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Hi, we're considering building a backyard cottage (ADU), in
Berkeley. This would be both an income-generating prospect
(hopefully), and possibly a home for either the grown
children, or a caretaker depending on how health goes.
Have you done this recently? Which design/build (or other)
company did you use? Seems like the one we hear most about
is 'new avenue', but then we've also heard they were a
spin-off from an original company, who we can't seem to
find. Any company recommendations? I'd assume you had 3
bids, but again we're not finding multiple companies who do
I understand this can be a loaded question, but approx how
much did you end up spending? (We're in Berkeley). Any
recommendations for 'where to start' the process?
Thanks for any recommendations, advice, warnings, etc.
Hopeful backyard cottage rental unit owners
I researched and built a backyard cottaage about 6 years
ago. Strongly suggest first going to the planning office to
learn what regulations you'll need to pay attention to. And
find someone proficient in Berkeley rental law to understand
After an architect took me to the cleaners (her fee almost
40% of the total project fee) I ended up getting a tuff shed
garage and tricking it out on the interior. All told, $50K
ish. Depends of course on your budget and what you're
The City of Berkeley was the most painful part of the entire
thing - it was an endurance event of pain, waiting,
obfuscation, and delays. Insane. Utterly. Loved my cottage
in the end but the whole thing took years off my life. Good
luck! Do your homework
First off, don't advertise that you expect to have income
from the Cottage. It is easier to get approval for an
'In-Law Unit' than for a rental, or 'Secondary Unit', and
sometimes neighbors can make life difficult if they think
you are renting an 'In-Law'.
I have designed some ADU's and gotten them through the
permitting process - others have built them. The last one
cost around $135k, in 2009. It was about 400 sq. ft. Came
out really nice, used by the grandma when she's in town, who
is brave enough and agile enough to utilize the loft. The
person who built it has moved on to bigger things, but I
team up with Springwood Builders when I can.
I know this forum is not for us to talk up our businesses,
but I also have some 'advice' that can be helpful to anyone
who is considering this. I think the best way to start off
is to go to the Planning Dept. with a sketch of the property
with the approx. locations of the main house and the
proposed cottage. You might be told by the planner that you
can situate the cottage far back on the lot, b/c you are
already getting a use permit. Careful on this, b/c it can
lead to a requirement of automatic sprinklers, an expensive
proposition. I could go on, but ...
I hope this helps.
We used a company called Summerwood - highly recommend them.
Great products, incredible customer service, great 'help'
department. We built in Alameda and yes, planning department
was the worst part of the experience. We also worked with an
architect at first - he proposed us spending over $100k for
about 400sf (which was $50k over budget). We purchased the
220 sf unit for about $11,000, and finished (electricity,
sheetrock, lighting, painting, furnished came in around
$18,000). The great thing about summerwood is you design
the until - pick where the widows and door go, etc. We
built what is typically a pool house but will tuck into a
corner. We lived in our studio as much as the house, perhaps
more. Its a great investment. good luck
We're considering building a 'Backyard Cottage' or 'Tiny
House' in our backyard in the Berkeley flats. We're unsure
how to proceed, and want to ask some locals about the pros
and cons. We're thinking 400 sf or so, to use as a rental
and/or when visitors come.
I understand that Berkeley is replete with such structures,
and there's the one well-known one that got a lot of press
last year (the UC Berkeley professor). But, have others
built them recently? If you have, who did you get to do the
construction, and did you buy a plan or have one firm do the
design/build? What was the total cost, and what do you rent
the cottage for? Would you recommend doing it? Pluses and
Thanks for any information, advice, recommendations,
cautions... Hope to add small unit
I designed an In-Law Unit recently for a client in the flats
of Berkeley. It is 450 square feet and cost about $130k,
not including pre-construction costs. Eric Manou built it.
In-Law Units are easier to permit than rentable units, which
require a use permit with a public hearing, separate
utilities, etc. I hope you enjoy the process.
I recently designed a small cottage in Alamo. It was 776
square feet and construction estimates came in at around
$220K. You'll want to look at the zoning requirements for
your lot and confirm setback distances and height
limitations. You'll also want to look at parking
requirements to determine if an additional parking space
will be necessary. Lastly, talk to the city about permit
fees for your project. The fees required for a project like
this are often greater than clients expect.
I have to say that, in
order to expand space potential for our tiny Albany house,
we ordered up a backyard cottage from the Shed Shop in
Fremont: http://www.shedshop.com/ This was probably nine
years ago, but the cost came in at under $80,000, including
the concrete slab foundation we put in, and the shed is
still going strong. This was a one-room thing, however,
with electricity and phone line. Not a mother-in-law unit.
But worth looking at for extra space. spatially challenged
We went down the
architect path for a small backyard cottage and it was a
nightmare that cost us $7,000 in fees with nothing at the
end as our $60,000 budget became an unfinished unit
estimated at $110,000. Then we found Summerwood - and spent
$12,000 for a 'pool cabana' that fit perfectly in the corner
of our yard. It's 220 sq feet, and when you add Sheetrock,
electricity, roof, lighting it was just about $20,000. We
then re-did our yard and it all looked/s amazing - and was
way, way better than the 400 sq foot planned structure. We
could have easily added a sink, but for a toilet would have
need to trench across the yard - do-able but we decided a
second bathroom in the house made more sense. Happy to tell
you details of our summerwood experience - amazing! No waste
(all the wood is precut) - we love the windows and doors.
Our house has been on a number of garden tours and people
always ask about the structure. Love our cottage
We are considering the most inexpensive way to add a small
'bungalow' / cabin / in-law apartment to our Berkeley
backyard. Has anyone used one of the pre- fab 'kits' for
building such? Which company did you use, and how was it?
How is it holding up? Other ideas for rather inexpensively
adding a live-in 'apartment' to our backyard? Any
recommendations/ suggestions welcome. Thank you! Need a
We had an estimate from an excellent contractor who
specializes in prefab in law cottages. I have seen several
that this contractor made and they were beautiful little
homes. His price included all cabinetry and kitchen
appliances. His name is Steve Vallejos and here's his
email: Steve Vallejos firstname.lastname@example.org
www.valleyhomedevelopment.com/ I can tell you more
specifically if you want to call me: 529-6328. Micky
Not sure if this would meet your needs, but definitely worth
checking out -- Tuff Shed. We built one several years ago
to use as a workshop. Although ours is not plumbed or
heated, I think you could add those things to the basic
structure. Since it's on a slab, radiant heat would be
ideal. We also added skylights (which are an option) and the
space gets lots of natural light from them. We don't live
in ours, but we know someone who does and it seems to work
for him. Once you get all your permits in place,
construction is super fast. Happy with Tuff Shed
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