Redwood City is Removing Parking Requirements for Accessory Dwellings

A series of changes are coming up in the Redwood City zoning code.

This PDF lists the currents changes:

Redwood City Accessory Dwellings – PublicNoticePCFeb212017ADU

Most relevant for many homeowners is the easier parking restrictions. You won’t have to pave over a big section of your yard to make parking work.  They are removing the parking requirement entirely for most projects!

If you do need parking, smaller existing spaces are allowed.

You can build a bigger accessory dwelling too.  Increasing from 640 square feet to 700 opens up the possibility of much nicer two bedroom accessory dwellings in Redwood City!


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$1,000 for a custom home plan? This is a ripoff that will cost you.

One of our architects recently emailed this to me:

“I lost a commission on a NEW BUILD to a guy who charged a grand!!! Now I made most of my fee back, fixing it, but you wouldn’t believe how often that is the case.”

The key here is that the owner in this story still paid “most” of the original architect’s proposed fee. For the same cost the owner had to endure a painful experience of starting with a defective plan, then figuring out how to fix it during construction.

Every architect has this story.  Very few owners understand it.

The lesson is that a great designer or architect will create a better design, your project will be a much more enjoyable experience, and the time that the architect spends working on your project creates efficiencies that save you money.  Basically, you can’t avoid the work so you might as well hire a professional who knows what he or she is doing!

Eight years ago, I founded New Avenue and at the time I was guilty of misunderstanding the design process.  I had no idea what an architect really did. I fell for the prefab myth that scale and efficiency would save you money. It turns out shipping costs and cranes eliminate any cost benefits of prefab building. Worse than the lack of savings is that you get stuck with the existing design. That is never as good as a truly custom design for the specific site where you are building.

The key is finding a good architect who follows a good process and stays involved start to finish.

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How to permit and permit costs of an accessory dwelling vs. an accessory structure in Albany, CA

The Albany Planning Department has a very strict interpretation of an
“accessory building” (that is not a dwelling with a kitchen) and what triggers requiring a permit. Based on a conversation in February 2017, if a storage building (accessory structure) that is less than 120 square feet in size has power or electricity, then Albany requires a permit.

Similarly, if the accessory structure is intended for any use other than storage, Albany requires a permit. A workshop accessory building would require a permit based on the proposed use. This interpretation is unique to Albany.

Re: parking
When we spoke with the technician, he indicated to me that the main house is required to have 2 off street parking spaces, and that an “accessory dwelling unit” would need 2 more off street parking spots. In light of your conversation, we dug into the municipal code and found the exception which is that if your house was built before 1958, the main house does not require any off street parking, but the ADU would still need 2 off street parking spots. When asking at the city, the technician didn’t explain there were exceptions.

Re: planning and permit costs:
Because the technician was not forthcoming with what fees would apply, we made some assumptions so that we will have a reasonable amount in the budget to account for potential fees. Our project falls somewhere between an Albany defined “accessory building” and an ADU. We exist in a grey zone which their fee structure does not account for. We think once we have a master plan for development of the back yard, we should sit down with the actual planner to review the project, and the likely phasing of the

At that time we should get a clearer idea of the planning fees.

Again, the building permit fee we estimated was based on a $200,000
construction budget all submitted as a single project. That’s a number we
pulled out of thin air at the counter just to get the technician to commit
to an amount for a building permit.

As we revisit the proposal, do you have drawings of the existing house and
site that might have been prepared for your recent remodel?

Legalizing an existing accessory dwelling in-law unit in San Francisco

We know of just one apartment out of an estimated 30,000-40,000 illegal in laws in San Francisco that was legalized! This is the story about that apartment’s legalization process.

One of our partner architects, David Locicero recently completed the legalization of an existing in law unit in San Francisco.  The process from start to finish lasted 21 months and cost just over $50,000. This was an existing and unpermitted in-law apartment that was updated to meet current codes.

Do you wonder:

  • Can I legalize an illegal in-law apartment or accessory dwelling in my home?
  • What permits do you need to legalize an unpermitted apartment in your home?
  • What do building permits cost?
  • How long does it take to get permits?
  • How much does it cost to build or legalize an unpermitted apartment?

It’s near impossible to get the answers to these questions because very few people have done this. We answers these questions here and this is based on experience, not guesswork!

Our network of architects and contractors collectively have more experience than any other company we know of and we only know of this one project that legalized an unpermitted in-law apartment.  Of course we know plenty of unpermitted apartments.

Here are the facts about the legalization process:

When did the clients accept the design proposal and hire the architect: June 2015
When were permits submitted: September 8, 2015 (3 months of design)
When were permits approved: April 2016 (8 months waiting for permits! you should plan on the same)
Construction started: April 2016
Construction finished:  November 2016 (8 months of construction).
However we didn’t get the Certificate of Occupancy until January 2017. Between the holidays, and some confusion among the inspectors, it took us quite a while to get our “CO”. (an additional 2 months of waiting).
# Hours of design time: Approximately 45 hours including responding to plan check comments and construction administration.
We had a very good contractor and very few problems uncovered during construction. The existing conditions were very favorable for minimal design costs.
Other subconsultants needed: Title 24 (Energy Conservation Compliance). I used
Approximate design cost: $5000
Approximate construction cost: $50,000

Total timeline: 21 Months from start to finish.

We can share much more details, copies of the plans, and review your project ideas.  It’s free to call New Avenue if you have any questions.  We offer a $250 design session in your home if you want an assessment of your property.

Here are before and after photos of the living room and bathroom:

sunset inlaw_before_1 sunset inlaw_after_1

Bathroom Before

sunset inlaw_after_3


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Photos of accessory dwellings, backyard cottages, casitas, inlaw units, ADUs and guest homes

Backyard Cottage / Accessory Dwelling for Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley
Backyard Cottage / Accessory Dwelling for Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley

This was our first project, a tiny backyard cottage for a Berkeley professor (the loft is way too small, but that vaulted ceiling is quite nice:

Modular backyard cottage

A cottage we did with Sunset Magazine

Backyard Cottage
Berkeley walkway

A small cottage with a proper sized loft and nice landscaping/entry:

Bruce and Nancy's Guest Room, office, storage
Bruce and Nancy’s Guest Room, office, storage

This is an office/guest room with no permitted kitchen (that we know of:)

Judy's Backyard Cottage in Albany, CA
Judy’s Backyard Cottage in Albany, CA

This is a 420 square foot cottage:

Our architects can work in any style. These are all in the mid range for costs.  We can show you some luxury projects and more basic projects too.

You can sign up here and I’ll set up a meeting for as early as next week. We can do almost everything remotely too:

Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling in Los Angeles

A potential client recently called us to discuss their goal of adding an accessory dwelling to their home in Los Angeles.

This owner had verified that his R-1 zoned residence is allowed to add an accessory dwelling.  He had read about the new state law that went into effect on January 1, 2017.  This law gave him, and everyone else in California the right to build an accessory dwelling, backyard cottage, or in-law unit.

We went to City Planning last week and confirmed he is allowed to convert the garage.
He now needs someone to look at his property because he wants to answer the following questions.  We’ve answered what we know below.  Some questions require a site visit by an architect:
Q: What can I do with my garage?
A: Legally, you should be able to convert it to living space.
Q: Should I take out the existing garage?
A: We would have an architect and possibly a contractor review the current garage and recommend whether to keep it or replace it.
Q: How do I maximize my property?
A: We would have an architect meet on site and discuss some design ideas.
Q: The garage is right in the middle of the yard.  If I put a new unit in there then my primary house is about 730 square feet. How big can I build?
A: The city noted that up to the same size as the main home is allowed because his home is smaller. The city confirmed that a 725 square foot accessory dwelling would be ok.
Q: Can I add new meters as the new home will be rented?
A:The city confirmed that his garage can be converted to a living area and he’ll be able to apply for a new address, separate gas meter and separate utilities.  We advise that we almost always T off the main home utilities. This typically allows you to avoid the utility installation fees which can be $10,000 or more.  Then you can but a private meter (they’re on Amazon) and have an electrician or plumber install it.  With this meter you can bill your tenants for their use.
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What Architects Say When Construction Bids Come In

We received the following email from an architect as bids were coming in for one of his projects:

Architect Reaction to Construction Bids

This happens all too often.

There are two ways to counter this surprise:

  1. Study the cost of a nearby project that is of a similar size and scope.
  2. Invite a contractor to provide an estimate and “value engineering” beginning at schematic design. This is before you do the engineering or apply for permits.

To get the costs of a completed project you can’t ask an architect or contractor. They design and build and they do so separately. So they have no way of knowing what the other one is charging.

You can ask us at New Avenue – We are the system that manages payments for the entire project.  It’s free to do so:)

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Custom Wood Doors on Panoramic Way in Berkeley, CA (A historic district)

I’m kind of curious about the kind of doors you’ll find on homes that cost $1,000,000 or more.  Do you get a certain quality that you just don’t see in “average” homes?  Or do you get the same?

We stumbled across a few homes while home shopping in this neighborhood and wow!  What a history of nice custom doors up here. A few of these homes were by famous architects like Julia Morgan, Steilberg, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Others were by lesser known Japanese woodworkers too.

Check out these doors!

This is the side door for a house that cost $750,000. 

754 Panoramic 2

This is the most amazing door of all!

754 Panoramic 1

This was a 1,600,000 house but just a plain old door.  It’s nice but not on par with the home that cost half as much just up the street.

1.63 Panoramic 1

Below is a beautiful door and custom window that matches. But those exterior electrical conduits are a disaster. I get it, you someone had to get the job done cheap.  But let’s do better than that.  This is the side door in a $1,360,000 home.

1.43 Panoramic 4

This is the main door to the $1,630,000 home.

1.43 Panoramic 1

And these are the deck doors from that $1,630,000 home.  Look at that ceiling too!

1.43 Panoramic 2

It seems the cheapest door was on the most expensive home.  Is there a moral to the story?  I guess you don’t have to put in an amazing custom wood door.  But nice doors are so worth it and if you’re spending a million bucks, why not do it right?



Cost of a basement remodel and a new guest house with roofdeck

The cost of a major basement remodel and guest house is listed in the attached budget below.

This project includes an 899 square foot two story guest house and the remodel of over 1,000 square feet of unfinished basement space into two new apartments.

You can open the link below to see all of the detailed line items in this project. We list the cost of each line item in the project budget.

Oakland Budget

This is the ground floor of the new guest house / accessory dwelling:

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 2.52.14 PM

This is the upper floor of the accessory dwelling including the bridge to the main home and the roof deck:

Accessory Dwelling Second Floor

This is the floor plan of the basement remodel:

Basement Remodel


Cost of a 660 square foot guest house in Menlo Park

This guest house in Menlo Park, CA is breaking ground next week. The costs are:

Architecture: $26,146

Survey: $2,100

Geotechnical Engineering (Soils Report): $3,650

Structural Engineering: $4,400

Energy Efficiency Report: $800

Arborist Report: $1,250


Planning Permits: $2,102

Building Permits: $3,012

Fire Department Review: $241

Construction $261,251 ($395 per square foot, including site work utilities and drainage. The ground floor is 376 square feet and the loft is an additional 284 square feet)

376 Ground Floor + 284 Loft Elevation Side Elevation Menlo Side Elevation 2 Menlo Rear Elevation Menlo Interior Section Menlo Interior Section Menlo with shower

The full budget with every line item is here: 660 Square Foot Backyard Cottage Budget

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