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Tips on How to Maneuver Through the Permitting Process

So, it’s time to do something about your small and dated kitchen or worn out bathroom. How do you turn your dream into a reality? How to avoid the nightmares you’ve heard about? The process is often like a roller coaster, where the ride is both terrifying and thrilling, with lots of ups and downs and never knowing what’s around the corner. Here are a few tips to make the ride a bit smoother when navigating the permit process: 1. Keep it Simple If you want it fast and affordable, stay within the existing building envelope. Going up or out adds significant costs and delays in plan approval. Rearranging interior spaces and upgrading finishes results in an “Advance to Go” card without landing on Boardwalk. 2. Learn the Rules If you must add on, first talk to a City Planner to see if you can add floor area. Confirm you’re planning in conformance with City codes. Avoid variances if you can. 3. Start with Accurate Plans Get a Topographical Survey if you’re building on even a slight slope and a Boundary Survey if you’re building near a property line. Have accurate drawings prepared of the existing conditions. 4. Talk to Your Neighbor Before investing in planning, talk to your neighbors about what you have in mind. If you want to go up, climb on your roof and see who’s looking over it. Look out their windows to confirm you won’t block views or sunlight, or create privacy problems. Ignoring your neighbor’s needs is one of best ways to get bogged down in the approval process, plus create bad feelings that are hard to mend. 5. Get Some Help If you’re new at this, consider retaining the services of an Architect or design professional, because it’s painful to learn the hard way. They can help you plan an optimum layout, guide you through the process and prepare the drawings for a Building Permit and for your builder. Check with a structural engineer if you’re removing walls to be sure they aren’t holding something up or stiffening your building against wind and earthquake forces. If you need help, choose your team well. If you select the right Architect and Contractor, chances are your project will go well. Get one of these two wrong, and you’re likely to have a problem. Get references, visit their office, speak to their recent clients, and go see their work. 6. Avoid Cutting Corners Remember the five P’s? Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. The money you spend up front planning your project will give you more control of the larger dollar amounts when building it. 7. Do Your Homework Be clear on what you want. Clip pictures of things you like, or better, go to websites like and tag your favorites. Visit showrooms to see what’s out there. Write your goals down. Always communicate in writing, because it’s miscommunication where things usually go haywire. Have your attorney review all contracts before signing. Along with your written goals, include your budget for everything, including fees. Provide 3 numbers; a lower, preferred cost, a higher cost you could live with, and a third, not-to-exceed figure. Know it will cost more than you expect or what you’re told – it always does. 8. Friend or Foe City Officials quickly separate the pirates from the good guys who play by the rules. Be the latter. They’ll work with you and be more helpful if you are. It matters who you talk to, because some officials are more knowledgeable and helpful. Ask around whom’s the best to work with and then ask for that person by name. Keep them in the loop as things change. 9. The Finish Line Besides insuring that the required inspections are accomplished during the course of construction, be sure you get the Building Permit officially finalized. Otherwise, the unfinished process could come back to haunt you or a future buyer. The best advice is be thorough at each step, be patient but determined, and keep your sense of humor. Listen to your intuition, because if things aren’t right, they’ll only get worse, not better, if you don’t take prompt action. For some, the process is a nightmare, for others, it’s a joy. Your decisions along the way determine which experience you’ll have. When it’s done, you’ll enjoy the new space for many years to come and soon forget the potholes getting there.