Interested in turning an underutilized garage into living space? Here’s your definitive guide to everything you need to know for your garage conversion.

Check out this amazing before/after garage conversion to inspire your project!

Can a garage conversion become a living space?

Yes, your garage conversion can most definitely become a living space!

To legally do this you must convert a garage by turning it into either a guest quarter or an accessory dwelling unit. A guest quarter is a living space that has a bathroom and a wet bar, but no kitchen. These units may not be rented out long term, but can be used by family members or guests.

An accessory dwelling unit, is essentially it’s own fully functional apartment. It has its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom, and living space.

Both guest quarters and an accessory dwelling unit must be located on residential lots that already have a single-family home. Not sure what to choose for your property? Book a free phone consultation with us and we can help you decide!

garage conversion

Do you need planning permission to turn a garage into a room?

Yes, you need planning permission to do nearly any kind of remodeling in your home.

In the case of a garage conversion, you need to conform to building regulations, fire safety, and local zoning codes. The good news for Californians is that any single-family home can convert their garage into an apartment.

A lot of people illegally convert garages into living spaces without complying with the local building code.

Not only is this extraordinarily dangerous for anyone living in an illegal unit, but it’s also dangerous for the homeowner because it leaves them open to lawsuits. Imagine you are renting an illegally converted garage to someone and they start a fire.

Not only are you 100% liable for the damage, but if they injure themselves you are on the hook for their medical bills and leave yourself open to a serious lawsuit.

It’s extremely risky! Check out our article for legalizing an illegal ADU if you already have one on your property.

How much does it cost to convert a garage into an apartment?

Generally, you can expect a garage conversion to cost between $90,000-120,000 if you’re in a major metropolitan area.

Cost varies based on geographic location.

In addition to the hard costs, which would be your construction costs there will be soft costs associated with your project which would include things like design fees, permits, title 24 calculations. See a sample budget below.

garage conversion

Garage Conversion Costs:

Soft Costs: 

  • Design Fees (feasibility study, schematics, CDs): $8,000-$13,000
  • Builder’s Risk Insurance: $2,000
  • Title 24 (Energy Calculations): $250

Hard Costs:

  • Waterproofing, retaining walls, or site work: $2,00-10,000
  • Construction Cost: $70,000-100,000
  • Appliances that are not included: $2,000-$4,000

Fees & Permits:

  • $6,000-15,000

Is that more expensive than you were anticipating? You’re not alone. Not only do people dramatically underestimate the cost of a garage conversion there’s a ton of incorrect information circulating the internet! HomeAdvisor.com lists a garage conversion from $5,986 – $19,163.

Wait. What?

Where are they getting these numbers from? I think the disconnect is people adding flooring, some drywall and throwing a couch in. This does not increase property value and cannot be used as a “habitable” living space.

We’ve helped hundreds of homeowners legally convert their garages into rentable apartments, allowing them to bring in passive rental income and maximize their property.

If you’d like help with a garage conversion or any granny flat project, reach out to us.

Now, before you feel dismayed about the price of things check out the case study below and rejoice!

Does turning a garage into a room add value?

garage conversion

Absolutely! Although there’s a lot of debate on HOW MUCH value it adds.

Let’s look at a case study:

A homeowner in Los Angeles spent 107K on his garage conversion. He ended up expanding the footprint of the existing garage and vaulted the ceilings making it a very stylish and comfortable apartment.

Garage Conversion Cost: 
Structural plans: $3,000
Plan Check and permits: $6,000
Construction, labor, fixtures, and finishes: $98,000
Total budget: $107,000

He now rents this beautiful one-bedroom unit for $1,800 a month. He estimates he will have the whole project paid off in three years. Then he’ll be bringing in an additional 22K a year.

That’s an amazing deposable income!

garage conversion

The greatest ROI from a garage conversion comes from homeowners that plan to own their property long term.

In fact, we’ve calculated that a $100,000 garage conversion that’s rented out long-term brings a 1.5 million dollar investment over a 30-year period. That’s a 15x ROI.

This is assuming that the garage conversion is then rented long-term. This also takes into account an increase in property value as well as inflation.

House flippers see garage conversions as a way to quickly increase property value

In fact, people are so sure that converting a garage into livable space adds value that flippers are starting to look for properties with detached two-car garages and converting the garage as part of the flip of the home.

Since the additional space is now treated as additional square footage it can dramatically increase the price of a home.

In some cases, appraisers may even take an income-based approach to appraise the property. This means they treat it like they would a duplex by determining the fair market rent of each unit based on comparable rents for other properties—how much income can be generated by the property.

Investors are also hungry to get into the ADU game. They see it as a relatively easy way to increase the income of a rental property.

Using a garage conversion to help your family

garage conversion

In addition to generating rental income, some homeowners are interested in converting their garage to help an aging family member.

According to SeniorAdvice.com assisted living costs in California range from around $33 to $300 per day, with an average expense running about $125. The monthly cost averages roughly $3,750 or about $45,600 per year.

Wow! That’s a lot…

Nursing homes are even more expensive. The average cost of a private room in a nursing home in Los Angeles is $9,125 a month or $109,500 a year.

Turning a garage into a living space for an elderly family member still allows them to maintain independence while being able to stay close to the family who can help out. Families with young children often benefit from having grandparents close by to help watch children.

In fact, the number one reason we see people interested in building an accessory dwelling unit (granny flat) is to house an aging family f.

Pro Tips for a Garage Conversion For Aging Family:

  • Research universal design. (Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.)
  • Make doorways wider to accommodate wheelchairs
  • Eliminate thresholds. It can be very difficult to cross thresholds that are even 1/2″ high when using a walker.
  • Keep countertop color and the floor color in high contrast. So if you use a light wood flooring install darker countertops.
  • Avoid shiny high-gloss surfaces

Converting the garage into living space floor plans

Here are some sample garage conversion layouts that are ideal for one-bedroom or studio spaces.

garage conversion site plans

Can you convert a garage into a granny flat?

Yes! In fact, converting your garage into a granny flat is one of the only ways to LEGALLY turn it into living space.

In California, Washington, Portland, Austin, Denver, Boulder and other places across the United States converting an existing permitted structure, like a garage, has never been easier. If you want some advice on your garage conversion download this free guide to get started.

A legal granny flat has a bathroom, living space, it’s own private entrance and a kitchen. Want to learn more about granny flat basics? Check this article out. 

garage conversion

Can you put a bathroom in a garage?

Yes. To legally convert a garage you must turn it into an accessory dwelling unit. By law, an ADU has a bathroom, kitchen, living space and a separate entrance.

What to do with a driveway after a garage conversion?

In most cases, you can leave the driveway as is.

It creates easy access for the renter or family member living in the converted garage. If you want to create some separation from the driveway and the unit you can create a little deck area that gives the occupants access to outdoor space.

This can also make it seem like the converted space is part of the original home design.

garage conversion

Do I need to replace parking with a garage conversion?

Yes! In California, if you convert a garage you must replace the parking that you turned into living space.

So if you converted a two-car garage you must replace two parking places somewhere on your property.

Lucky for you, the driveway can count towards your parking requirement. Different cities have different requirements for a parking spot, but generally, it’s a 9×18.5′ space that’s been hardscaped, meaning it can’t be dirt.

Another good piece of news, parking can be tandem in the driveway. So you can leave the driveway as is.

How To Hire A Great Contractor

Cheapest ways to convert a garage:

  • Stay within the existing building envelope. If you start tearing down load-bearing walls your costs will go up quickly.
  • Use Craigslist to find used appliances.
  • Check your local Habitat for Humanity Resell shop.
  • Make sure to get several general contracting bids. The bid should enumerate everything that’s included as well as a scope of work. Review this carefully.
  • Do some of the finishing work yourself. Putting sweat equity can save money on a project. Just remember you’re often trading cost/time. A professional can generally do the work faster and more efficiently than you can. So what’s your time worth?

It’s tempting to cut corners on a project like this, but remember that your home is the largest investment you’ll make in your lifetime and you get what you pay 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.

Can we help you get started on a project? Reach out for a free consultation