Garage Apartments: What To Know About Converting a Garage into Apartment

According to a report by the American Housing Survey, about 80% of American homeowners have a garage or carport. Yet the majority don’t actually use them for parking their cars. For many, they’re simply cluttered storage spaces. Sound familiar? Now consider the fact that a two-car garage can make up almost 15% of a home’s total square footage. If you’re looking to get more out of the space you have — and since the shift in the workforce to working from home, many of us are — converting your garage into a studio apartment is a fantastic opportunity.

Although it’s not a light lift, a contractor specializing in garage conversion can help you create a beautiful, comfortable and convenient new living area. Here are some tips on what to expect. 

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego Counties with reliable contractors, we speak to homeowners every day about creating garage apartments out of their existing spaces – here are some ideas & tips to get you started.

What can you do with a garage apartment?

Garage Apartment Interior

California’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) laws have relaxed considerably in recent years, making it less complicated to rent them out as an extra source of income. With rental rates at an all-time high in Los Angeles and Southern California, even a small studio apartment can pull in upwards of $2,500 a month

But even if earnings aren’t the primary reason you want to convert your garage to an apartment, there might still be an economic incentive. For some families, it might make sense to create a comfortable studio apartment to keep aging grandparents nearby or to provide convenient lodging for a nanny or live-in housekeeper.

And a studio garage apartment also has endless possibilities such as a man cave/she-shed, home office, home gym, music studio, and more. At the end of the day, it’s your space. Why not make the most of it?

What does it cost to convert a garage into a studio apartment?

To convert a garage into a studio apartment in 2023, you can generally expect to pay between $90,000 and $125,000, though costs will vary depending on your location, the size of the project, and the materials you select. Other factors, such as whether you’re building a two-story unit or adding plumbing, also will affect the final cost of your garage conversion

There are a few ways to save on the costs of converting a garage into apartment, as some construction elements are more expensive and extensive than others. If your garage is in good condition with regard to the foundation, the framing, the stucco and the roof, that will go a long way to saving you some money on your garage apartment. But if you have to repair some of these major elements, you’ll probably be at the high end of the price range.

Because of the significant costs associated with a project of this scope, many homeowners will use some sort of financing or loan to complete a garage apartment. With more lenders offering ADU loan programs, there are a number of options available to consider. These include, among others, home equity lines of credit, home equity loans, cash-out refinance, renovation loans, and construction loans.

Tips for choosing the best contractor for your garage conversion

Garage studio Apartment Bedroom

Given the costs of building a studio garage apartment — as well as the fact that you want this to be a safe and comfortable living space — it’s important to work with a contractor who has the experience and expertise to make this project a success.

Only a general contractor has the experience and qualifications to perform a significant job like a garage conversion to a studio apartment. A general contractor has a B-license from the California CSLB. And a reputable general contractor always has both General Liability and Workers Compensation insurance. Its also important to seek out a general contractor who has experience with garage conversions in your area. Getting an experienced contractor involved early in your planning process will help you understand the costs, timing, design and possible issues to consider when converting your garage to a studio apartment.

Ideally, you want to get at least three contractor bids – make sure that these contractors have sufficient experience with garage apartment conversions, ideally in your city. Creating a scope checklist that lists all of your requirements and specifications will ensure you don’t run into any surprise costs as the project progresses. It’s also important to ask each contractor about how and where they recommend running utilities and the associated costs. The more detailed your checklist and communications, the more accurate the contractors’ bids will be.

So what should you include in your scope checklist? These typically include everything from installing new sewer, water, and gas lines; rough construction elements like foundation, framing, windows, and doors; kitchen and bathroom construction and appliances; and site applications like landscaping, fencing, and hardscaping.

Garage Apartment Kitchen

Getting multiple contractor bids can sometimes create challenges when comparing these estimates. Different contractors will invariably have different bid formats which include different scopes for the project. You’ll have to carefully review each bid to determine what is or isn’t included. Sometimes a lower priced estimate is only lower because it includes less work or lesser materials. If you don’t feel comfortable carefully revieing bids yourself, talk to a GreatBuildz staff member who can help you. Our staff has reviewed hundreds of project bids, and can provide excellent guidance with regard to garage conversion estimates.

Fixtures, finishes, and appliances are often not included in a bid, so it might be necessary to budget for these additional costs after (or even while!) selecting a bid. Start researching these items as early as possible – waiting too long to select your favorite items can cause delays and cost overruns. 

At GreatBuildz, we make it easy for homeowners in Los Angeles and Southern California to connect with vetted contractors who have proven experience with garage conversions.

Related: 10 Best Tips For Finding an ADU Contractor in Los Angeles

How do I start the process of converting a garage to a studio apartment?

The first step when planning a garage apartment conversion is to meet with a contractor or two to get a rough sense of budget/costs. Next, you will need to hire a small architect or design firm to draw up plans. These professionals will speak with you about your goals — Do you want your garage studio to include a bedroom and a bathroom? Will this be a rentable unit? — and use this input to present different ideas using your input. 

After you’ve finalized your plans, the architect will submit them to the city building department for plan check to ensure they’re compliant with all applicable building codes. During this approval period — which usually lasts between two weeks and a few months — you can start sharing your plans with garage conversion contractors and collecting bids to convert your garage into an apartment.

How long does it take to finish a garage apartment?

Garage Apartment Home

Once construction is underway, you can expect the process to take between three and four months.  Although at first glance it might seem like most of the work should be contained to the garage, the contractor and their crew will need to dig trenches in the yard to install sewer and water lines. In other words, you’ll want to hold off on any landscaping projects until after your garage conversion is complete. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that it could take the Department of Water and Power and/or your local gas company some time to install your meter, which could potentially add to the wait time before your garage studio apartment is move-in ready. 

Either way, you’ll want to obtain proper insurance coverage for your new garage apartment right away. Although some homeowners’ policies do cover “separate structures,” the amount insured is inadequate for a full accessory dwelling unit. Additionally, some lenders will require you to secure a Course of Construction policy, which protects against losses due to fire, theft, and vandalism.

When it comes to converting your existing space into a studio garage apartment, you shouldn’t have to go it alone – GreatBuildz can help simplify your renovation experience.



GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened garage contractors and provides project support from start to finish. Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next remodel project or visit our website for more information:

Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.

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