A new future for live/work artists lofts in Oakland is here!

The City of Oakland and a group of local artists are working together to keep Oakland safe and affordable for artists.  Today, Oakland planning department approved the permits for the first large scale live/work loft in the city!  A 15,000 square foot empty warehouse in West Oakland will soon become 14 legal studios and 9 more work spaces.

After the tragedy of the Ghost Ship the necessary evictions of many artist live/work spaces made the housing crisis of the Bay Area even worse.  Few artists can afford to stay without living in dangerous places.  This project in West Oakland is a path forward for this one artist community and it can serve as a model for arts in the Bay Area!

Tanya Retherford is the local architect and member of the community of artists who are making it all happen. Like many great innovations, necessity was the mother of invention. Tanya was evicted from an unpermitted live/work space after the Ghost Ship.  To solve the affordable artist space problem she spoke to Tom Dolan, a pioneer in live/work spaces since the 1990s and they hatched a plan to do something big! When we say big we mean safe, legal, healthy, and for use by a community of 50!

Tanya found an amazing old warehouse in, negotiated a 15 year lease with option to buy with the owner and worked with the city to increase the allowed occupancy from 4 people to 14.  The 4 person limit for live/work spaces has limited that mode of living from being a viable solution for artists.  Now, these 14 apartments can truly be affordable and this building can truly be a model for a shared, creative community.

If you are considering converting a warehouse or building to live/work in Oakland, then here’s the schedule and step-by-step guide!

Tanya is specializing in this type of work and you can set up a design session with her here!

  • April 2017: Tanya found the space
  • May 2017: Started some design concepts
  • June: Preliminary permit research
  • June/July: Negotiating the lease with the owner
  • October 15: Submitted the planning permit application (~$4,000 + $500 for expediting). They paid for expediting and got an approval in 1 week!
  • 11/13/17: Permit is officially approved and the local appeal period has expired.
  • December (est): Submit building permit application
  • 1/31 (est): Building permit issued
  • 2/1/18 – 9/1/18: Construction
  • Burning Man
  • Move in!


$100,000 Contractor ripoff that New Avenue would have prevented

A crooked contractor stole over $250,000 from 10 different clients. One young couple lost over $120,000.  All of them would have been protected if they used New Avenue’s bid form and construction agreement. Read this post and use the format provided and this won’t happen to you!

New Avenue partnered with a local general contractor to build a project for one of our client. They had glowing Yelp reviews, they completed projects for high end modern architects that are part of our team, and they have been in business for years. They passed our filters and likely would have passed your filters too!

When working with New Avenue, this contractor and our clients finished the project without a hiccup. As part of our standard process  we received a detailed bid and we paid them as the work was completed on site.  The project turned out so well it even ended up in numerous magazines!

This contractor started building his own business independent of New Avenue and sold over 10 more projects outside of New Avenue.  They even stole a New Avenue client by promising better service (and at a higher price too!) if the client just worked directly with them.

They took deposits on these projects and then mismanaged almost everything.  The contractor went bankrupt and left the clients with nothing.  Now over 10 clients, including the young couple that is out over $120,000 is hoping to recover some money from materials that are sitting in a garage and slated for a bankruptcy auction. They’ll get pennies on the dollar if anything.

The craziest thing, is that contractor is now pitching homes to fire victims in Sonoma following the fire and his business partner is continuing under a new name.  They even called us to talk about working together, as if nothing has happened.

They stole a life changing sum of money from several families and aren’t  even trying to make it right. They just charge ahead, onto their next mark. These are the people giving contractors a bad name.

If those clients had used New Avenue they would paid for work after it is completed and visible on site. They would have been protected. They would not have lost their money.

Every client should have a policy to have a detailed bid, clear construction agreement that states what you are building and pay for work that is done. But as an owner you are probably doing this type of project once, or maybe twice. So there is no reason why you’d know how to do this.

That is why New Avenue provides the best practices in getting bids, construction agreements and paying with an easy transparent process.

If you use this New Avenue Example Budget and this type of New Avenue Construction Agreement

Want to hear a less terrifying but sad story about the other side of this? The bad client? Read here.

Dennis and Doug’s Income Property

Dennis and Doug are brothers who bought two income properties right next to each other.

The buildings they bought are a few blocks from UC Berkeley and just up the street from the famous Gourmet Ghetto – Berkeley’s restaurant district and the home of Chez Pannisse.

Both properties have ground floor storage and parking that is frankly, just a huge waste of space.

They hired New Avenue to design, permit and build additional apartments on this lower level.

Lower floor will become apartments
Lower floor will become apartments

Sign up to see more example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

A New Custom Home: The Goal “A Home to Grow Old In”

Amy and Tom owned a 743 square foot two bedroom one bath home that was built in 1943.  That’s tiny and it just doesn’t work for all the goals the owners have.

And their goals were clear. When asked what they want they said they want a home for “Growing old in. We want to add a new larger living area with redesigned kitchen, add a bathroom for the second bedroom, enlarge original bathroom to accommodate wheelchair if necessary and convert attic to accommodate 2 home offices.”

The answer in this case was a new modern custom home that we designed and built from the ground up.

El Cerrito is a smaller city just east of San Francisco with an amazing location, easy access to San Francisco. Many of the homes are smaller older cottages that were built very quickly to serve the booming Kaiser Shipyards as they built homes for WWII.  In fact, a few clients have shown us where steel spare parts from the shipyards were used to build the homes themselves!

This is the before picture:
Before Donal


This is the new home. It’s twice as big and built to meet the needs of living and working for the next 100 years!
photo 2

Sign up to see more example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Oakland Welcomes New Avenue with a Gentrification Tag


Well, it looks like lifting a home, restoring it, making it safer with a seismic retrofit and adding an affordable accessory dwelling in the lower floor, remediating lead and asbestos isn’t always appreciated.

Remodel of west oakland bart. Vandalized;(
Remodel of west oakland bart. Vandalized;(

It wasn’t always this nice…

Before Center 2

Sign up to see more example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

What is a Vacation Home

Mountains, beaches or the country, if you’re building a home to getaway to any of these places then we have experience with just that.

We have remodeled and build small beach cottages.  We have created entire Wyoming compounds with a home, barn, and office that can fit 15 people.

Many people dream of a small cottage or cabin in the woods but reality tends to drive these vacation homes to be massive – and quote often two or three times the size of your main home.  This is caused by the goal of inviting guest and those guests may be an entire family or two.  We see many vacation homes that become four bedrooms and three bathrooms and around 3,000 square feet.

Sign up to see more example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

We standardize and automate the process so your remodel, addition or custom home experience will be amazing

Designing and building an addition, remodel or custom home is a complicated process that involves one to two years of planning and then 45+ people to do the actual construction.

At New Avenue our qualified and proven local professionals can design and build your project.  We supplement the talented pros with a project management software that we built.  Combined, proven people and the best of class project management software makes the design/build process easier and fun.

Using our experience working with hundreds of clients and spent years perfecting the design/build process.   The features on our platform now provide the most efficient way to design and build any project. We’ve proven this on projects ranging from $50,000 to $2,500,000.

The following features in our system automatically includes the industry’s best practices in every project using New Avenue.

Goals & Ideas Questionnaire

Every project has a Goals & Ideas Questionnaire. You can spend 5 minutes or 30 minutes answering 30 questions.  These questions are based on countless client meetings, thousands of proposals, bids,changes.  By asking you the right questions at the start you can make faster and better decisions. This improves the efficiency of your entire team.



You can use your free project timeline to communicate with your team. When you receive a notification, you can reply by email and your message will automatically appear in your timeline. This keeps you, your spouse, your architect and your contractor on the same page.  This squashes headaches and mistakes before they happen.  As far as we’re concerned, it’s magic.

One Click Accept a Design Proposal

You can use our free budget tool to collect Design Proposals from architects.  Our team of proven and vetted architects are able to provide a proposal.  You can also invite your own architect.  Just tell them “I am using New Avenue to keep my budget organized”

A good Design Proposal will tell you the 20-30 steps required to design and permit your project.  It will also show you the estimated hours of work needed for each step.   To accept a Design Proposal you simply click “approve” and you automatically have a Design Agreement that insures your project follows the best practices in the industry.

Timesheet - Invoice

New Avenue’s invoicing system is the first system built to help owners keep their entire project organized.  With New Avenue your proposal, budget and your invoices are all in one standardized format.  There’s no need to try to reconcile a word document proposal with a list of hours worked.  To pay you simply click approve and that authorized New Avenue’s system to request payment from your bank so you can pay by direct deposit – the same way your employer probably pays you.

Sign up to see more example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

What does it cost to design and build a remodel, addition, or custom home?

Many people interested in designing and building a custom project start with the question: “How much will it cost to build?” When people hear the answer, their next question is, “Why? I thought it would be less expensive.”

Then come the following thoughts:

1. “My friend told me that projects can be built for $200 per square foot”
For years people have heard a general rule of thumb that houses can be built for $200 per square foot. They think that if a 3000 square feet house costs $600,000 to build, then a 500 square feet remodel or guest house should cost  500 square feet X $200 per foot = $100,000. But this just isn’t true.

The $200/sqft number can be accurate, but the size of the house has to be large enough to take advantage of economies of scale. Generally, the bigger the house is, the less expensive the per square foot cost can be. The smaller a house is, the more expensive it is to build per square foot. You’re going to have to build a 2500+ square foot house to be able to hit that $200/sqft number.

Also, when a builder says they can build a house for $100 per square foot, they are talking about the costs to build in a subdivision in some place like Atlanta. They not factoring in design, engineering or permitting costs. These costs alone are often over 20% of the project. They are not factoring in quality construction you’d expect in almost any coastal or metropolitan area.  In many place costs of $500-$1,000 per square foot are not only common but spending that much makes sense as that is the cost of a quality and finish level that owners expect.

And finally, the cost per square foot can change dramatically based on the location of the project. For example, costs to build in a coastal city can be as low as $200/sqft but modern projects in Dwell Magazine are easily in the $500 per square foot or even $1,000 per square foot cost.  As home prices continue to increase around the country, the cost of building increases as well.

2. “I just want a simple house.”
That’s great. But even a simple house is a complex feat of permitting, engineering and back breaking labor.  These things take time and money.

As an owner, it is helpful to know that all projects are built using the same process:
a) Figure out what you can build, including permit requirements in your city or county, if you do that kind of thing 😉
b) Work with an architect or designer to draw up the size, look, and shape in a “schematic” design.
c) Submit the design to the planning department to get planning permits.
d) Once you have the planning permit, have the architect draw up construction documents for a building permit. This often requires two or three engineers such as structural, soils and civil.
e) Determine all the “finishes” which include appliances, faucets and fixtures, materials, tile, paint colors, landscaping, utilities etc..
f) Work with builders to get bids, select one, sign a construction agreement, prepare the land, pour a foundation, frame the house, enclose the house, hook up water/electric/sewer, and install finishes.

Whether you build something that is 500 square feet or 5000 square feet, all of these steps are taken.

3. “I’m thinking a prefab house because it’s easier.”
This is possible but it really depends on your site,  existing home and personal goals. Blu Homes and Living Homes are the top of the line if you go this route.  Buying a home that is built somewhere else can reduce design fees, but it still needs to meet your city and county codes and then be permitted. Then it needs to be shipped to your location, and if that location is in an urban setting, you’re looking at significant costs to shut down streets and hire a crane to lift the unit into place. Once it arrives you will have paid for the same foundation and water/electric/sewer hookups that you would need with a stick-built home. By the time all of this adds up, you are looking at a similar price to building a custom house. And while you don’t have to spend time designing prefab, you still have to spend all the time getting permits.  Most importantly, a custom home allows you to design something specific to your needs and the lot in which it will reside.

4. “My uncle is a handyman or contractor and can build for me for cheap.”
The best way to save money is to do the work yourself. It will take you a long time and you will make mistakes, but it can be an amazing and fun experience. One of our favorite projects is this Normandy Style stone house in Upstate NY. The walls on this thing are 2′ thick stone!

Moriarty Farm House 1         Moriarty Farm House

The owner spent seven years getting to this point.  It is a $1,000,000 home that will cost less than half that and it is a work of art.  We’re not counting this husband/wife team’s 10,000 hours of labor in our costs though.

If you want to try a DIY project, just be really careful because construction is the definition of back-breaking labor.

The second best way to save money is to manage all the subs (electrician, foundation, framer, plumber, drywaller etc…) yourself.  The most skilled subs prefer not to work for inexperienced clients.  They are concerned that your inexperience will require too much of their time as you make decisions, that you will call them back repeatedly and they will end up making very little money due to the extra time.  So owner builders often get stuck with the second tier subs and that can be painful!

If you have a relative who is skilled and experienced and willing to work for free, jump on that and do it… but again, we’ve seen siblings stop talking to each other when the builder in the family is too slow or too expensive.

5. “A builder I know says he can build for $X.”
Be very careful with this scenario. When you get a bid from a builder, make sure they give you a price for every line item that will go into the house, from permitting, to design, to construction, to cleanup. Permits alone can cost $15,000-$100,000+. Architect and engineers are often 15% of the project’s total cost too. At New Avenue, our process requires that our partner builders review a 200+ line spec sheet with every single piece of building a house so no one can say the dreaded phrase, “We didn’t talk about having a (insert whatever you like here, such as “sewer line”) for the house. That will be an extra $5,000.”

6. “Where does New Avenue get information about building?”
After working with many architects and builders on over 500 projects, we have a very unique data set that shows exactly what every component of building a house costs. For example, we can easily pull up a project that we managed and show that the foundation for a home in a landslide zone with 12 piers going down 10′ each cost $40,000. Or we can pull up a sheet that shows a house with $7,000 allocated to Hardieboard siding and the fair change order (and totally a good idea) to change that to cedar shingles.

7. “Can you give me a sample breakdown of costs to build my project?”
This is our specialty. Let’s say you wanted to design and build a 1000 square foot project in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We would start by showing you what a similar, recent, project we completed cost. This would include every detail.  Then we adapt that budget to meet your needs.

Here is a shortened example of a small project:

– Initial Assessment and Permit Research: $400
– Design Fees: $5,880
– Construction Documents: $5,400
– Engineering: $4,500
– City Fees: $5,620
– Survey: $2,300
– Construction Administration: $3,400
Total Design and Permit Costs: $27,500

– Demolition: $2,100
– Site Prep: $7,100
– Foundation: $11,975
– Framing & Carpentry: $23,700
– Insulation & Moisture Protection: $3,500
– Windows & Doors: $6,489
– Finishes: $14,825
– Plumbing: $13,900
– Heating and Ventilation: $3,400
– Electrical: $5,300
– Contractor Overhead and Profit: $15,100
Total Construction: $107,389
Total Project Cost: $134,889

We can show you this for $100,000 projects and $2,000,000 homes and everything in between.

 8. “Can spending a ton of money  still give me a good return on investment?”
Absolutely. The financial return is often there and more so, the real return is usually so much more valuable than any cash you might collect in a future sale. A creative space, family room, home office, guest room or anything that increases the value you and your family get out of your home can make the investment well worth it.

Financially, many of our clients create something that is worth more than the cost of construction.  So their return is crystal clear.

Other clients spend $200,000 building a guest house that increases their mortgage payment by $1,200 per month. Often times they can offer that home to a child or parent who would be living somewhere else for many times the cost of the guest house.  Other people use this as a home office and create a new business from home.  Many people choose to downsize and move into their accessory dwelling while renting out their main house, bringing in even more rental income. Or by creating a second unit for your child or your parents you can avoid paying for many of the expenses of living separately such as rent to live elsewhere, maintenance and taxes of owning two homes, or the high costs of assisted living.

No matter what you are considering, the New Avenue platform is the easiest way to get organized, get bids, hire a team and manage your project.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.


Additions, Remodels and Custom Homes – The 5 Phases of The Design Process

Best Practices in architecture and construction manage a project under five phases that we will review here.  All projects, whether a $5,000 bathroom remodel or a $5 billion dollar stadium have these five phases.

The phases are defined as:

Phase 1 – Program Development: Defining what your goals are, what you want to do, what is in budget and what you are allowed to get permitted by the city or county.

Phase 2 – Schematic Design: The design of the floor plan, layout, exterior drawings called “elevations”

Phase 3 – Design Development: The selection of heating and cooling systems as well as interior design elements such as appliances, materials, furniture, paint etc…

Phase 4 – Construction Documents: The technical “blue prints” and engineering that is needed to get a building permit and build the home.

Phase 5 Construction: Getting bids, hiring a contractor and building the home.

Architecture is critical in all 5 phases.  We usually introduce a contractor at Phase II, Schematic Design as they can provide an estimate at that time.

Design is not a perfect march forward. There will be back and forth and changes to designs and specs all the way through the completion of construction.