By Meghan Hall
In recent years, accessory dwelling units–or ADUs, for short–have become increasingly popular in land-constrained and competitive real estate markets as renters look for inexpensive units and property owners look to make some extra money. However, the amount of red tape surrounding the permitting, funding and construction of an ADU can be incredibly challenging, especially for those tackling an ADU project for the first time. The Registry spoke with Caitlin Bigelow, founder of platform Maxable, which seeks to streamline the ADU process.
What is Maxable, and how is the platform designed to ease the ADU construction process?
Maxable is a platform that connects homeowners with the tools and resources they need to build an ADU or granny flat – from start to finish. We offer property evaluations and site consultations, design services, vendor management and more.
I founded Maxable in 2018 after realizing just how daunting the process can be for homeowners, so we simplify and streamline the process for them.
One of the most challenging aspects is finding quality general contractors who are reliable, competitive in cost, have availability and are knowledgeable about ADUs. We have curated a network of great contractors and make personalized recommendations for each homeowner based on their project, goals and budget. We also help interpret the bids homeowners receive from contractors since there is no standardization across the industry of what’s included in a contract – making it hard to compare final costs across the board. These two services alone save homeowners countless hours in the research and planning phases of their projects.
From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing the ADU industry to-date?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve overcome is the regulations. Legislation prior to 2017 made it virtually impossible for California homeowners to build ADUs – both in terms of the regulatory barriers and the financial barriers. Permit costs alone were so exorbitant that most homeowners couldn’t even afford to get the process started.
While things are easier now, the cost of raw building materials has gone up. Cost continues to be a barrier for homeowners.
Historically, why has it been so difficult to build ADUs in places like California–and beyond?
Regulations and cost have always been the biggest challenges. There also is not a lot of flexibility in financing, and these are expensive projects. Historically, only homeowners who have the cash on-hand or have enough equity are the ones building. Those who do not qualify for financing options are simply not going to be able to build, which is unfortunate when you think about the role ADUs can play increasing affordable housing and uplifting disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Can you talk about how the platform works?
We’re working to provide all the planning, tools and resources homeowners need to become confident in their projects, then connect them to the services and vendors that will best complete their project. It’s all about streamlining and simplifying the process.
Typically, a homeowner finds us through an online search when they’re looking for information on how to get started on their project. While on the Maxable platform, they can browse our free tools – including a project cost estimator, free design ideas, and information about local regulations – or sign up for a free consultation with one of our experts to get personalized recommendations. They can also sign up for one of our paid services, which includes an ADU Master Class that helps homeowners dive in deep into the world of ADU construction, as well as a Site Evaluation where we send a Maxable consultant to walk through their property and talk about their various options for building an ADU.
If they are ready to move forward after a Site Evaluation, homeowners can then choose to get Maxable’s help securing a lender to finance the project; hiring a designer or opt to use Maxable’s in-house design team; and finding and managing a general contractor to lead construction.
What feature do you believe is most beneficial to users? Why?
Our general contractor matching is a huge part of the process. With so much money on the line, hiring the wrong builder can have catastrophic financial consequences for homeowners. The same goes for finding the right designer. While design costs are a much smaller portion of your budget, if an ADU is designed incorrectly, it can hinder permitting – putting the entire project at risk of not getting off the ground.
How many clients has Maxable served? Does Maxable have any data on how much time/money/ROI it has saved/earned its clients?
We have done more than 800 site evaluations to date, and that increases every month – with hundreds of projects in progress right now. Those combined with everyone who has accessed Maxable’s free resources and tools puts our numbers served in the thousands.
With everything you need to know under one URL, Maxable helps homeowners save hundreds of hours per project – on planning, research and hiring. Our ever-expanding network of vendors offers a one-stop shop to find lenders to pull quotes from, designers who specialize in ADUs and vetted general contractors who will help get the job done right.
How do you see the ADU industry evolving in the coming years? What are you most excited about?
We are really excited to see eased ADU regulations expand outside of California. More than 50 major U.S. cities have adopted their own ADU ordinances thus far. We would love to see more legislation passed at the state level as well, like what’s being proposed in New York.
What are Maxable’s plans for growth? What steps is Maxable taking to ensure its success in not just the CRE industry, but the technology industry?
Right now, we are focused on scaling up the services we offer and expanding our capacity within California. We will look into bringing our services to other markets and territories after that.
We are adding more online tools and resources through our platform that allow homeowners to manage their projects in a more streamlined way. At the end of the day, Maxable was created to make it easier for people to do this kind of complicated, expensive undertaking – and we’re leveraging technology to be able to do that.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything we should be asking?
As a general starting point for people who are interested in starting an ADU project, make sure you go into it with a realistic understanding of your budget and what you can afford to do. I also always encourage homeowners to add at least 10% more to their budget as a contingency. Because we all know that in the world of construction, the unexpected is bound to happen.
Pair that with a general understanding of the regulations you have to work within and what your rights are as a homeowner, and you’re in a good place to get a project started. Maxable has a lot of resources built out to help people with all this – and more!