Tips for estimating construction costs, getting accurate bids and completing a no-surprise project

After completing an 840 sq ft ADU (rental cottage), I thought I would share what I learned. In addition to the tips below, I have 2 pages of recommendations. Email me at

1. Call your contractor’s recommended geotech soils company immediately to find out how long it will take to get a site soils test (for construction, not fire clean-up), and how long it takes to get the report back. (try to get a guarantee) Results affect plans, foundation, and engineering. Companies are booked out.

2. Does architects’ services and estimate include coordination with engineer and what might engineering costs be?

3. Does architect order and pay for mandated energy reports (Title 24, Cal Green, etc)?

4. Are sprinklers mandated for your remodel or new construction? Get it in writing from city if not. A 2nd unit may not be mandated if main home does not have them.

5. Ask contractor about sprinkler manufacturer. See Sac Bee story about faulty sprinklers causing havoc in one neighborhood.

6. Research mandated materials for roof, siding, windows, if applicable (fire resistance).

7. Get ALL discussions about materials and agreements in writing, or at least an email confirmation from your contractor.

8. PERMITS: city, county, water, sewer, school ‘impact’ fees. Research before you start. I received a $12,000 surprise permit bill from Sonoma county at the end of my project, for sanitary district ‘infrastructure’. And Marin residents don’t realize that even for a remodel, they may need to test and replace the sewer line.

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