dear realtor…

need help with that retro permit?dear realtor….

You just got a dream listing. The house is gorgeous and you go about doing what you do to get it ready to market. Minor repairs, painting, staging. And yes, it’s in the city limits so you order the resale inspection. Dang, there is no record of a permit for that obvious bathroom remodel. Or the hot tub out back. Or those retaining walls holding back the hillside. Or that fabulous new kitchen. And by the way, the hot water heater isn’t elevated and there are no smoke detectors. Your seller really wants to move on, so what to do?

resale inspections

the dreaded resale inspection

this is what you don’t want your resale inspection to look like!

When you put a house on the market, a resale inspection will be performed by your local building department. The realtor or the homeowner can initiate this process. An inspector will come out and look at the house and compare the state of the house with the permits that have been pulled on the house. The report will be broken up into several sections. It will contain:

  1. a list of issued permits
  2. information about the type of property and accessory structures
  3. a checklist of items that are in violation and may or may not require correction
  4. a list of items that require correction and re-inspection
  5. a list of items that require submission of plans for a complete permit review

This last item is what causes fear and hand wringing. One through four you can take care of on your own. Number five might be a whole other can of fish.

they just needed a new refrigerator

Often your client doesn’t know when a permit is required. Or they were just going to replace the fridge and it turned into all new appliances, light fixtures, flooring, and a sink in the island. Or maybe they just decided to replace those old aluminum windows with something that didn’t scream 1952. And that hot tub in the back yard….no one said a permit was required! Yup….a permit was required. But what’s done is done. And now you’ve got buyers chomping at the bit and you need to draw the un-permitted work and get it approved. You need a retro permit. You’ve got this. First, take a breath.

make friends

Call your local building department. Ask them to direct you to their submission requirements….they probably have a web page. If you have the ability to draw to scale and follow the rest of their instructions, then get out your straight edge and start drawing. Do some research into codes that are applicable to your client’s situation (building, fire, electrical and plumbing) and include this information on your drawings. Hopefully the work was done to code…. Once you have all of the information on the drawings, create as many sets as the building department requires (usually 3 or 4) and check their website to find out when they have ‘counter hours’. Every building department has certain hours, ‘counter hours’, during which they will approve plans on the spot. Reserve a few hours to go down and talk with your building official. With luck your plans will be approved and a permit will be issued. Often, however, there will be questions. Especially if you are new at this. If there are questions you will need to go back to the drawing board.

deep breath

This is where calm and finesse come in. And a great deal of patience. You will need to follow one of two paths:

  1. but wait there’s more: Perhaps your building official just needed more information (you forgot to show the electrical outlets?) You will need to gather information and revise your drawings. If you received written comments from the building department then in addition to your revised drawings create a narrative to respond to each item. Again you’ll need to create as many sets as the building department requires. When you’re ready, try to set a meeting with your building official to review your revised drawings. Go through each question or comment, respond to it on your drawing as well as in a narrative, and very nicely respond to whatever questions remain. Hopefully this will be the end of this part of the process and your permit will be issued. At this point you will make a final payment for your permit.
  2. it may require a hammer: Is there something at the house that is not built to code and was flagged by the building official? That will need to be fixed. If work needs to be done, revise your plans and show the work completed. Add any other information that the building department requested and create a narrative if you received written comments. Create as many sets as the building department requires. Now take your drawings back to the building department and with all the sugar you can muster have another go. Once the building department is satisfied, you will make a final payment and the permit will be issued. Now hire the necessary professionals to complete the work you showed on your plans.

Once you’ve completed either path one or path two, schedule a final inspection. If the planets are aligned, the inspector will sign your permit and this will be the end of the process. Now pop that champagne!

if this all sounds like just too much…

Contact me. I’ve pulled permits….lots of permits. While this part of my job may not be very creative on the one hand, it does require a certain finesse and definitely a great deal of calm. And the ability to create drawings that satisfy the building department. I get them and I’ve got this. You are busy….you have hands to hold and marketing to do.

I have skills to get you a retro permit. Let me help. Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

if I wanted to work in London

all photos courtesy

This is where I’d start my search. dRMM. Their buzzwords are innovation, collaboration, environment, uniqueness. And, among many other remarkable and award winning projects, their talented team created a house that slides. Tell me you don’t want to work with this amazing group as well. I wonder, would they let me bring my dog to work?

The house is a close collaboration between client/builder and dRMM. Due to it’s rural location and stringent planning requirements, the team created a building that fits the ‘farm’ vernacular in both color and shape,but has a surprising modern twist: the main building is a glass house with a wooden exo-skeleton that slides over it to provide privacy and weather protection. The house is all electric, and the owner has installed a wind turbine to provide needed electricity.

Have an inspired week….keep in touch,

good houses

I don’t read the online magazines that feature opulent houses with overdone window treatments and too many pillows on the sofa. I read the online magazines that talk about the future of design and architecture. That includes building small, building sustainably, and building smart. Check out these three homes.

Origami House

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TSC Architects designed this home in what looks like a Japanese suburb. The website is in Japanese, which unfortunately I don’t speak, so I have no background on the house. But what strikes me is the opportunity that a design like this provides for using passive solar techniques to minimize power needs. Siting the home so that the main exposure is to the south, (if you live in California…check your location for best practice ;)) and protecting the windows with extended eaves accomplishes several things:

  • it minimizes summer cooling needs because the hot summer sun is high in the sky and does not reach the protected windows,
  • it increases winter heating when the sun is low in the sky and shines through the wide expanses of glass, therefore decreasing the need for artificial heating,
  • it allows light to penetrate into the house through the many protected windows reducing the need for artificial light.

All images courtesy TSC Architects.

A Recipe to Live

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Another project in Japan, Materia found this one which is built at Waseda University. The home is self heating as a  result of walls that continually compost, keeping the home at an even temperature year round. And the house is continually making black gold for the garden!

All images courtesy

Tower House

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Built on a small, steep, tree covered lot in Portland, Benjamin Waechter designed this home to go up rather than out to minimize environmental impact. The home is also wrapped in corrugated steel with rounded corners to minimize the additional need for trim at square corners. A beautiful light filled home on a difficult lot…proof that constraints can encourage greater creativity.

All images courtesy Architectural Record/Benjamin Waechter/Lara Swimmer

Happy May Day!