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How to build a home in San Jose in just 12 weeks

South Bay city added one unit of housing in record time

Small home clad in vertical wood paneling.
A typical Abodu display home.
Photos courtesy of Koto

The city of San Jose just added a single new unit of housing, a one-bed, one-bath in-law unit measuring 500 square feet in the backyard of a house on Fourth Street.

What’s remarkable about this is not necessarily the home itself, but how long it took to build—or maybe how long it didn’t take. The construction time came in at just twelve weeks, and the permitting took a mere one day. In terms of Bay Area housing development, blink and you missed it.

Two things helped homeowner Jeff Thompson beat the clock—the first being that the newly installed unit is a prefabricated home created by Abodu, a Redwood City-based startup that specializes in $200,000 backyard accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that look a little like rustic box cars, and the second being the swift permitting process.

The company cites Scandinavian design influences and markets a “timeless aesthetic.” According to Curbed, the company used U.K. design studio Koto to create the home’s look, including the lightly charred timber and distinctive cocked-angle roof.

But the big selling point of Abodu homes (other than their sleek look) is that the company will handle the entire permitting process for you, in a matter of mere hours if you build in San Jose.

A crane lowering a long, rectangular home to the ground in one piece.
Installing the new home on Fourth Street.
Courtesy Abodu

That’s made possible by San Jose’s pre-approved ADUs program, a city initiative that started up in August, but until now has never been used to build a home.

Under these rules, San Jose can give advance approval to in-laws that conform to specific layouts designed by companies like Abodu or competitor Prefab ADU (currently the only two pre-approved city vendors) and abide by a few other basic rules.

Between the two companies, homeowners can create new units in days or weeks instead of months or years. In fact, Abodu claims this is likely the fastest ADU production in city history.

Though it took nearly six months for the policy to pay off, company cofounder John Geary says he hopes that the attention from this first home will spur more attention—and purchases.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo showed up to the unveiling of the new Thompson residents on Thursday; in a statement, he called the process an “option that adds critically-needed units” to the city fast.

In January, the San Jose City Council also approved new rules that allow owners of previously illegal in-laws to come clean and get permits for existing ADUs sans punishment for their previous scofflaw ways. The city is also pondering a loan program for such homes.