portland might range from $25,000 to $200,000, depending on if you’re converting a basement or building a detached structure, which is a lot lower than other areas where ADUs are built, such as California.

We’ve worked on building over 80 ADUs and have a great idea of what things cost and how long it takes to build an ADU in Portland. If you have questions about your property and if you can build an ADU, please contact us and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about building an ADU in Portland.

How do I get permits for an accessory dwelling (ADU)?



Navigating the planning and building permit offices in your city or county when trying to build an accessory dwelling or structure can be a frustrating experience. You walk in with some simple ideas and often walk out feeling more confused with little or no options.

After dealing with many permitting offices throughout the many second unit projects we’ve been involved with, we’ve learned that the more you can speak the language of the people with the rules, the better off you’ll be. Saying that you want to build a house in your backyard will quickly get a “you can’t do that.” Saying that you want to build an accessory structure, which might be the same thing to you, will get much better results.

We’ve also learned that you need to ask the same questions multiple times with multiple people. One person might interpret your question differently than another and you want to feel confident when building your accessory dwelling that you’re doing things right. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you’re taking a risk.

Another great idea is working with a good architect. They’re professionals who have navigated this path many times before and do things much more quickly than you can as the homeowner.

Many people call us saying that they’ve talked with the city and building a backyard cottage isn’t possible on their lot, only to have us look into it for them and learn that what they want to build might be called something else and it is in fact possible. It’s an interesting learning experience to go to the city on your own, but most people quickly find out that it’s worth it to have someone like us do it for them.

New Avenue Backyard Cottage in the News


It’s great to see another one of our projects in the news. InMenlo wrote a feature article on an accessory dwelling in Menlo Park that we helped build for a family who wanted a backyard cottage to live closer together.

InMenlo describes the 750 sqft house as “spacious” and “well laid out,” and the photo shown here illustrates how clients like to add their personal touches, often times making the second unit even more interesting than their main house!

Check out the article about this in-law unit and feel free to view more photos of Erin’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU), which was a garage conversion, on our site.


Anthropologie Book Treasure – Quick Review


In the midst of the obligatory holiday shopping trip I ducked into Anthrolologie last night and discovered a perfectly curated collection of home design books.  Who knew that they sell books in there???

This is “sort of” a book review because I only had 15 minutes to read all 5 books:)  But I saw enough to make a quick decision and purchase one of them and after researching them this morning, I may buy all of them.   Thank you Anthropologie Media Buyer/Planner!


Remodelista by Julie Carlson:

This is fancy in a super well thought out rustic kind of way.   There are stunning uses of exposed wood interiors such as rafters and eaves that are painted a nice clean white.  We will be copying this in our designs:)

Making a House Your Home

Making a House Your Home by Clare Nolan:

Unlike many of the books that we look at which focus on materials and products, this book has a unique angle about the mental process and preparation for living well.   That’s way too often overlooked in the building process.

Creative Family Home

Creative Family Home by Ashlyn Gibson:

When I opened this book I immediately thought of my artist sister and her five daughters. Everytime I go by their home a wall is a new color or there’s new artwork, sketch books, and those fancy drawing pencils that artists use scattered around.   There must be 1,000 little ideas in this book that you can pick up and have some fun with.


Domino by Deborah Needleman, Sara Ruffin Costello & Dara Coponigro: 

This book breaks your home down into manageable spaces that you can think through.  It’s a perfect step by step guide.

The authors live interesting lives and have been profiled in a few publications such as:

Deborah’s Tribeca loft in NY Mag… I’m pretty sure that being a published author who lives in a NY Mag worthy Tribeca Loft is living the dream –

Sara has a New Orleans Home featured here –

Dara Coponigro had this amazing story about her own parent’s downsizing and improving an ugly old condo to feel like a “Stockholm flat”.  This is a story that we can believe in at New Avenue!

A Life Less Ordinary

A Life Less Ordinary by Zoe Ellison and Alex Lexendre

This book immediately made me think of Restoration Hardware, but custom and storied and authentically antique… it’s the inspiration behind Restoration Hardware more than the actual store.

If you’re building a home you could easily justify buying each and everyone.  I had to go with Domino because of it’s practical focus on the different spaces.   After reading about the author’s personal experience I’m glad I did… this is a perfect mix of the practical and the beautiful that makes good design great.



What does it cost to build an accessory dwelling?


Most people who call us because they are interested in building an accessory dwelling such as a backyard cottage or granny unit start with the question, “How much does a small house cost to build?” When people hear the answer, their next question is, “Why? I thought it’d be less expensive.”

Then come the following thoughts:

1. “My friend told me that houses can be built for $100/sqft”
For years people have heard a general rule of thumb that houses can be built for $100 per square foot. They think that if a 3000 sqft house costs $300,000 to build, a 500sqft house should cost $50,000 to build. But this just isn’t true.

The $100/sqft number can be accurate, but the size of the house has to be large enough to take advantage of economies of scale. Generally, the bigger the house is, the less expensive it is to build it per square foot. The smaller the house is, the more expensive it is to build per square foot. You’re going to have to build a 2500sqft+ house to be able to hit that $100/sqft number.

Also, when a builder says they can build a house for $100/sqft, they are generally only talking about the costs to build, and not factoring in design or permitting costs. These costs alone are often over 20% of the project.

And finally, the cost per square foot can change dramatically based on the location of the project. For example, Bay Area building costs can be as much as $250/sqft for a 2500sqft home and $300-$400/sqft for a small home. And as home prices continue to increase around the country, the cost of building increases as well.

2. “I just want a simple house.”
That’s great. But even a simple house is a complex project that takes time and money. And they’re all typically built using the same process:
a) Figure out what you can build in your city or county.
b) Work with an architect to draw up the size, look, and shape in a “schematic” design.
c) Submit the design to the planning department to get planning permits.
d) Once you have the planning permit, have the architect draw up construction documents for a building permit. This often requires two or three engineers such as structural, soils and civil.
e) Determine all the “finishes” which include appliances, faucets and fixtures, materials, tile, paint colors, landscaping, utilities etc..
f) Work with a builder to prepare the land, pour a foundation, frame the house, enclose the house, hook up water/electric/sewer, and install finishes.

Whether you build something 500sqft or 5000sqft, all of these steps are taken.

3. “I’m thinking a prefab house because it’s easier.”
This is rarely true. Buying a home that is built somewhere else is a great idea and it can save time on design fees, but it still needs to meet your city and county codes and then be permitted. Then it needs to be shipped to your location, and if that location is in an urban setting, you’re looking at significant costs to shut down streets and possibly hire a crane to lift the unit into your backyard. Once it arrives you will have paid for the same foundation and water/electric/sewer hookups that you would need with a stick-built home. By the time all of this adds up, you’re looking at a similar price to building a custom house. And while you don’t have to spend time designing prefab, you still have to spend all the time getting permits.  And most importantly, a custom home allows you to design something specific to your needs and the lot in which it will reside.

4. “My uncle is a handyman and can build a small house for me for cheap.”
The best way to save money is to do the work yourself. It will take you a long time and you will make mistakes, but it can be an amazing and fun experience. Just be really careful because construction is the definition of back-breaking labor. If you have a relative who is willing to work for cost and no markup, that’s great. Projects like these usually take longer because there’s less incentive for speed, and quality can be compromised so we recommend looking at other examples of their work first.

5. “A builder I know says he can build a 500sqft house for $50,000.”
Be very careful with this scenario. Permits alone can cost $15,000. When you get a bid from a builder, make sure they give you a price for every line item that will go into the house, from permitting, to design, to construction, to cleanup. At New Avenue, our process requires that our partner builders fill out a 200+ line spec sheet with every single piece of building a house so no one can say the dreaded phrase, “We didn’t talk about having a (insert whatever you like here such as “sewer line”) for the house. That will be an extra $15,000.”

6. “Where do you get your information about building small houses?”
After working with many architects and builders on over 70 projects, we have a very unique data set that shows exactly what every component of building a house costs. For example, we can easily pull up a 360sqft house project that we managed and show that the foundation cost $10,775. We can then pull up another sheet that shows a 700sqft house with $7,000 of siding, but inform people that the owner wanted HardiePlank and if they want cedar shingles it will cost more.

7. “Can you give me a sample breakdown of costs to build a small house?”
This is our specialty. Let’s say you wanted to build a 400sqft house in the San Francisco Bay Area where things are more expensive than other parts of the country. We would start by showing you what a similar, recent, project we worked on cost, including every single detail, and then adapt it to meet your needs. Here’s a shortened example:

- Initial Assessment: $2,500
- Design Fees: $5,880
- Construction Documents: $5,400
- Engineering: $4,500
- City Fees: $5,620
- Survey: $2,300
- Design Administration: $3,400
Total Design and Permit Costs: $29,600

- General Contractor Start Fees: $3,400
- Demolition: $2,100
- Site Prep: $7,100
- Foundation: $11,975
- Framing & Carpentry: $23,700
- Insulation & Moisture Protection: $14,500
- Windows & Doors: $6,489
- Finishes: $14,825
- Plumbing: $13,900
- Heating and Ventilation: $3,400
- Electrical: $5,300
- Construction Admin Fees: $15,100
Total Construction: $121,789
Total Project Cost: $151,389

 8. “Can spending $150,000 still give me a good return on investment?”

And this is very important.

Many of our clients who rent their accessory units use home equity loans with monthly payments that are half of what their rental income is so they are making money from the first day they rent their house.

And if you really want a return from renting, many people choose to downsize and move into their accessory unit while renting out their main house, bringing in even more rental income.

Also, by creating a second unit for your child or your parents you can avoid paying for many of the expenses of living separately such as rent to live elsewhere, maintenance and taxes of owning two homes, or the high costs of assisted living.

All in all, building an accessory unit like a backyard cottage or granny flat can be a great investment. While the reality is a bit more complex than some of the misinformation found on the internet, it can still be a very smart idea for both rental income and multigenerational living.

Learn more about getting a return from building a small house!

Lessons on Rightsizing vs. Downsizing – When to Expand and When to Contract


What is Downsizing?

In downsizing, you reduce or eliminate the amount of content and clutter in your house. If you are moving from the three bedroom house that you and your spouse raised your children in over the past 10, 20 or 25 years to a considerably smaller house, cottage, condominium or apartment, you simply will have no space or need for all the items that filled the house. You will have to decide which items you want to keep and which items you want to give away, sell or otherwise dispose of. When moving from a larger to a smaller home, you are downsizing the home itself.

What is Rightsizing?

In rightsizing, you also focus on optimizing what you own and that typically entails eliminating the amount of content and clutter in your house but it is a much more open concept.   Instead of just stepping down from that three bedroom house that you and your spouse raised your children in smaller house, you may move to a similarly sized house that has a different layout or is closer to come services, church, transportation or the action.   You might even go bigger if you need room for an office, a caretaker and a stream of out of town guests.   The key, again, is deciding which items you want to keep and which items you want to give away.  Rightsizing is a planning process that is introspective and may take a year or more to complete.

What to Keep, What to Dispose of – and, is Storage an Option?

How do you decide what to keep and what to dispose of? No question – making some of these decisions can be tough. These are highly subjective questions that only you and your family can answer. Some of us feel terrible when we dispose of the items we grew up with. For sure, some of feel terrible when we dispose of our old emails! Sure, one option is to keep everything – if you want to place the items in storage and pay continual, draining storage fees, which may cost anywhere from under $100 to over $1,000 per month. For many downsizers, storage is not a desired option and defeats the purpose. Storage, however may be an excellent temporary option until you are able to dispose of everything you want to.

What to Keep, What to Let Go Of:

So what should you keep and what should you let go of? Here are some points you can consider:

  • Do you use the items on a daily, weekly or frequent basis? If not, consider freeing yourself of them.
  • Is the item in perfect working order or is it broken, unusable or unsightly? Dispose of broken clutter.
  • Will the item fit in your new space? This is especially relevant with furniture and “junk” you piled up in the garage.
  • Do clothing items still fit you? Can you honestly see yourself wearing them again? Or are you just holding onto the past? Consider keeping one or two items that represent a period in your life and parting with the rest.
  • Is the item practical and usable or is it sentimental? Sentimental items are important to many of us; the question is how many can you reasonably fit into your new space?
  • Are you holding on to a relative’s items but now the relative has moved away or passed?
  • Do you have the legal right to dispose of an item?
  • You may want to photograph your items before you dispose of them – just for your own memories.
  • If the items are mostly junk and not worth money, don’t waste time or energy trying to sell them. Just give them away or trash them.

Sell, Give Away or Trash Your No-Longer Needed Stuff:

In the digital age we have options that were not available to our elders. You can offer your items for sale on Ebay, Amazon, Craigslist and other online sites. It is important that you know the correct value and price range of the items you wish to sell so that you are fair to yourself and buyers. Some sellers suggest that you dispose of the majority of your items; just keep the things that are valuable and worth selling. You can place an ad in your local paper and have a house or estate sale when selling larger items such as furniture.

A Personal Experience:

Someone sold or gave away almost everything that he inherited from his mother, simply because he had no room or use for the items she left him. He was torn for a while but he had to make the decision. He did keep the China that she loved and cherished, but after a few years he realized he never used it, so he sold all of it except for one plate. To this day he uses that once in a while and in that plate he feels his mother’s love and presence. He also told me he has a very clear memory of all the furniture and items that were in her home – the home he grew up in – and he does not regret selling the items.

For additional reading take a look at Rightsizing Your Life by Ciji Ware.   This book is packed with practical lists and activities as well as intriguing personal stories.  You can find it on Amazon as it has been through several printings and if you’re curious about Ciji you can read more on her site:

Home as a Source


Is it a House or a Home?

A happy home is the single spot of rest which a man has upon this earth for the cultivation of his noblest sensibilities. (Frederick William Robertson, Sermons Preached at Trinity Chapel, Brighton)

One of life’s lessons is that there are many differences between a house and a home. We have come to understand that a house refers to the building or in our case buildings – the actual property and physical structure with floors, walls, ceilings and rooms. But a home is so much more than a house. A “home” infers feelings – safety, familiarity, comfort, intimacy, emotional connection, attachment, history and memories. It often infers family roots and background. History shows us that it was common – and often expected – for families to take root and live their entire lives in one home. This is because realty is permanent in nature. This is also why it is called real property – property that is permanently adhered to the ground – as opposed to personal property, which is moveable.

Home as a Source

A comfortable house is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience. (Sydney Smith)

You can tell much about a person or family by looking at their home; it is designed, decorated, maintained and organized according to their personal preferences. The artwork on the walls and the books on the shelves represent the interests and dreams of the family members. The home is the space where those dreams may be cultivated. A home and its contents reflect the inhabitants who live within its walls.

But what is in the heart of a homeowner? Dreams, hopes, children, family, friends, guests, education, healing, spiritual growth, wellness, love, retirement – and so much more. For many, the home itself is a dream come true as well as a place to dream about the future.   We are finding that our clients are committed to both the permanence of their realty and to using their home as a source that serves their other goals and dreams.

The Home as a Source of Stability

The home is a source of energy, family, experience, and stability…

Life itself is an unpredictable journey that is always unfolding before us, day by day. While it is not realistic to presume that all of our experiences will be ecstatic, we can be sure that what we do experience is for our benefit and growth and is exactly what we need at the time it is experienced. The home, as a source of stability, is especially meaningful during difficult times and personal challenges. The feeling of coming home is something solid, permanent and stable.  It is something we can count on.

The Home as a Source of Experiences and Growth:

The home is the source of new experiences and growth – and if we are fortunate, love. The great majority of one’s childhood is spent at home and in school. Afterwards, if the student goes away to college, they “come home” on vacations. Their home is the source of many of their childhood memories. A person’s future is unquestionably connected to their earlier growth and development – which normally occurs in large part in their home, usually around parents, siblings, pets, and often, friends and extended family.

The home can be the source of activity, fun, festivity, joy and life itself. Additionally, the home is a great source of information and knowledge. In the home we learn the most essential important skills: how to love, how to communicate, how to relate to others. It is the first place that we interact with others and develop long term relationships and bonds. A home can be a source of great security (or insecurity), depending upon one’s state of mind and heart, and one’s willingness to grow in the face of adversity and challenge.

Exposure to New Environments as Source:

When we visit the homes of relatives and friends, we often experience very different circumstances than we do in our own homes. We are introduced to new ways of living and different priorities. Some friends may live in a house filled with love, balance and material prosperity. This may be one’s first exposure to a healthy home environment. Children, especially, gravitate to their friend’s homes where they are welcomed and feel safe. The ability to welcome others in this manner is a source of joy.

Stresses for Building a New Home or Backyard Cottage


“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.”            Aesop, Fables

It makes perfect sense: those who are proficient at handling stress in their everyday lives are more likely to better handle the potential stress of building a new home. And, even under the best of circumstances, building a home may be filled with potential stressors. One of the primary reasons for this is that those who like to be in full control of their lives may have to learn to be comfortable with some uncertainties. The homebuilding experience is exciting, though – and there’s no reason not to have fun with it. You are in the hands of experts. They’ll do the work for you. Embrace it, enjoy it!

Communication is Key (Put it in Writing):

Since it is your house that is being built, it is important to know what you want and to be able to communicate that with others. One of the things that is recommended is to keep an ongoing journal of all things related to your plans and homebuilding experiences. Keep track of who you have spoken to, what you have discussed, future topics to discuss, future appointments, etc. Date the entries. Keep all documents and emails in appropriate computer and physical files. Even if you have a great memory, a journal is recommended so that you will have all the information at hand. You will empower yourself and reduce potential stress by maximizing your participation in the process.

Family Stress?

Building a house may increase stress with your spouse, partner, children and/or other relatives and friends, whether they are directly involved in the building process or not. It is not natural for everyone to agree on everything! Stress may result simply because of varying viewpoints – there is no right answer per se to any situation when there are choices. We make choices based on all the variables that have gone into formulating our outlook in life, from childhood until present day. What is helpful is to create a simple plan on how you are going to resolve differing issues. It is healthy to be able to express yourself and not to repress or stuff your feelings. Again, communication is key. Of course there will be differences. Communication and dealing with stress are life skills that can always be improved.

What are Some of the Possible Stresses of Building a New Home or Backyard Cottage?

Let’s face it: for most of us, building and/or buying a home is one of the largest – or the largest – projects we may undertake in our lives. It can certainly be one of the most exciting. It is often the most expensive, long term investment we will make. Just the thought of spending thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars can shake us to our core. So, of course, stress is an entirely normal and natural reaction, especially for a first-time builder who is new to the process.

Dealing With Stress:

A positive way to deal with stress is to learn and practice basic stress management skills. For many this may include exercising, jogging, walks, engaging in a hobby, practicing basic relaxation and meditation techniques, or doing whatever helps you relax. Another positive approach is to know from the onset that you are likely to face challenging experiences and to simply let them be. “What comes, let it come, what goes, let it go.” This does not mean that you give up your voice in your particular home building situation – quite the contrary. You simply learn to express yourself – and listen – from a more centered, powerful inner posture.

Home Building Takes Us Out of Our Normal Comfort Zone:

Building a home will tend to take us out of our normal comfort zone. We may be dealing with bankers, lawyers, lenders, financial institutions, architects, contractors, planners, designers, permit and zoning departments and others. One of the advantages of working with New Avenue Homes is that we work with you throughout the entire homebuilding process. And we have streamlined and simplified the process as much as possible. We work with many of the great architects and home builders in the country. We are familiar with all the aspects of building a new home, from conception to completion.

House Rules…. Living Close to Family (Again)


“We have freedoms and boundaries; we just have a great family life.” – unknown

“A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.” – Dalai Lama

“Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life.” Oscar Wilde

The holidays are here and many of us will be packed in for holiday dinners, and maybe a few card tables annexed to the dining room table or kids tables back in the kitchen.  But what is life like when you bring a friend or family member closer permamently?  Does it always look like this:

When asked about rules for living close to family, often the first answer given was to respect each person’s physical and personal space. This is a broad answer and all-encompassing answer, though. What does it mean to respect another’s space – especially if it is your family member?
Respecting Each Other’s Physical and Personal Space:
By respecting each other’s physical and personal space, many people can successfully share one relatively small area. For example, we visited meditation centers many times over the years and it was quite normal for eight people to share a room that was about the same size as a two-student college dorm room. There were usually four double deck beds – two on each side of the room. You would not think it would be possible for 8 people to quietly get along in such a small space, but it was usually extraordinarily quiet. It was an amazingly experience. How was this possible? Because each person made a conscious effort to respect each other’s space. Hospitality is actually a spiritual practice. “Treat others the same way you would want others to treat you.”
Physical space is the space between and around you and others. If your grandmother is sitting on the couch watching a television show, she should be given the space that she deserves to watch her show without disturbance – especially if it is her home. In virtually all cultures – particularly Eastern cultures – elders are unquestionably given the greatest amount of respect.
Communicate Frequently with Your Family Members:
When living amongst several family members, it is extremely beneficial to communicate in a healthy and positive manner. Whether you have extended your home and hospitality to others or whether others have extended their home and hospitality to you, communication is key. There are bound to be some miscommunication lapses and misunderstandings. Approach each other with respect. Your parents may have a more difficult time adjusting to their newly crowded home than you. It may sound trite, but if everyone is on their best behavior things will tend to work out better.
Like a Blade of Grass in the Wind – Learn to be Flexible.   Successfully living with others is both an art and a skill:

• Learning to become flexible is actually a great personal and spiritual practice.
• Learning to remain centered in one’s own inner space of calmness is actually a highly advanced state. It takes practice to master. What better time than when you are in the midst of all the commotion at home?
• Keep your sense of humor! Learn not to take everything so seriously! Practice laughing when the going gets tough.
• Being flexible does not mean that you give up your rights or needs. It does suggest, however, that they be respectfully communicated.
Discuss Home Rules Prior to the Move:
If you can have a meeting with all family members before the actual move, you will have the opportunity to create some healthy ground rules and to express your needs and concerns. For example, if you want greater quiet in the house after your bedtime, voice this. Family members can learn to whisper and to keep the volume of the TV low. It’s really not that difficult – it’s just a matter of setting your priorities and having respect for self and others.
Practical Rules from Accessory Dwelling Neighbors
• Visits: Treat each house as a separate home and respect the other as a neighbor, not an extension of your home. This may mean calling before you come over (especially for family)
• Parking: define who gets the best driveway spots or is it first come first served?
• Laundry: Is it ok to just put someone’s unfinished laundry on top of the dryer?
• Entertaining outdoors: We can design two homes to be just 4’ apart but completely separate visually. Sound travels around corners so music and fun might need a curfew.
• Smoking: Thankfully we have gotten to the point where smoking upwind is no longer acceptable. But if you must smoke, then where is it most acceptable?

Please share any ideas or lessons that you have learned and we will keep the list updated.