ADU Pricing in San Diego - What you need to know

If you made it this far, it is safe you assume you are seriously considering adding an accessory dwelling unit onto your property. And, like any responsible property owner, you are probably pretty curious about how this decision will affect you financially. There are a number of factors that go into pricing an ADU.

What factors affect ADU prices?

ADU costs can be divided into six main categories: design & engineering, site work, vertical building construction, permits & fees, solar, and additional site-specific costs. You can learn more about these types of costs on our ADU costs page, as the rest of this article covers how we handle pricing ADUs.

Why are ADU prices volatile?

Many of the cost elements are highly susceptible to change based on market dynamics, especially in the post-COVID era of supply chain irregularities and labor shortages. Sharp increases in building costs, as well as a shortage of materials, has been plaguing nearly every industry since the spring of 2020. We’re facing unprecedented volatility. This is a very unique position, and one that few industries have ever experienced.

Additionally, we are also experiencing unprecedented demand for accessory dwelling units due to favorable state regulations & changes in the way families wish to live. There is simply not enough capacity to serve this need to build ADUs, both at the contractor level and the subcontractor level. To keep consistent & quality workers on our jobs, we are simply paying more for labor.

Is the price of my ADU going to change over the course of designing, permitting & building it?

We know you don’t want to be surprised by price increases and we try to avoid that as much as possible. At the same time, construction prices are volatile and we cannot build projects at a loss, which is why we do sometimes have to make the tough decision to increase our prices.

We frequently update our build prices online to account for the latest material & labor prices. So when you sign a proposal, the price is what we could build that ADU for today given our current pricing information.

We make every attempt to keep our clients apprised of any changes in price as a result of any design decisions, site conditions, and any major shifts we see as a result of market conditions.

How does the pricing structure work with Snap ADU?

We have integrated three points of communication about price into our processes to ensure we keep you updated on the cost to build your ADU.

  • 1st checkpoint: Initial sales proposal. This will get you a ballpark budgetary construction cost so you can have an idea of how much the job will cost. At this point, we do our best to give you visibility on the potential additional sitework costs that could apply to your project. However, we won’t have detailed site information yet, so this pricing is subject to change as feasibility studies and the construction documents are completed. At the point of signing the proposal, we do guarantee pricing for Phases 1 & 2 of your build, which includes the design and permitting.
  • 2nd checkpoint: Feasibility report. At this point, we have reviewed your project and completed an initial assessment of your property. This gives us- and you- a clearer picture of what site constraints we will need to work around, such as need for grading, utility upgrades, and other factors. It will also include design feedback, in case the original plan needs to be edited at all.
  • 3rd checkpoint: “GMAX” construction contract. After we receive revisions from the city, we are better able to control the remaining timeline until breaking ground. It is at this time that we are able to commit to a fixed price for the ADU sitework and construction. This is what we call our guaranteed construction price maximum or “GMAX.”

If you are uncomfortable with waiting for this final pricing exercise, one option would be to ask for “price assurance” at the time of your proposal. This option is presented on a case-by-case basis and we can typically offer price assurance at a 15-20% premium on the build cost. In exchange for you paying this premium on the build cost, you are locking in your pricing at the time of moving forward with SnapADU, meaning we will take on the risk of any subsequent material cost increases over the 4-8 month process of designing & permitting your ADU.

Additionally, the longer it takes to get a shovel in the ground, the more chance that pricing goes up. This is yet another reason we prefer to work with our build-ready standard plans. This is also why we manage our permitting process in-house vs. using third parties to work with the city on our behalf; we’ve simply found that we care more and consequently get plans through permitting faster so we can get to your build.

How can I keep the cost of my ADU down and improve predictability? Use build-ready plans.

When designing a detached accessory dwelling unit, there are a number of different ways you can go about design and construction. ADU plans can be broken up into several different categories, each with its own pros, cons, and costs.

Pre-approved plans.
Certain jurisdictions have put together predesigned ADUs that are about 80% of a complete set of plans. These attempt to streamline the ADU process for homeowners by offering a design off-the-shelf. While pre-approved plans are appealing in concept, these plans typically don’t offer a savings of time or money as compared with other options, plus leave homeowners stuck unable to make changes. If you are curious about pre-approved plans, check out our blog post outlining pre-approved plans from the County of San Diego and the City of Encinitas in more detail.

SnapADU standard plans.
SnapADU offers a set of build-ready plans that we have designed to be the most time and cost-efficient design for homeowners. Our design team has created these plans specifically to ensure their building efficiency, using “value engineering” to shave off what we’ve found to be unnecessary costs in features that don’t affect the livability or stability of the unit (e.g. using truss systems, using standard size doors & windows, combining wet walls). Check out our SnapADU plans.

Semi-custom plans.
You can modify any of the SnapADU standard plans to ensure you are happy with the design you have chosen. Modifying will potentially add on an extra cost to your ADU, depending on the type of changes you are looking to make. Modifications come in three different types, all of which you can find in our design policy.

There are a few ways you can modify your ADU plan. “Standard modifications” do not incur any design fees, though there may be some material costs. “Custom modifications” will add on additional fees for design, labor, and material. They are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to ensure these changes are feasible options for your ADU. Finally, “referred modifications” involve modification requests that we will refer out to a qualified vendor to either design, build, or both.

Full custom plan.
This will be the highest-cost option, as custom plans are incredibly technical and involve designing an ADU from scratch. While this offers a lot of freedom in regard to your ADU design, it also corners you into using exclusively custom finishes. For example, a custom shower will likely require a custom shower head, custom tiling, and so on, as opposed to an off-the-shelf shower and finishes. This adds up quickly, which is worth noting before entertaining the idea of a custom ADU.

Why are custom plans more expensive than standard plans?

There are several reasons that choosing a custom ADU plan vs a SnapADU build-ready standard plan is more expensive.

Design time & cost. Starting on a custom design will entail many more hours of a draftsman’s time to produce. Our design policy spells out how much custom changes will cost, starting at $2500 for significant changes.

Custom sizes & elements. Custom designs that utilize many sizes of windows and doors will have higher material and labor costs, as well as more uncertainty on lead times for materials, which can cause delays. Conversely, in standard plans, we use sizes that we know are typically available to reduce costs and potential delays if we, for instance, have a window broken in transit. Standard size materials are simply cheaper to acquire, but don’t affect the livability (think about the difference in a 48” window vs a 52” window). With custom plans, we are sourcing just one or two of most items. With our standard plans, we are sourcing dozens if not hundreds of the same doors and windows, which means we have stronger buying power to get you a better price.

Management time. Highly custom designs and material selections simply take more manual intervention in our processes. We’ve tried to automate as much of the ADU design/build process as we can so that we can offer a high quality product at a compelling price. Once we start deviating from this norm, our team must get involved in more one-off tasks, such as sourcing material or verifying that unique setups will work. This simply takes time and therefore has a cost.

To keep costs down, we urge you to consider using a standard or semi-custom plan. We understand that full-custom is the only option for some situations, for instance on a challenging lot where the space & grading constraints necessitate it. We are happy to advise on what is possible on your lot and we will provide referrals if we are not the right fit. Contact us for a free consultation.