Housing — Steps to improving your home


We often meet homeowners who are interested in remodeling, adding onto, or building a home. For most people, this is a first-time experience, not only with construction, but working with architects, engineers, builders, interior designers and the permit process.

We are asked questions like, "Is it hard to get permits here?" or "What style do you design?" or "How much will the plans cost?" or "My budget is ‘x’ amount, can I build what I want?" or "What are typical construction costs?" or "How long before we can start construction?"

These are all good questions. Below, we have attempted to answer these questions and hope they will help you with a future project.

Getting permits
What we hear most is, "This is the most difficult county or city to get permits in."

We are not referring to any particular county or city. We have heard this about every county or city we have ever worked in. Having a successful experience with any county or city is about being prepared and having the correct information.

The permit process seems lengthy and unreasonable when you are unprepared. The best solution is to have seasoned professionals prepare your submittal package, which can save months in the permit process.

Style or design
This can be a touchy subject. A good design should take into consideration solar orientation, topography, natural and built surroundings, location, views, lifestyle and personality of the owners.

Too often we see homes that appear to have been "plucked" from another time period or some other part of the world. Don’t be afraid to express who you are in the design of your home.

Remember, architects are trained to introduce you to ideas that you may not have thought of or considered. Instead of looking through magazines for ideas, decide for yourself how you want to live and feel in your home.

Professional fees
What do architects charge? This is the biggest "unknown" on our list. This question deserves another question, "For what services?"

Most people think preparing a set of "blueprints" is the extent of an architect’s services. In reality, architects are trained to provide many additional services that will be of practical and economic value to most homeowners, including sketches, renderings, scale models, construction administration and product specifications.

When discussing fees, it is important to consider the services to be provided. Comparing architects and their fees is not like shopping for the best price on a particular make and model of vehicle.

When purchasing a car, you know exactly what it looks like and what you expect from it, so you want the best price.

Every custom home or remodel is a prototype. Rather than searching for the lowest number, search for the architect that provides the services you desire. Consider the value that those services add to your project.

OK, let’s talk numbers. The American Institute of Architects reports typical architectural fees can range from 5 percent to 15 percent of the cost of construction.

Sounds expensive? What is the value of a well-designed home? Often your home is the biggest investment you will make in your lifetime. The old adage holds true, "You get what you pay for."

While preparing your budget for your future project, there are a few things to take into consideration besides merely labor and material costs. Be sure to add to your budget, permit costs, architectural fees, structural engineering fees, survey fees and soils reports. This list can grow or decrease based on project specifics, and these costs are almost always a surprise.

The best way we have found to come up with a realistic budget is to work with the known costs and determine what you have remaining for your unknown costs.

First determine what your hard costs will be: land acquisition, site improvements, demolition of existing structures, permits, professional fees, etc. After determining the known costs, a cost-per-square-foot estimate for the type of construction, materials and location of your project can give you a good idea of how many square feet you can consider for your new project.

A common point of misinformation for most homeowners is calculating the cost per square foot to build a home. This number can range several hundred dollars per square foot, depending on what you consider part of the cost per square foot.

For example, someone may tell you they built a home for $150 per square foot. Without knowing what that number does or does not include in regards to project expenses, it really does more harm than good. It creates false expectations to an owner as to what costs are involved in building a home.

You see homeowners who have expectations of building a 3,000-square-foot home based on an unrealistic cost per square foot. This results in a disappointed homeowner who is now determined to shop around until they find someone who will tell them what they want to hear; most likely resulting in unforeseen costs later in the project.

To get a good idea of what is included for a specified amount, it is best to contact an architect or contractor and check out already-built projects to see how much they cost to build. Keep in mind the changing material and labor costs.

Construction costs
This can vary as much as architectural fees. Construction costs are based on current labor and material costs. It is difficult to say that residential construction costs "x" amount of dollars. It’s like asking, "How much does a custom car cost?"

The only way to know the cost of a future home or remodel is to send it out to bid to reputable general contractors. Without a complete set of drawings, a ballpark number is the best you will get — there are too many variables that affect costs.

To cite one example, a foundation on a sloped site can cost more than a foundation on a flat site. The best way to get an idea of these costs before you get too far along in the project is to have your architect make a request for preliminary bids from qualified contractors to give you an idea of where you stand with your current design.

In summary, we live in cities and communities that continue to grow and change. We as a community of owners, planners, designers and builders must work to create places which reinforce the idea of a community.

Our purpose is to promote responsible planning and design to better the environment that we live in by exhibiting responsible growth and improvement. This article may create as many questions as answers, but hopefully it will help you as a guide to seeking the information you will need in considering your new project.



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