The Airbnb co-founder’s new business is building small houses in backyards

Samara is starting first in California, one of the states trying to increase its housing supply by easing restrictions on secondary housing units. The modest residences are on the same lot as a single-family home and can be as little as 150 square feet in California. The state now allows homeowners to build ADUs in their backyard, even though the homeowners association forbids it.

Airbnb was founded during the 2008 financial crisis and thrived during the Covid-19 pandemic. WSJ’s Preetika Rana and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky share an insight into the success of the home-sharing giant and what the future may hold for the company. Photo: Lucas Guilkey

The company, which takes its name from the samara fruit, hopes to eventually expand beyond California. It’s bet that the worsening housing shortage and rising popularity of remote work will increase the need for ADUs.

Unable to afford their own homes, more Americans are moving into converted garages or guest houses, and multi-generational households are on the rise. Meanwhile, people working from home are more likely to need extra space away from noisy kids and other distractions.

“Working from home at least once a week has fundamentally changed the way people relate to their home,” Mr Gebbia said.

One of Airbnb’s co-founders is behind the startup Samara, which will sell factory-made accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

The company is betting that the increasing housing shortage and increasing popularity of remote work will increase the need for ADUs.


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Starting prices for Samara’s line of ADUs, called Backyard, range from $299,000 for 430-square-foot studios to $339,000 for 550-square-foot one-bedroom units in the San Francisco Bay Area, with slightly lower prices for homes in Southern California. said the company.

Mr. Gebbia, who co-founded the company with Mike McNamara, former CEO of electronics manufacturer Flex GmbH.

, said the units will be built in factories by a modular construction company. Samara will design and market them. It will also process applications for building permits and installation. The customizable homes are equipped with solar panels on the roof that provide all the electricity needs of the unit.

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Samara isn’t the first company to bring these tiny homes to market, and faces competition, especially in California. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the state issued nearly 20,000 building permits for ADUs in 2021, up from 12,520 in 2019 and just 1,160 in 2016.

Samara also faces a challenging economic environment. Building costs are high by historical standards, while inflation, rising interest rates and a sluggish housing market are affecting homeowners’ purchasing power.

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia became interested in ADUs after he wanted to build one on a lot but found the possibilities underwhelming.


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PHOTO: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg News

Mr. Gebbia, 41, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design before becoming roommates with Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky in San Francisco in 2007. The housemates quit their jobs that year and founded the short-term rental company in 2008.

Mr. Gebbia became interested in ADUs as he wanted to build one on his land but did not find the options compelling. “That was a tiny seed planted, you might say, through personal frustration,” he said.

Samara started in 2016 as Airbnb’s research and design division. Mr Gebbia said he began working with Mr McNamara on the ADU concept when he was with the short term rental company. “It got to the point where we both realized this had to be an independent company. So we moved out of Airbnb earlier this year,” he said.

In July, Mr. Gebbia announced that he was leaving his full-time position at Airbnb. Samara is now an independent startup, although Airbnb owns a minority stake, according to Gebbia.

Write to Konrad Putzier at [email protected]

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