With all the new ADU grant programs and changes in ADU loan requirements, now is one of the best times to start building an ADU. To do so, you will need to find a reliable ADU contractor to get the job done. How do you find a good ADU contractor for your project though?
To address this question, we have put together a checklist of requirements your contractor must meet, as well as how you can find ADU contractors in your area. ADU development can be a smooth and easy process if you find the right people to work with. Read on to find out who you should hire to construct your additional dwelling unit.
1. A Contractor Must Specialize in ADUs
The most important box to check off on our “is your ADU contractor a good one” checklist is: do they specialize in ADUs?
Constructing an ADU is essentially constructing an entire home, just on a smaller scale. You need someone familiar with home construction and able to tackle every aspect of building the unit. Someone with no experience constructing such a large-scale and complex project will not be the best help to you.
2. Needs to Be a Licensed Contractor
Never work with a contractor who is not fully licensed. A licensed contractor has gained experience and knowledge through proper training and legal processes. You know they have the right training needed to keep everyone safe on the job site and complete a project with quality in mind.
Licensed contractors are also required to have two types of insurance.
- A surety bond – obligates the contractor to fulfill their contract and if they do not the bond covers resulting damages or losses, up to a certain amount, based on the bond size.
- General liability insurance – keeps you safe in case anyone gets hurt on the job site
Insurance keeps you safe from having to pay for any damages out of your pocket. Never work with a contractor that does not have insurance, no matter what your project is.
3. Needs to Have Fair Pricing
You need to find a contractor whose price falls within your budget. Overspending on a contractor can tie up funds needed for other portions of your development. Most of the time before you can finance an ADU, you need to gather your ADU costs and create a budget. If the contractors you are looking at are way out of range from what you predicted, look elsewhere.
The other side to this is contractors who bid your job significantly lower than other contractors you are looking at. This is a red flag that they may not be licensed, have bad reviews, or are just beginning to learn how to build ADUs. No matter what their reasoning is for why they are so cheap, it is not worth risking:
- Inadequate materials
- Lengthy delays
- Low-quality work
- Not finishing the project
You should also be wary of contractors who do not provide clear pricing. They often charge hidden fees later or change their price completely. Therefore, always ask upfront how they determine their prices, and if there is the possibility of the price changing and due to what reasons.
4. Has A Supply Chain Plan
To build your ADU, you will need various raw materials, products, and services from a series of various companies. Working with a contractor with established connections to guarantee you get the materials you need at prices you can afford can help keep you within budget and on time.
Ask them if there are any materials they have been struggling to obtain recently or any they have in surplus. Knowing what they can and cannot get ahold of is important if you have your heart set on certain materials.
5. Is Familiar with Local ADU Laws
Every state and local government has its own ADU laws. The ADU zoning laws that apply to you may be different than the ones that apply to your neighbor. It is all dependent upon your property type and location.
Having someone familiar with the various laws in your local area can help make the construction process go more smoothly. Their established relationships with city inspectors can make an enormous difference between your project being completed on time or not due to costly mistakes.
6. Has A Network of Subcontractors
A contractor needs subcontractors to help them complete the ADU construction. You will want someone who has a team of professionals they have worked a long time with and who know what they are doing. Often, contractors will have subcontractors for:
No one is an expert in everything. Your contractor needs to admit that someone else may be able to do a better job with the electrical or plumbing aspect of the build. If they tell you they can do it all and do not need a team, not only will the project take an exceptionally long time, but it likely will not be of the best quality once complete.
7. Provides A Complex Construction Schedule
A good contractor will provide you with a detailed construction schedule that accounts for when the material will be delivered, when labor is available, and for city inspections. The timeline should be easy to understand and follow. It is important to remember though, that even the most well-thought-out construction schedule can experience setbacks such as:
- The weather
- Delayed city inspections
- Contractor or subcontractors falling ill
- Changes in homeowner expectations
However, a good contractor will communicate the setback with you and do their best to stick to the timeline as best as possible by pivoting when needed. There will almost always be setbacks, but a good contractor will do their best to plan for them and be ready to keep the project moving.
8. Is Timely and Responsive
Your contractor should be easy to get a hold of from day one. If you are struggling to get them to respond before you sign a contract, chances are you will struggle to get an answer from them during construction. If they are easy to get a hold of but you do not feel comfortable asking them questions or necessarily get along with them, choose someone else.
The contractor and their crew should always be responsive, on time, respectful, and keep the construction site as tidy as possible. If you have any questions about the subcontractors, materials, or city inspection, the contractor should be able to answer them.
A quick tip from us, one of the biggest ADU mistakes people make is asking the contractor’s team or subcontractors about making changes or the progress of the build. Workers and subcontractors are there to do a portion of the job given to them by the main contractor. Consulting with them could result in potential mistakes and confusion. So, always only talk to the main contractor about the build to avoid this from happening.
9. Has Good Reviews
Always check the reviews of the contractor you are looking to work with before signing any contracts. Places like Google Reviews and Houzz are excellent for finding reviews if there are not any on their website. You can also ask neighbors and friends if they have ever worked with any contractors in the area for their ADU development.
Pay attention to both the good and the bad. You can learn a lot about how someone does business by seeing how they respond to bad reviews. If they accept fault and try to make things right, they are worth doing business with. If they get angry or only ever respond to positive reviews, consider working with someone else.
10. Doesn’t Make You Wait
Some contractors have year-long wait lists before they can start your project. This may be a sign that they are a good contractor since so many people want to work with them, but is it worth the wait?
Many grants have time frames they need to be used within. For example, if you do not start construction within six months after being approved, you could lose your CalHFA Grant. So, make sure the contractor you use is going to start your construction within the time frame you need.
ADU Contractor Checklist
So, before you hire anyone to build your ADU, you need to make sure they check off every box on this list.
Is Your ADU Contractor A Good One?
- Specializes in ADUs
- Is licensed, insured, and bonded
- Has fair pricing
- Has a supply chain plan
- Is familiar with local ADU laws
- Has an established network of subcontractors
- Provides a complex construction timeline
- Is always on time and easy to communicate with
- Has good reviews
- Can begin construction within the timeframe you need
If the contractor in question can meet all of these requirements, then they will be a good choice for your ADU development. If they do not, you should consider looking somewhere else.
When Should You Find a Contractor?
Now that we know what to look for in a contractor, let’s address when you should start looking. A good time to start interviewing contractors is when you have a set of construction drawings already completed.
When you build an ADU, you will need professionals to design and plan the ADU. They will create the drawings and calculations needed to obtain permits. The permitting process will take a couple of months to complete. During this time is the best time to show contractors your plans and obtain estimates from them.
Some people make the mistake of trying to find a contractor before they have plans created. Do not do this. They will not be able to give you an accurate estimate of their work without a detailed scope of work your designers and planners need to create.
How To Find an ADU Contractor
To start looking for a good ADU contractor for your project, you should consider asking friends and family. Additional dwelling units have begun booming in popularity in recent years. There is a high chance someone you know has built one and either had a good or bad experience with their contractor. If they had a good experience, you know who to look more into. If they had a bad experience, you know who not to consider for the job.
How To Compare Contractor Bids
Comparing construction bids is not easy. Contractors use different templates for their estimates and include different items. One contractor may include an item in their bid that another does not, but it does not mean either one is necessarily trying to scam you. Therefore, the best way to compare bids is to run them by an expert.
Many ADU professionals can help you choose the right contractor for the job and help you understand how to accurately compare bids. You can also use this ADU eCourse. It offers construction contract resources along with other important ADU development tips. Family and friends who have built ADUs can also provide insight into how they compared contractor bids.
Start ADU Development Today!
Are you looking to build an additional dwelling unit and are not sure where to start? Let us help!
Here at Levi Design Build, we have been developing properties for over 20 years in the Los Angeles and San Fernando area. We are a full-service design and build company with a dedicated team of designers, permit expediters, and builders.
Start with a FREE consultation where we explain in detail the milestones to a successful project and teach you how to overcome common stumbling blocks to develop an ADU. We give our full attention to every customer so that we can complete each project on time with quality as our main goal.
Reach out today to see how we can help you build the ADU of your dreams.