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Building an ADU in Los Angeles easier than ever before

The State of California has recognized myriad benefits of incentivizing workforce, elderly, student, and low income housing. Generally contained under the umbrella of affordable housing, ADUs are seen by many as one tool in the effort to meet the state’s regional housing needs for the next decade. But even with legislation that allows for splitting and development of single family lots, only about 5% of properties would financially benefit from parcel splits. 

Following a series of significant changes to state law to reduce administrative burdens related to permitting ADUs, most cities have seen an increase in construction of these backyard homes, and Los Angeles is no exception. Los Angeles is the second largest city in the US and close to the largest 100th city in the world. Given that California is the 5th largest economy in the world, falling behind Germany, China, Japan, and the United States, and that the Los Angeles economy is the largest in the state with a GDP of almost a trillion dollars, it’s easy to see why the city is growing. 

But because of its popularity, as well as historical zoning and planning decisions, housing prices have grossly outpaced median area income, even for smaller starter homes. California has 89 of 127 most expensive zip codes in the country. Southern California home sales trends rose 14% from 2020 to a record-high median of $690,000.

Housing Trends Chart

Los Angeles went further than state law and has attempted to make the ADU building process as easy as possible for homeowners, and many are taking advantage of the simplified permit system by designing highly livable ADUs. Check out this Highland Park ADU built from repurposed barnwood, this affordable vibrant East LA ADU, this architectural gem that was upgraded into compliance, this downtown LA ADU writing studio, or this existing ADU in Los Angeles that was recently permitted.  

Fullerton ADU Design by Housable

ADU in Fullerton California, designed by Housable

Inspired to build an ADU in LA? Here are some simple steps to get you started.

  1. Come up with your concept. Get an idea of the space you have, what you’d like to build, and how much you can provide financially to the project. 
  2. Find an ADU designer or design build company. You can also work with a contractor that doesn’t do design but that means you’ll have to either work with a separate designer or design the project yourself. Generally, the easiest way to start is to work with a designer or design build contractor experienced with building ADUs in your neighborhood or city. Most contractors can build an ADU but by working with a builder that specializes in ADUs 
  3. Get financing. While it’s important to understand how much you will have available before you start talking to professionals, most lenders won’t be able to provide you with a loan before you have a design concept and set of plans to show them. It’s realistic to start steps 2 and 3 in parallel as they can take quite some time. 
  4. Once you’ve lined up what type of ADU you’re building, how you will pay for the project, and who will help you complete your project, you can either sit back and let the professionals complete the job for you, or stay involved depending on the nature of your contract. 

Want to take on more of the project? Here’s a great way to get started as an owner builder.

  1. Start with a plan, a little upfront time thinking about the layout, lighting, and access, as well as how the space will be used. Consider starting a Pinterest layout board, vision board, or file of links to materials and inspiring photos of other ADUs you like, this will make the selection of paint, flooring, and countertops much easier. 
  2. Once you’ve nailed down your design idea, you will need a set of plans drawn from those ideas to specify materials and methods for the contractors you hire in the next step. You’ll also need to get permits with this plan set. 
  3. You can get started with an ADU permit with LA here. You’ll need to find your jurisdiction as this will determine which permits you need and where to apply for those. As owner builder you will be responsible for the permit, unless you hire a licensed architect to design the project and pull the permit for you. 
  4. Unless you are a professional contractor, you’re probably going to be hiring several contractors for each step of your process. You’re acting as the general contractor for your project so run your project like a professional business. Check that the builders you hire to do things like pouring a foundation, frame your structure, or install your electric are licensed and have worked on similar projects. This will likely save a great deal on the overall project as they are going to know what the most cost effective solutions are for your project. Check to make sure they don’t have any major red flags but keep in mind that not all contractors have a website or Yelp profile. 
  5. As owner builder you will need to schedule contractors for each step of the construction process. If any of this seems overwhelming or you have no idea how to start you can work with a group like Housable which can help connect you with the professionals you need for your project as well as provide ADU plans, permit sets, and other services. 

Read more about building an ADU in Los Angeles here