Posted on Oct 21, 2014 in Construction

So, you want to do some major work on your home, and you have no idea what to do. Regardless of whether the work means you are doing an addition or reconstructing your home from the inside out, here are some basic steps home owners should take prior to undergoing this process.

Step 1: Determine your budget

Obviously, no work can be done until you have the money to spend. This means creating a realistic budget and making sure that you have a way to pay at the end of the day. Save up, get a loan, whatever method you take, get your finances in order so you can pay for the work. This is where a budget becomes important, and by important I mean keeps you from running drunk with power into a pit of debt. If you have a budget and keep track of it, you will prevent yourself from spending beyond your means.

Expensive houses, high construction costs and an often unstable real estate economy make home improvements in San Francisco a tenuous affair. Even if the funding is there, homeowners have to be wary of exceeding the potential value of their house when doing improvements. It is always a balancing act that is a major part of any construction project.

Whether you use a contractor or go it alone, make sure that you add 20 to 30 percent more to your total budget to account for unexpected costs and errors

In general, the project budget should be broken down into the following catgories.

•Labor (if you’re using a contractor)

•Tools and equipment (if you’re doing it yourself)




For a rough idea, you can get estimates through the website Houzz based on the average cost of similar projects in your area.

Step 2: Meet with your City’s Planning Department

Now before you drive to your closest hardware store and recognize the futility of trying to tackle this project as a DIY/weekend warrior scenario, you will have to go to your city’s planning department and notify them of your intentions.

“But it’s my property,” you say, “if I want to build a two story Venetian pool house and a giraffe stable, its nobody’s business but my own!”

This is where you are wrong. Every city has different regulations as to what is allowed to be built on the property and most require you gain their permission. Fail to do so, and you will transition into illegal territory. Then you’ll likely be fined to the that your tears can create a nice backyard pool, one that would have gone great with the guest house you can no longer build

The city will then let you know what is allowed and what isn’t. This is determined by anything from the maximum lot coverage allowed to distance required between the front of the house and the street.

San Francisco’s planning & zoning department primarily governs how we can and can’t change the exterior dimensions of a home. There are similar regulations in other towns, the difference in San Francisco is that most homes are already built out to the maximum size.

In a nutshell, getting a permit here can be very quick (1 day) or very long (6 months to a year or more), depending on the scope of your project.

If the exterior dimensions are changing, you’d better plan on permits taking the better part of a year.

Step 3: Get an Architect


If you want to spend thousands of dollars doing anything, wouldn’t you want it to be done right? After you talk to the Planning Department, it’s time to go see an architect and get some plans drawn up.

When choosing an architect, there are several things you want to keep in mind:

  • Their work experience within the chosen geographic location
  • Whether or not you like their vision for design and creative ideals
  • Their ability to execute the contract within the price and time allotted

Check out their portfolio. Do you like what you see? Keep in mind that creating plans and getting them approved by the city (again, I know) is not a one-time occasion. You will be interacting with them for quite some time, so it will be good if you can avoid choosing someone that makes the DMV seem like the happiest place in the world.

Step 4: Beginning Construction

source: Arabian Business Times

source: Arabian Business Times

Once the plans are approved, you will need to choose a contractor. Ask your architect who they prefer as many have preferred contractors that they have experience working with. Now it is time to throw more money at the city. You will have to get building permits, which can be thousands of dollars, as well as other items such as trash cans, mesh coverings, temporary power, etc. Once this is done, you can start building.

For further information on how the construction and planning phases come together, learn more about Dawson and Clinton’s two phase approach.

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