I got a call from my very first client today. I met up with her for coffee shortly after I quit my 9-5 job as the Marketing Director for a San Diego toy company nearly a year ago.

She’s the definition of a go-getter.

She described her plans to build an accessory dwelling unit on her son’s property which would allow her to downsize, age-in-place, and be close to family and grandsons.

Since chatting with her a year ago I’ve helped literally hundreds of homeowners with their plans to build an ADU, with things like this free tool kit

But her unit isn’t complete, in fact, she hasn’t even received permits yet…


She hired the wrong person.

In an effort to be more involved and save money she hired a draftsperson, against my advice, who has never successfully completed an ADU build.

But he was really cheap!

In fact, he only charged her $3,500 for the project.

Wow! That’s so cheap!!!!

She hired him in June and it’s been 7 months now and the horror story is just beginning to emerge.

hire the right team

A code violation on the property set her back 3 months. Her son’s fence was “too high” and that hung everything up.

Then they found out they would exceed the water pipe capacity of ¾” and would need to upgrade the whole site to 1” water pipes.

This is a $20,000 line item that she should have been notified about upfront. It’s a simple calculation to make.  

She’s now sent 18 emails and had 5 phone calls with various supervisors with nothing to show for it. She’s frustrated and I can understand why.

Here’s one of her latests recapping her frustration:

Now, this woman is extraordinarily resilient and amazing. I can’t emphasize this enough and I have no doubt that eventually she will get done what she set out to do, but does it have to be this hard? 

Shouldn’t the City be better at helping homeowners? Yes, but unfortunately, this is where we’re at right now.

Let’s juxtapose this with my Mom’s accessory dwelling unit.

I recommended an architect for my mom’s garage conversion which has an attached workshop. We’re in the process of converting the whole space into a 530 square foot apartment.

He charged her $10,200 for her project. 

Wow! That’s expensive. All we’re doing is converting a garage right?

She hired this architect on my recommendation in October. She had a design ready to submit within one month.

She lives in a jurisdiction that is notorious for being difficult with accessory dwelling units.

She submitted her project to the City, two months later we have the plans approved. She breaks ground in a couple weeks.

I helped her find a great general contractor and she’s texting me about cute french doors, blissfully picking things out on Pinterest, and excited about her new teal kitchen cabinets.

hire the right team

There were very minimal changes and no surprises. Everything is on budget and on time.

When you work with someone who doesn’t have the experience they often have to drop their rates to secure clients.

Even worse, it can lead to huge time delays, additional payments, and become a real uphill struggle.

I’ll give you one more example.

A woman called me about a garage conversion in Clairemont last week. She had hired a “design-build” firm who had never built an accessory dwelling unit, which was really just a general contractor and a team of subs.

She wanted to convert an attached two car garage and build a one car garage to replace the parking.

He had quoted her $100K for the entire project.

By my calculations, this should have been closer to a $140K project.

Her “design-build” firm couldn’t get the project through permitting. They had already submitted twice.

By the way, each submittal is costly. It’s a lot cheaper to do it right the first time.

Her plans were stuck in limbo and she was calling to see if I could call her “design-build” firm and help them.

I get the temptation to cut corners and go with a cheaper vendor.

When I first bought my condo I didn’t have the budget to do the upgrades I really wanted, so I hired a handyman.

He was a lot cheaper than anyone else I talked to.

Can you guess what happened?

He ruined the install of my flooring… $5,865 down the drain.

I still regret it to this day.

(I also still have crappy flooring)

At the end of the day, your home is probably the largest investment you’ll make in your lifetime. Sometimes, it just costs what it costs and you can’t find the screaming deal you’re hoping for.

Hiring the right team might seem more expensive, but in the end, they will save you from nightmares with the city, unforeseen budget blow-ups, and keep you from tossing and turning at night.

Need some help with your team? It all begins with a free ADU Planning Phone Call. Talk to you soon!