Conversion of El Cerrito garage to living space

I have a ramshackle 2-story garage permitted as R-2 by the City of El Cerrito.  I am interested in converting it into a separate dwelling unit, but don't know where to start.  Budget is an issue.  A friend suggested that a designer might be more cost-effective than an architect.  I'm seeking recommendations for designers, architects and/or contractors to consider for this project as well as any advice from people who have successfully converted a detached garage in El Cerrito (or elsewhere) into living space.  Thanks!

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You can call City Hall and ask for names (not recommendations, they can't do that) of architects who have recently gotten approval for similar conversions. I don't think it's a piece of cake.

Great advice HERE. One thought about trying to do anything without permits: PHOTOS, PHOTOS, PHOTOS! If you run a little water copper plumbing, or install a water heater, read up on codes, make your own work isto code, and take a "story book of photos of your work." That way, if your local building inspector gets interested in your work, you have proof of your efforts to meet code standards.,, (The truth of the matter is that many codes exist for a legit reason. For example, code-distance between stair upright posts, are a little less than the diameter of a baby's head, thus keeping your baby's head safe from getting caught between stair upright posts. Yeaaa! Again : Photos (plus, according to my Dad, a builder 50 Years ago... A small case of Jack Daniel's...... Worked every time!!!) :-) Good will to all!!!


I'm in the same boat and would love advice as well.