Many cities across California are recognizing the desperate need for ADUs in the midst of the state’s housing crisis. To help get those hammers working, some are rolling out pre-approved ADU plans. 

While we can appreciate the efforts these cities are putting in towards boosting ADUs, they’re going about it the wrong way.

What are pre-approved ADU plans?

Pre-approved ADU plans are designs created by select few architects or even city staff that have already gone through part of the permitting process. Despite being designed by local architects, they are owned by the city. 

They are typically free, so they supposedly cut down on the overall cost of building an ADU. Plus, you don’t have to go through the long permitting process and run the risk of having a minor mistake that could elongate the process. 

Sounds great right? Not quite. 

Why do they fall short?

These cities rolling out these initiatives have the right mindset and we commend the effort, but the execution needs some work. 

First, have you wondered why you’re getting these designs, that would typically cost thousands of dollars, almost completely free? It’s partly because you’re not getting the professional insight and support of the architect who designed it.  

When you hire an experienced vetted designer, you’re not just getting the designs to your ADU. You’re also getting:

  • The opportunity to brainstorm with your designer
  • A completely customized design fit to your property
  • Professional oversight
  • Hands-free permitting process (your designer should handle all of that)
  • Liability free process (again, your designer takes on all liability)

Join us for a Home Evaluation to find out what our team of experienced designers can do for your project. 

Not as easy as they look

These cities rolling out these plans will boast that you’ll save a tremendous amount of time and money with these pre-approved plans, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, you’ll probably be wasting more of your time and budget. 

Think about it. Every single scenario, homeowner, lot, etc is going to be different. The probability that one of those pre-approved plans is going to fit your needs is extremely low. 

What if you want to make some minor adjustments to the design? Good luck tracking down a designer that’s willing to take on the task & liability for someone else’s design. 

Any respectable designer isn’t going to want to redesign someone else’s work which means you’ll get stuck with a designer that only cares about the money and likely doesn’t have the experience of designing a smaller space. 

Plus, as soon as you make any changes to the pre-approved plan, it’s no longer a pre-approved plan! That means you’ll have to go through the whole permitting process for a mediocre design that you’re not even 100 percent happy about. 

pre approved adu plans

There’s also a common misconception with pre-approved plans that you can walk into a planning department, pick a plan from their library, and walk out that same day with a permit. 

As much as we’d love for this to be true, it’s unfortunately not that easy. 

There are still title 24 calculations, site plans, and much more to be done, and that’s even if you find a suitable design.

Luckily, you don’t have to go about it alone. Talk to our phone team in a free consultation to learn about the next steps for your ADU. 

Where pre-approved ADU plans have failed

Santa Cruz was one of the first cities to try taking on this type of initiative.

They only invited seven architects which cut out a large portion of the architect market. This also greatly limited the types of plans that are available.

The result? A commemorable attempt, but no cigar. The limited designs just couldn’t catch the attention of eager homeowners. In fact, they were used less than five times over a period of years.

Encinitas tried to follow suit with its Permit-Ready Accessory Dwelling Units Program (PRADU). However, this time they had a grand total of only two architects. Each architecture firm created four unit types: a studio, a one-bedroom, a two-bedroom, and a three-bedroom thus creating a library of 8 designs. 

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a very large variety. 

For both of these cities, the motivation was in the right place. Unfortunately, too many limitations were in place to see any considerable improvements to the ADU market. 

pre approved adu plans

Who’s doing it right?

San Jose has obviously been taking notes. 

Several months ago, San Jose announced its ADU Pre-Approved Master Plan. It follows a similar path of Santa Cruz and Encinitas, but they made a minor adjustment. Rather than just showcasing the plans and having homeowners simply pick one, they’re actually posting the architects and designers that have the pre-approved plans in a library on their website. Homeowners will have to contact the architect to get access to these plans.

This way, homeowners will still have the counsel and expertise of the designer while also cutting back on design fees and costs with the city. It’s a much more respectful approach for the designers too than just signing away their designs to the city. 

It’s a win-win situation. 

Mayor Liccardo expects this initiative will boost ADU building to 5,000 units in five years. This will provide a huge relief to many San Jose residents. 

“We have teachers, nurses, college students, seniors, first responders, and so many others desperate to find an affordable place to rent. And at the same time, we have thousands of homeowners interested in creating affordable rental options. The city can and must act as a catalyst to speed up construction of these new units,” Liccardo said.

Since 2016, the City has gone from processing 40 applications each year to more than 40 applications each month –a 1,500% increase. A recent poll also indicated that more than 30% of San José homeowners are interested in building a backyard home, or converting a garage or a part of their home for rental use

You can read more about San Jose’s ADU friendly initiatives here. 

pre approved adu plans