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A Converted Garage Showed Me There’s an Affordable Way to Add Housing


A Converted Garage Showed Me There’s an Affordable Way to Add Housing

The site of a garage-turned-apartment unit in Santa Clara, California.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

  • I toured a garage that was transformed into a luxe studio apartment in Santa Clara, California. 
  • Rebecca Möller, whose company did the conversion, wants to do the same thing with offices.
  • After seeing how livable the space was, I’m convinced more people will do conversions. 

I learned about Symbihom in March when I spoke with company founder Rebecca Möller, a commercial real-estate veteran who started the company three years ago.

Rebecca Möller in front of a new accessory dwelling unit in Santa Clara.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

Source:Insider

Symbihom transforms garages in the Bay Area into luxury apartments at relatively affordable prices by constructing many parts of the home in a factory. The parts are hauled by truck to the final destination, and assembled.

The site of a garage-turned-apartment unit in Santa Clara, California.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

California is an easier-than-normal place to build units like these because it passed legislation granting homeowners the right to build accessory dwelling units under 1,200-square-feet.

The exterior of one of Symbihom’s garage ADUs in San Jose.
Suszi Lurie McFadden

For comparison purposes, these are photos of one San Jose garage space before and after a Symbihom conversion.

A San Jose garage and the apartment it became.
Rebecca Möller

Möller designed the prefabricated walls that are key to transforming no-frills garages into apartments. The walls are built in a factory and loaded with other parts of the unit into a pod, which is shipped to the final location where assembly takes place.

The pod that Symbihom used to transport prefabricated materials to a project site in Santa Clara.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

Source: Insider

Möller told me she started the company as a way to boost affordable housing in the Bay Area through the transformation of residential garages, and also unused office and retail space. As a reporter who has covered the challenges associated with commercial-to-residential conversions, I was intrigued.

Möller outside the Santa Clara unit toured by Insider.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

So, I decided to tour one of Symbihom’s newly constructed units in Santa Clara, California — a city and technology hub near San Jose. The base cost for converting the garage was $175,000.

The exterior of the garage-turned-luxury studio apartment in Santa Clara.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

The homeowners, Kate McNichols and Kitty Murphy, plan to rent the unit out at an affordable rate to educators who struggle to find adequate housing in the high-priced area.

Kate McNichols in her newly constructed accessory dwelling unit in Santa Clara.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

From my first step inside the unit, I couldn’t believe it had been a garage. Big windows gave the room a bright, welcoming feel versus some dark, no-frills apartment. Even unfurnished, the space felt cozy, not cold like a garage.

These windows were once the garage doors.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

Natural light seemed to pour in every angle. There was even a skylight.

The skylight in the Santa Clara unit. This add-on cost $3,500.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

Swanky lighting installed above the cabinetry made the unit feel warm and homey. Here is the kitchen, situated to the right when you walk in the front door.

The kitchen in the Santa Clara unit.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

While the space was just over 300-square-feet, it felt much larger, and has creative storage solutions like this bureau that doubles as a closet door.

A closet in the unit. This add-on cost $7,500.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

There is also a full suite of amenities, including a small laundry room with a washer and dryer that are shared with the main house.

The laundry room.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

The bathroom was spacious and modern — with a large shower.

The bathroom in the unit.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider

At the end of the tour, I was convinced that if this garage could become a homey apartment in weeks, Symbihom’s process could be a game-changer for office-to-residential conversions that have proven to be difficult and costly. It could be easier for cities with desperate housing needs — like San Francisco — to add housing.

The living and sleeping area of the apartment.
Kelsey Neubauer/Insider



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