If you are on the search for a trustworthy general contractor to build your ADU or convert your garage, you are not alone. Especially due to the popularity of these projects in recent years, ADU Contractors are in high demand! And subsequently, more and more new contractors are popping up as self-proclaimed ‘ADU Specialists’.
With so many options for builders in your area, how do you decide which contractor to hire?
Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that personally matches homeowners with reliable Los Angeles ADU contractors, we know exactly what to look for in a good contractor.
We’ve worked on hundreds of accessory dwelling units and other remodeling projects throughout Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura County and greater Southern California; we can assure you that the most important decision you’ll make during your project is to hire the right contractor for the job. Working with a bad team can easily turn your life into a renovation nightmare, so it is crucial to find an ADU contractor you can trust.
How Do You Find the Best ADU Contractors?
Make sure you’re looking for contractors that do the kind of work you need. A recommendation to a plumbing contractor won’t help you if you need a kitchen remodeler. You need to be aware that only Licensed General Contractors (with a B-license) are qualified and permitted to build ADUs. You should never hire a handyman or unlicensed contractor to build you an ADU – which is essentially a small house.
Also, if you seek recommendations on Facebook or any other online platform, only trust recommendations from ‘real-life’ friends. Suggestions from any of your other FB contacts are often biased (their cousin is a contractor, etc).
Most people considering a renovation are keenly aware of the potential stressors involved when undertaking such a major project. Whether it’s a kitchen remodel, accessory dwelling unit, garage conversion, or even just installing new flooring throughout the house, there are so many things that can go wrong.
Building an ADU in Los Angeles is a major undertaking. You’re essentially building a smaller version of your house. You wouldn’t trust the construction of your home by a handyman or unlicensed contractor, and you should be equally discriminating when building your ADU. There are a ton of ADU builders in Los Angeles, so you have to be careful when choosing the right one for you. You’re going to spend a lot of time and money on this project, so make sure you do your homework before choosing your ADU contractor.
Make sure to find and interview at least three contractors before deciding on who to hire. That will help you understand some of the differences in each contractor’s working style, but it will also teach you quite a bit about the process/costs/timing of building an ADU. Let’s face it, every contractor will say different things and will contradict each other…that’s just standard in the construction industry. But, when you hear inconsistencies that concern you, this is a good time to do your own research to determine who is being more accurate and truthful.
While some issues are unpredictable and unavoidable, most issues (like delays and added costs) can often be avoided… as long as you take the necessary precautions from the start – certainly starting with selecting the right contractor team for the job!
How can I Find a Good ADU Contractor?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the #1 best way to find a good Los Angeles ADU contractor is to ask family, friends, or colleagues if they can recommend someone good.
If you don’t get any quality suggestions from people you personally know and you need to look online, start with sites that do the most intensive contractor pre-screening and offer personalized service and support like GreatBuildz.
Our thorough screening process (including background checks, license/insurance checks, in-person interviews, reference calls, etc) ensures our clients get connected to only great local ADU contractors. We know it’s difficult and stressful to find a contractor for any type of construction project, so we’re here to simplify the experience for you.
What Should I Look For in a Good Los Angeles ADU Builder?
Regardless of where you find a contractor you’re considering to build your accessory dwelling unit, always make sure to take precautions to ensure they are truly trustworthy and reliable. Below are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Contact several Los Angeles ADU contractors by phone; the ones who don’t answer the phone or don’t call you back quickly…that’s a bad sign that they may not be very responsive during your project.
2. Do a contractor license lookup online. In California, you should navigate to https://www.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx. Here, you can confirm the company you’re considering has an active license, check company owner names, see if they have any infractions on their license, and determine how long the company has been licensed.
3. Get a copy of their insurance certificate and call their insurance broker; ask whether they have had any insurance claims in the recent past.
4. Call at least 3 references and take a look at pictures of their prior work. If you have the chance to visit one of the ADU contractor’s past jobs and see the construction in person, even better!
5. Interview the owner (or at least the supervisor who will be your day-to-day contact during the project). Especially common with larger Los Angeles ADU contractors, the person at your first meeting is often just a salesperson, probably one of several on their staff.
6. Check their reviews online. Read any negative reviews and determine how bad their behavior seems to you…and feel free to ask the ADU contractor to explain their bad reviews. A significant number of bad reviews (especially in the last 2 years) clearly indicate a pattern and you should think twice about hiring this company.
7. Set out your expectations of them. A good way to do this is to present them with a “Contractor Code of Conduct” document. If they don’t agree with some of these expectations, have them explain why.
8. Consider running a background check on them – Your contractor and his team will be in your home, quite likely without you in it. You want to make sure you can trust them, the same as you would with a nanny for your child.
9. Ask the potential Los Angeles ADU contractor important questions you need to know about them and their process to ensure they are a good fit for you. Some good questions to ask are listed at the end of this article.
How Can I Evaluate an ADU Contractor?
Its not uncommon for homeowners to select a contractor almost purely on two factors: the price and their ‘sense’ of the contractor. Most people think they are a good judge of character and they select the contractor with whom they best ‘connect’. But you must remember that in your initial meetings with various contractors, they are trying to sell you on their services, so they are in ‘sales-person’ mode and on their best behavior. They are trying to be extremely likable, so its no surprise if you like and ‘connect’ with them.
Additionally, the representative that comes to give you an estimate on your ADU may be a paid salesperson, and not the contractor or manager. This person’s entire job is to sell you on their services. But, clearly, whether they are a good salesperson has no bearing on the quality of the contractor. My point is that evaluating ADU contractors should go well beyond just cost and ‘gut instinct’. The vetting steps mentioned above are a must when considering spending many thousands of dollars with a contractor.
Also, as you are beginning your ‘relationship’ with any contractor, be aware of the following red flags:
- The contractor keeps suggesting upgrades to your project or additions to your scope
- The contractor’s estimate includes many “TBD” items that will have to be determined during construction
- Any contractor that continually talks about how great they are and how bad the other companies are
- A contractor that takes longer than a week to meet with you or respond with an estimate
- A contractor is pushy or doesn’t seem to respect your budget & scope.
- If a contractor asks for more money before starting the project
- If a contractor is unresponsive or slow to respond to you
What Should I Ask an ADU Contractor near me?
1. When could you start?
2. What do you estimate would be the duration of the project?
3. Will you assume responsibility for obtaining all permits and ensuring compliance with all regulatory requirements?
4. Are you familiar with the personnel in our city planning department?
5. Would I receive guarantees and warranties on labor and materials?
6. Do you prefer to work with clients who already know what they want or do you enjoy providing ideas and advice?
7. Would you assist with the selection of materials such as appliances, paint, flooring, countertops, tile and other materials? Do you shop with your clients? Do you purchase on their behalf?
8. Cite any parking restrictions and discuss disposal bin location as needed
9. What work hours would your personnel be on-site? How often will the GC be on-site?
10. Will there be a foreman or project supervisor on-site at all other times?
11. How often would the GC and homeowner meet in person or telephonically, to keep us abreast of project progress and issues as they arise?
12. How will changes in project scope work? Written change orders? Verbal approvals?
13. When can I expect a proposal? Will it include labor and materials? What won’t it include?
Should I Pick the Cheapest Los Angeles ADU Builder?
Many people make a contractor hiring decision based on the cost estimate and their ‘gut feel’ of the contractor after one meeting. This is a start, but it’s grossly insufficient to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Once you find an ADU contractor and meet with them, they are trying to sell you, so they are on their best behavior. The price they give you for the job is important but tells you nothing about whether they are a quality contractor.
Remember that building an ADU is just like building an entire home, only smaller. Most people would never just hire a handyman or unlicensed contractor to build them a home. And it’s also probably unwise just to hire the cheapest contractor to build your ADU. Although price is always an important factor, you should also be confident you’re hiring the best contractor based on other criteria.
Building an ADU is a significant investment, and it doesn’t come cheap. ADU costs can range greatly depending on size, location, requirements, etc. Regardless of your specific project, you’ll want to make sure you’re paying your ADU contractor a fair price. So, before choosing and hiring, make sure you get 3-5 bids from different ADU contractors. If all the bids are pretty similar in price, that’s a good sign that your project is ‘clear’ to each contractor and their pricing is probably in-line with the market. However, if your bids are all over the place, that’s a sign that something is wrong. Either your project details are unclear or you may have contractors that are not realistic on price…either too high or too low. In this case, get more bids to help you narrow the appropriate cost of the job.
Also, contractor estimates may vary significantly in what is and isn’t included, so you have to compare them carefully to ensure every bid is ‘apples to apples’ comparable. Before you meet with contractors, it’s a good idea to create a checklist of every item you want to be included in your project and hand it to every contractor you meet.
Los Angeles homeowners should take as many steps as possible to protect themselves from having a renovation nightmare. The more of these steps you take, the more confident you’ll feel you found a quality professional to build your accessory dwelling unit.
Should I act as my own General Contractor when building an ADU?
I would suggest that for 99% of situations, acting as your own General Contractor would be a mistake. Let me explain. If I asked you whether you have the skills to build a house, most people would say ‘absolutely not’. Well, an ADU is just a small version of your house…so if you can’t build a house, then you can’t build an ADU. Some might say that they aren’t actually building the ADU themselves…they will be hiring sub-contractors to build the ADU with their oversite. But even if you’re not building the ADU yourself, you need to have a deep understanding of construction to know what to build and who to hire.
When you’re hiring a General Contractor to build your ADU, you only need to find one solid contractor, for they will do all the work. If you act as your own General Contractor, you need to sub-contract every single part of the construction to different trade contractors, so you need to find, get proposals for and hire an extensive list of contractors: framer, concrete foundation & rebar, roofer, flooring, HVAC, plumber, electrician, drywall, stucco, paint, landscape, finish carpenter, window/door installer, kitchen installer, tile installer, and so forth. Are you really planning to commit the time to find and hire all these trades, not to mention manage and schedule them on the project. Do you really know whether the drywall sub performs his tasks before the stucco sub or vice versa?
Finally, most people believe that they can save some money by acting as their own general contractor. All general contractors will certainly charge a fee/profit from each project, so I understand the idea of trying to save this amount by removing them from the equation. But keep in mind that General Contractors are likely to get ‘special’ discounted rates from their usual sub-contractors and trades. Its quite likely that you will end up paying more working directly with various sub-contractors because you don’t have a long-standing relationship with them. So you may lose some or most of the savings you expected from cutting out the general contractor.
Regardless if you’re building a new ADU, converting a garage to an ADU or creating an ADU-like space, its imperative that you secure a city permit for this work. In Los Angeles and Southern California, there are currently a ton of ADUs and garage conversions that were completed illegally and without permits. This is a big mistake for many reasons. First, its illegal and if you get caught, the building department will make you remove all the improvements, costing you thousands of dollars. Second, you cannot legally rent out this space to a tenant; and if you do, it could be very difficult to evict them if you needed to. Finally, you wont get the value out of this space when you go to sell your property.
So, for the extra few thousand dollars, it make sense to permit your new ADU or garage conversion. Your contractor should be willing to pull the city permit on your behalf. If you meet with a contractor who suggests you shouldn’t get a permit because it will be cheaper and quicker to build an ADU, you shouldn’t use this person for your project. Its just way too risky to build an ADU (a small house) without city plans and inspections. Its always best to do it right the first time, especially since you’re spending a lot of money.
Be Nice to your Contractor and Crew
I know that’s not necessarily the first thing you think about when it comes to finding a good ADU Contractor, but it’s a commonly overlooked part of having a good experience with your ADU project. It’s actually a very simple strategy for success. Think about it…you’ll have the contractor and their crew working at your home for months at a time. How can you keep them happy and get the best and fastest work possible? You treat them with kindness and respect (just like we all want to be treated).
That means just a few things:
1) Have a bathroom that the contractor and crew can use – either a porta-potty or one of the bathrooms in the home.
2) Have a shaded area where the crew can take breaks and have lunch.
3) Have a cooler available with water for the crew.
4) Every once in a while, provide the crew with breakfast or lunch.
These seem like minor things, but you will certainly be their favorite project/client because so few people go through the trouble of creating a good working environment. The crew will appreciate you and the contractor will respect your kindness. The odds are better than even that you will get better service and more priority than the contractor’s other projects.
When it comes to finding a reputable ADU contractor for your project – GreatBuildz is simplifying the contractor search.
GreatBuildz is a free service in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego that connects homeowners with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides project support from start to finish.