Getting a building permit for a new house is a project in and of itself. We filed for a permit on February 23. Today (April 20) we got the permit. That’s basically two months. The most significant technical milestone is getting the approval of the plans inspector (shown here stamping the plans).
But, there are lots of steps:
- Complete an application (one page), pay application fees, and submit with two sets of plans, engineering calculations, and three copies of the site plan.
- Three weeks later the county notifies the owner of “deficiencies.” We had 23 deficiencies. Most of these are easy fixes, some required additional problem solving, and one of them was a potential show stopper.
- Meet with various county officials to correct deficiencies.
- Pay lots of different agencies, all of whom have to sign off on the permit.
- “Pull” the permit.
Two speed bumps in the process caused some major anxiety:
A. “Can’t you just flip the house?”
The administrator in the engineering department determined that our driveway was not the required 50 feet from an intersection. She asked “Can’t you just flip the house?” The problem was that (a) neither I nor the architects had bothered to really study the code on this question (our fault) and (b) the engineering department had a somewhat unusual definition of how to measure the distance. When the road was built, the paver had run over the right of way by quite a few feet and, more significantly, changed the shape of the edge of the road. The result was that the intersection, as defined by a projection from the edge of the pavement, was located about 10 feet closer to the driveway than would have been expected based on the officially platted right of way. I objected that my property rights should not depend on whether or not a renegade paving contractor happened to put the edge of the road in the right place. She held ground and said “the road is the road.” I took some deep breaths and then asked if we could remove the offending chunk of pavement, which happens to actually be in my front yard. After some consultation with the superior authorities, this plan was finally approved. Whew. (Flipping a house that has been carefully designed to perfectly follow the contour of the site would not have worked.)
B. An LLC Can Not Be an “Owner-Builder”
By County policy, and possibly state law, only licensed contractors can be issued building permits, except in the case of “owner builders.” If you own the house, you can be your own general contractor. Makes some sense. The problem is that my lot was owned by an LLC for estate planning and tax purposes. At the very last minute, just as we were about to pull the permit, the administrator at the counter said “Oh, we can’t issue you a permit because the lot is owned by an LLC.” Huh? They expressed some convoluted logic for this, but I believe the root cause is really that the legal exemption to requiring licensed general contractors must narrowly specify the conditions under with the owner-builder exemption applies. Our solution was to sell the property to my wife and I for a few months…at which point we’ll sell it back. (Fortunately, in this region there are no transfer taxes. In my town in Pennsylvania, we would pay thousands of dollars in taxes for those transactions.)
What does it Cost?
Here’s what I spent on fees before getting the permit:
$500 Design review committee application fee (Homeowners’ Association)
$2986 Actual permit fee to County
$8684 Sewer district impact fee
$6747 Water hook-up fee and associated bond
$3164 Engineering department impact fee and driveway completion bond
$3612 Recreation district impact fee
$770 Fire district impact fee
(In fairness, I should note that I get back $3448 once the driveway and landscaping is completed.) I’m told that these fees are even higher in California. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. the fees are much lower, probably because there is so little new construction that no one has bothered figuring out how to best bleed the builder. I understand how these fees get to be so high. Imagine how much easier it is to levy a new fee on builders than to raise broad-based taxes. Still, it was a bit shocking to see how quickly it all added up.
Now we can legally build this house. The snow is mostly melted. Here we go.