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:)

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

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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Cost of a 310 square foot guest house in Berkeley, CA

The cost of a recently completed super small guest house in Berkeley, CA was $130,695.  The full costs are detailed in the line item budget here.

A summary of the costs are:

$1,200: Survey

$3,312: Planning (Zoning) permits

$3,650: Structural Engineering

$550: Energy efficiency report

$2,830: Building permit

$563: Mechanical, electrical and plumbing permit

$20,854: Hourly architecture fees

$97,736: Construction Costs ($315 per square foot)

Here is a summary of the plans:

Berkeley Front 235 Square Feet Berkeley Side - 235 Square Foot Guest House Berkeley Back - 235 Square Foot Guest House Berkeley Floor Plan - 235 Square Foot Floor +75 Loft Berkeley Floor Plan - 75 square foot loft

The full line item budget is here: budget 310 square foot detached cottage

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3 Essential & Free Tools Every Addition, Remodel or Custom Home Needs: A Design Agreement, Construction Agreement and Budget

Every project needs a Design Agreement, Construction Agreement and Budget.

Owners, architects and contractors use New Avenue’s innovative system to manage projects that cost between $50,000 to over $2,000,000.  Current projects are located from California to New York.  Our software system collects insights throughout the design, permitting and construction process. In one year we see more transactions, proposals, and changes than most most architects and contractors see in a lifetime.   We incorporate those lessons in the industry’s best agreements and budgets and we provide these to you for free.

We are genuinely afraid of any project that does not have a clear agreement and budget in place.  Without this expectations are almost guaranteed to be wrong.  We recommend that every project use these three agreements to set the right expectations and establish a healthy working relationship:

New Avenue Construction Agreement

New Avenue Design Agreement

New Avenue Example Budget Format For $100,000 – $5,000,000

Every project should use these forms.  Project are easier to manage, more efficient, and more affordable when the team has a clear understanding of the work to do.  The owner, architect and contractor will be happier during the design/build and upon completion.

Following the guidelines set forth in these agreements requires discipline and the New Avenue project management system makes that part easy.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

For Architects: How to Fire a Client

We have worked with several hundred homeowners in the past few years and roughly one out of one hundred have been just downright mean. When I say mean, that includes behavior honest people can’t imagine.  I asked a lawyer friend of mine if he ever has to fire a client.  He said he does it all the time.  He stressed that it is just not worth the personal stress that a bad client causes you and their behavior can really hurt the rest of you your business too.

Here is how he fires a client:

“I have a very busy practice with many clients who I truly care for.  You, unfortunately are not one of them.”

That’s it.  You’re done.

I’ve never said this though. I don’t have the courage. We’ve also been good enough to consistently note that we charge for the services provided and that weeds out quite a few people right at the start.

Every professional service person such as an architect, contractor, engineer, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, landscapers learn early in their careers that avoiding a problem client.  In order to survive they do so very early in their careers.  According to one electrician he “has very good antennae for the problem clients”

Here are the tactics that more polite people use to avoid challenging people before they even get started:

The polite ways that we have seen architects and contractors effectively fire people include:

  1. ” I am booked for the next year and can’t fit this in my schedule. I’d be happy to work with you next year”
  2. “Who referred you to me? I’m busy working for the children and relatives of previous clients.  Sorry:
  3. Provide a proposal that is two or three times more than they are charging a comparable, but nice client.  Note to owners: When someone bids way too much this is their “walk away price”.
  4. Don’t return phone calls or emails.  This works and may be the most common tactic but it doesn’t reflect very well on the professional.

Here are a few “fireable” actions:

  1. Throwing a proposal back at the designer saying it’s too expensive “fix it”.
  2. Refusing to pay for the services offered.
  3. Negotiating to reduce fees below what the professional needs to earn to run a successful practice.
  4. Fighting other projects in the neighborhood.
  5. A bad relationship with previous professionals, contractors, tradespeople.
  6. Claiming they can’t afford the professional services while magically finding money when it’s time to buy nice gadgets and finishes.

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3 Reasons Why We Recommend You Hire an Architect

At New Avenue we are all about great value.  In design and construction the hard way is usually the right way and that means the best value is often the more difficult and more expensive way.

This applies to architecture as much as any other part of the process.

Many people cut out an architect and trust the design to their own capabilities or to a contractor.  The hope that you will save time and money is a shortsighted decision that can sound like a good idea at first, but it will typically make your project more costly and painful in the long run.  This is a big mistake.

When hiring and architect for the first time, we recommend you consider these three reasons for hiring a professional designer or architect:

Reason #1:  You want your home to be amazing.  An architect with 10, 20 or even 30 years of experience and a creative ability is critical to creating a truly great design.  An architect can make a good design great.

Reason #2: You studied anything other than architecture.  Exposure to hundreds of photos on and Pinterest makes you a more informed and better client, it does not make you an architect.  The skill required to manage the design, permitting and construction process starts with formal training, involves rigorous licensing and requires years or experience.   An architect will typically require at least 100 hours of work to get a design and permits together.  It may be 300+ hours of work if your project is larger and more complex.  If you were to try this on your own it can easily take five or ten times as long. An experienced person can pull from decades of experience to create a better design and they can do it all in a fraction of the time it will take you.

Reason #3: You will probably make at least one big design mistake that you will see every time you look at your new space or new home.   Even if you design something amazing on your own, one design mistake is something that will be built into the home and it may never go away.  It is worth a few thousand dollars to avoid how a mistake like this will reduce the enjoyment of your home.

The super pragmatic perspective is to acknowledge that having an architect should save you from at least one major mistake and that alone will justify their entire fee.

At New Avenue our standard practice to incorporate an architect in all of our projects because of these three reasons.  We mapped 300+ key steps in any residential addition, remodel, accessory dwelling or new home.  Not all steps are essential but each step is a potential pitfall and an ally who can navigate and resolve the design challenges effectively creates a ton of value.   You can review the New Avenue Design Agreement and specific role of an architect Here

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