Four Questions to Ask Before Building a Prefab Home in Los Angeles

Building in Los Angeles can be notoriously difficult. Everything from navigating the permitting process to dealing with construction on your property can be extraordinarily stressful and time-consuming.

One way to minimize this headache is to utilize a prefab home builder rather than a conventional general contractor. When building a prefab home or guest house, you get predictable project costs, significantly less construction time on site, and the convenience of fewer contractors for the job. In fact, some prefab companies (like Cover) handle the entire building process. That means design, permitting, site work, manufacturing of the home itself, installation of the home, and full project management are all handled by the same company.

If you're interested in learning about building a prefab home or guest house in Los Angeles, this article will give you an overview of how to evaluate whether prefab is right for you, how to get started with the process, and how to select the right prefab company.

This article will answer four questions:

  • What is a prefab home?
  • Is building prefab a good investment?
  • When is prefab right for me?
  • How should I compare different prefab manufacturers?

What is a prefab home?

A prefabricated home is built inside of a factory prior to arriving on your property. Most homes built today are not prefabricated, but rather stick-built, meaning they are built on-site sequentially after a foundation and other site work is complete.

Conventional Stick-built 3 bed 2 bath. Construction time: 12-18 months.

Average stick-built home construction in Los Angeles takes 15-22 months to complete. This includes 3-4 months for the city to issue permits and 12-18 months to build. One reason this approach takes so long is because you can't start building the home until you finish its foundation. Prefabricated homes, on the other hand, can be built in parallel with any site work that needs to be completed. While the foundation is being poured and electrical hookups are being done, a prefabricated home can be manufactured and partially assembled in an off-site factory. In-factory manufacturing is also far more predictable and efficient, and significantly reduces problems with weather and labor availability.

Is building prefab a good investment?

Prefab can be a great investment assuming you build the right type of prefab home, ADU, or guest house.

There are two broad categories of prefabricated homes: manufactured homes and factory-built homes. The former applies, in general, to mobile homes. Like most other assets, mobile homes depreciate in value the moment they are driven off the manufacturing line, just like cars do. They also are built to lower-quality regulatory standards than factory-built homes.

In contrast, factory-built prefabricated homes retain and appreciate in value just like conventional homes. They are permanent structures attached to a foundation and are bought and sold along with the land on which they’re built. These homes are built to the same environmental, safety, and durability standards as conventionally-built homes. All Cover units are factory-built homes and appreciate in a similar manner to your primary residence.

A Cover backyard ADU in Los Angeles

When is prefab right for me?

We’re asked this question frequently at Cover, and found that fully managed prefab is a good solution for people who want:

  • A high-quality, custom-built structure without the headaches of conventional construction
  • A guaranteed, fixed price before any construction begins
  • Contractors to spend as little time as possible on your site
  • To avoid managing teams of contractors, designers, architects, and builders.

How should I compare different prefab manufacturers?

Prefab homes vary widely in their quality and versatility. Depending on your needs and your property’s unique characteristics, certain prefab manufacturers may be totally unsuitable for you. To figure out if this is the case, consider the following:

  • Your property requirements
  • Degree of customization desired
  • Other services included in the project (e.g. foundation and site work)
  • Design + Quality
  • Budget

Your property requirements

Some properties are not suited for certain prefab manufacturers. For example, properties that have challenging access issues like steep hillsides, power lines, or high tree lines won't be able to accommodate a prefab manufacturer that requires a large crane to lift and drop their modules.

If your property has challenging access issues, you may need to select a prefab manufacturer that uses a modular, panelized system.  These systems allow for easier transportation and assembly on your property without the use of a large crane, which can be $5,000 or more to rent per day and requires special permits. They are also advantageous because they can be used to create any layout and floor plan you desire.

To quickly engineer, assemble, and transport our homes, Cover utilizes a proprietary panelized system for all of our units. This drastically cuts down on on-site assembly time and mitigates the need for heavy machinery during installation. Once a foundation is in place, Cover units can be installed in as little as 1 week.

Degree of customization required

Most prefab manufacturers have a fixed set of pre-designed models that you can choose from. If you need to create a different layout than what the manufacturer offers, for example if you wish to add more windows than they currently have, this will require a design change. These design changes are usually done on a per-project basis and therefore significantly inflate the unit’s cost.

If you want a prefab home that meets your personal needs and is tailored to your property, a prefab system that is fully customizable by design (like Cover’s) will be a much better fit.

Cover’s panelized building system allows us to create almost any design you can imagine. Here are a few possibilities.

Other services included in the project

Building an ADU, guest house, or backyard home isn't just about the unit itself. The foundation, electrical, and plumbing (known collectively as the site work), must also be top-notch in order to avoid serious and expensive issues down the road.

Here are some key questions to help you understand any site work risks your project might have:

  • Who will be performing, managing, and taking accountability for the site work? Will the prefab builder be responsible, or will you need to coordinate that yourself?
  • Is the site work cost included in your quotes? Or is it separate?
  • Will the project require any demolition? For example, will an existing garage have to be removed?  If so, who will take care of it?

Some prefab companies will provide you with only the structure itself, leaving it up to you to figure out permitting, foundation work, utility hook-ups, and sometimes even transportation and installation.

At Cover we handle the entire build process including design, permitting, demolition (if necessary), foundations, utility hook-ups, manufacturing of the unit itself, transportation, installation, and full project management along the way.

Design + Quality

All prefab companies make specific aesthetic and functional design choices. When choosing a prefab manufacturer, be sure to understand not just the what, but the why behind what you see or are shown. Be conscious of the functional design choices that a builder makes. Layout, material choices, and finish details all impact the look, feel, durability, and utility of your home.

For example, a great layout can maximize livable space in a small footprint.  It can make 400 square feet feel like 600, or 750 square feet feel like 1000. Material selection is also important: Is the structural framing made of wood or steel? What are the insulative materials? How are the window frames made? These can impact the structural stability, longevity, comfort, and overall energy consumption of your new prefab ADU or home. Is the structure designed to be easily maintainable, or will you need specialty tools or skills to install wiring or even do basic cleaning?

Cover uses only the best available materials for our units.  These materials are selected for their beauty, longevity, sustainability, and maintainability.

Here are some of the features that make Covers some of the highest quality prefab buildings available:

  1. Precision-made - Precision manufactured ceiling, floor, and wall panels fit perfectly together with essentials like cabinetry, kitchen, and bathroom fixtures for a cohesive and modern look.
  2. 100% steel frame construction - Incredibly strong, lightweight, termite-proof, mold-resistant, and fire-resistant
  3. Top shelf appliances - We only use the highest quality, longest lasting appliances in our kitchens and bathrooms. From Wolf Sub-Zero refrigerators, to Kohler faucets and wall-mounted toilets.
  4. Bamboo built-in storage and cabinetry - Bamboo is an incredibly strong, long-lasting, and durable material and has been proven to be harder than both cherry and oak.
  5. Embedded track lighting - Our recessed track lighting system creates a beautiful minimal ceiling surface, while ensuring pleasant natural illumination across your home. And the LED fixtures save you 80% on lighting costs compared to traditional incandescent bulbs.

A Cover Kitchen with Wolf Sub-Zero Appliances

Budget & Timeline

Construction projects are notoriously unpredictable in both budget and timeline. To avoid cost and time overages, be sure to thoroughly question any quotes that are provided to you. Here are a few important questions to ask when reviewing a quote:

  • Is this quote 100% fixed upon contract signing, or do I have to worry about contingencies?
  • What is included in this quote? Just the unit?  Or is permitting, site work, and project management included as well?  Does this quote include fixtures, finishes, and appliances?
  • Is transportation, delivery, and assembly included in this quote?
  • Who is responsible for overages if the quote estimate is inaccurate?

The only effective solution to these problems is to use a fully managed, turnkey solution like the one Cover offers. Designing, managing, and building the units all under one roof guarantees that we stay on budget and stay on time, and make construction easy for you.

***

While it’s true that building in Los Angeles can be a headache, it doesn't have to be.  If you build your prefab home in Los Angeles with Cover, you can enjoy more predictable project costs, less time on site, and a beautiful, long-lasting structure.

As the only prefab manufacturer based in Los Angeles that is focused on ADUs and backyard studios, we pride ourselves on our design, permitting, and building expertise.

Whether you’re ready to build or just starting to look, we’re here to help.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email [email protected]

About Cover:

Cover’s mission is to make thoughtfully designed and well-built homes for everyone. We’re doing this by developing a ground up approach to home building that’s powered by software and advanced manufacturing methods more common in industries like aerospace.

We handle every step of the construction process, including the design, permitting, manufacturing, installation, site work, fixtures, finishes, and project management. With Cover, you get one point of contact, incredible customer service, and a fixed price guarantee. We're currently building custom prefab homes and studios in Los Angeles.

If you live in Los Angeles and want custom prefab studio designs for your property, start here.

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In future posts we'll address more detailed topics like steel frame construction vs. traditional wood frame, climate control systems, accessory dwelling units, how building a guest house may (or may not) impact your property taxes, permitting, and many other questions that many of our clients have. If you're interested in these topics, sign-up for our newsletter.