The startup from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia began as an in-house project for Airbnb, but has spun off as an independent company with backing from the short-term rental platform.

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A new venture from an Airbnb co-founder aims to join in on the accessory dwelling unit revolution by making it easier for homeowners to install tiny homes in their backyards. 

Samara, from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia and former Airbnb executive Mike McNamara, will launch first in California, a state that is currently trying to boost its housing stock as it deals with a massive housing crisis, and that recently loosened regulations on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a means of doing so. 

The startup is marketing pre-fabricated, one-bedroom and studio units they’re calling “Backyard” to homeowners, hoping to capitalize off looser regulations on accessory units in the Golden State, and the rise in working from home, which has left some office workers needing more space to work in quiet.

“Work from home at least once per week has fundamentally changed people’s relationship to their home,” Gebbia told the Wall Street Journal. 

The endeavor was born as an internal project within Airbnb in 2016, the result of an effort by the internal innovation team to streamline the experience of designing, buying and building a home. The company saw potential for the project to succeed as a standalone business and spun it off, with Airbnb taking a minority stake. 

Samara, named for the samara fruit, aims to take advantage of loosened regulations on ADUs in California. Starting in 2016, the state passed a series of laws incentivizing new housing building, namely Senate Bill 9 which seeks to curtail single family zoning regulations and allows property owners to divide up their parcels, with California’s law requiring splitters to live on one of the adjoining parcels for at least three years after the change takes place. It also takes away local governments’ and homeowners associations abilities to approve accessory units, though they may have input on their design. 

Image: Samara

The loosening of regulations has had the intended affect — ADU production is skyrocketing in California, with permits increasing from just 1,269 in 2016, to 4,974 in 2017, to 8,900 in 2018 and 14,702 in 2019 and nearly 20,000 in 2021 — an 11 fold increase in just three years according to buildinganadu.com. 

Los Angeles has led the state, accounting for 11,500 of the 26,000 permits filed between 2017 and 2019, according to accessorydwellings.org. 

Samara will face competition, with plenty of other companies racing to get in on the accessory units boom, such as Modal, a Utah-based company that sells compact homes to Californians, and the newly rebranded Yardly, which is planning to launch in the Southwest, but not California, while Gebbia told the Journal he hopes to expand Samara to other states. 

The company will also enter a tough market for new construction, with homebuilder sentiment lower than its been in a decade, with construction costs wracked by inflation and homeowners feeling their budgets stretched as well. 

Prices for Samara homes will range from $299,000 for a 430-square-foot studio unit to $339,000 for a 550-square-foot, one-bedroom unit in the San Francisco area, with slightly cheaper prices in southern California, according to the company.

Both units come with a sleeping area, a kitchen, bathroom, a washer-dryer and storage space. 

Email Ben Verde

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