Additions, Remodels, and Custom Homes – Phase I

This is a guest post by David Locicero, a Partner Architect in the New Avenue Design/Build Network.

David has successfully uses the New Avenue platform to design, permit and build projects around the San Francisco Bay Area.  To read more about the platform click here: New Avenue

There are five phases to a typical architectural project:

Pre-design, schematic design, design development, construction documents, and construction.

Today let us look at the Pre-design work that creates your Program.

Architects do not simply jump directly into construction documents. It takes a little bit of time to get to that point.

Pre-design is the first step and consists of working with you to find out not just what you want, but what you need. We will also determine what the budget will be.

We also assess the site. For most of my projects, that means measuring the house and property and creating drawings of what is already built.

We will also meet with the jurisdiction and determine what the planning and zoning rules and regulations are.

All of this is work that has to be done before we even start designing. That is why it is called Pre-design. By gathering all the pertinent information at the beginning, it helps us focus on the real challenges without getting side tracked.

The New Avenue Design Agreement spells out the deliverables in this phase.

Get Started here to access the Design Agreement that delivers the best practices in the industry and the best local architects and contractors.

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

Cost of Building Permits for a Custom Home in Mill Valley and Marin County

Millennials Take Marin!

In idyllic Mill Valley of Marin County, CA there is an interesting trend happening.  People are building new custom homes again – and the clients are a surprising bunch: Millennials!

To quote one of New Avenue’s partner architects who is designing the home we feature in this article, Heidi Richardson: “We now have eight new houses in planning review. We haven’t seen anything like this in over a decade! They are coming up in droves!”

The following is a brief summary of one of Heidi’s current projects. The goal in this article is to inform future clients about the timeline and costs of a major remodel or  a new custom home in Mill Valley or Marin County. 

When did these clients hire you?

  • They had a false start with their first architect (that means they fired him or her) and hired Richardson Architects in February of 2016. This was 10 months ago.
  • The planning permit set was submitted in May 2016 (four months after starting). Planning is the first of two big permit processes. The second part is Building Permits.
  • The building permit was submitted in Nov 2016, (nine months after starting)
  • Heidi expects plan check comments back in Jan 2017, they will answer the questions in these comments and resubmit.  Then they expect the permit to be issued in February 2017 – almost exactly a year after starting.
  • This will probably have nine or ten months of construction.  Some bigger projects go up to 11 or 12 months.

The owners moved into their home in 2012. After five years there they will move out for most of 2017 while the construction occurs. They will be moving into their new home about two years after they decided to hire their first architect.

It is entertaining and a bit scary to note that the new owners purchased the home in 2012 for $825,000.  The last owners bought the home in 1971 for $26,000.  That’s right, $26,000!  The old owners realized 8.9% in appreciation per year, every year, for the 41 years they owned the home.  If this continues to appreciate at 8.9% per year for the next 41 years too, the home will be worth $29,000,000. 

What are the owners goals for their home and their design?

  • The owners had a FEMA problem. Flood problems are rampant “here in the land of creeks.”
  • The original home is a one story home and this growing family needs more space
  • They have two young girls and wanted the girls on the upper floor
  • They want a bigger home with the spaces a family likes to have such as a family room, living room, open kitchen and dining area.
  • They don’t want to pay for the schools in San Francisco.  Two private schools can easily cost $60,000 per year which equals the cost of an additional $1,000,000 in mortgage!

What were the design challenges?

First off, when an owner wants to build a new home, it is really hard to find a lot where you can build something.  Let alone something over 4,000 square feet.

For those with the really big budgets Marin doesn’t allow any houses over 7,000  square feet. It is a very rare lot that allows houses anywhere near that size.

A home in the FEMA flood zone like this one, is not allowed to change the footprint.

What was the building process like?

  • In Mill Valley inspections are surprisingly good.  
  • Planning seems to be the thing people want to avoid because it is subjective.
  • The architects know the triggers that can stop a building permit and know how to manage that process. It takes 3 months. It’s a lot of paperwork (often described more colorfully) but most of the time the inspectors are exceptionally good.

What permits were required?

  • Most people who call Richardson Architects have done their homework enough to know they never want to go to planning commission or they know they have to and they want to hire them to do it.
  • The director of the planning commission says at least 5 months to go to the planning commission.  That is how long the Mill Valley project actually needed too.
  • To get a new house through planning commission anywhere from $35,000 to $55,000 in architecture costs. These are hours paid to the architects.
  • At least $20-$30,000 in fees for planning permits.  This is based on 1% of estimated construction cost.
  • So much work is done for planning.  The first two phases of the design process are Program Development, Schematic Design and they  will be 100% completed.  The third phase is Design Development and that will be 50-70% completed by the time of planning approve.  After this there is engineering and construction documents for the building permit. Then you’re ready to bid and build.
  • Surveyor, landscape, impact fees for school, road, water, sewer are all additional.  
  • Building permits are another $40,000-$80,000 just for the architect’s time.  
  • Interior elevations and interior work are additional as well.

In sum, you can spend $150,000-$200,000.  This is for a $1,500,000-$2,500,000 home.  This adds up to approximately 10% for design, engineering and permitting which is fairly standard across the industry.

Here are several of the design images to give you an idea of the old vs. the new in Mill Valley homes.

Existing Front Elevation: 

Front Elevation Existing

Proposed Front Elevation:

Front Elevation NewUpper Floor


Existing Side Elevation: 

Side Elevation Existing

Proposed Side Elevation:

Side Elevation New

Rendering Lower Floor

You can view Heidi’s work here:

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.

Cost to design, permit and build a four bedroom two bath new custom home in Berkeley, CA

This is the cost to build a custom home in California.  This home has four bedrooms with two converted to an office and a playroom. Costs to build in most cities in California will be very similar to this home in Berkeley.

Any custom home you design will have a different cost. This is a perfect starting point. You can review the format of the budget and the line items of each step along the way.

This is the front of the house. The architects and contractors would call a drawing of a side of the side or front of the house an “elevation”.

Front Elevation

This is the ground floor floorplan. Ground Floor

This is the loft floor plan. These two rooms were originally bedrooms but the owners made it into a play room and an office.

Loft Floor

This is the budget for the completed project. You can download the pdf file here: Completed Budget for 1,500 square foot home

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to 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.

How long does it take to build a custom dream homes. Plan on 6 Years!

Many of us dream of building a getaway.  Whether it’s in the country, in the mountains or by the water it will be a process that even the luckiest of us may only do once.

One of our project owners started working with New Avenue after they completed their design and permits.  They needed assistance in finding a great contractor and comparing bids from some contractors they already found.

This owner opened with the thought that they were delusional when they first started.  They had no idea how time would fly by while planning this home.

Their actual timeline was:

  • Started looking casually after their wedding in 2011.
  • Made 4-6 trips per year from New York City to different B&Bs within a four hour radius.
  • They fell in love with a camp that was about 4.5 hours away in the Adirondacks but they realized 4 hours is too far and cut their radius to 3 hours.
  • Decided on being near a lake as opposed to a farm or in the mountains.
  • Decided against the Jersey shore or similar beach towns.
  • Found a dream location August of 2014.  Over three years after they started looking.
  • They purchased an old cottage on a nice lot in October 2014
  • Evaluated 10 architects, met with 4 and hired one in December of 2014
  • Broke ground in September 2016

That is three years of searching.  Two years of design and permitting. Now they are planning on roughly a year of building.

For a detailed budget of this project, floor plans or to use the free New Avenue project management system you can sign up 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.

My Home – What It’s All About

I recently thought to write about the home I grew up in.  Our business is about homes and families.  It’s all about people.  When we talk to clients, the first thing we ask about are your goals and the second thing we ask about is your family.  When we talk to potential architect or contractor partners, we talk about what we have created, why we created it and who it is for.

So, I’m sharing a small history of the place that I grew up. This defines home to me.  It defines why I started New Avenue and what New Avenue does.

ShovelingThis is a home on Harvard Place in Orchard Park, NY after a Christmas snowstorm. That’s me, and my wife Kristina.  Orchard Park is a “southtown” that was absorbed by the suburbs of Buffalo, NY.  Buffalo is a Rustbelt city that was the Silicon Valley of 1900, only we relied on the Erie Canal, not the internet.  It was fun while it lasted but our prime was over 100 years ago, so we’ve been sustaining ever since.   We have the benefit of some great work to sustain too.   People like Frank Lloyd Wright and Frederick Olmsted define the city.  Olmsted created the first parkway system which is part of Buffalo’s claim as “America’s Best Designed City”.

Back to the point – home sweet home started in a Sears Catalog in 1910.



Not too much had changed by 2015.

We painted it red, and added a dormer off the back for my brother, the oldest of four of us. The home did have an interesting adolescence when it was converted into a duplex “during the war” which means WWII around there.  There was a manufacturing boom and housing shortage at that time.

The best parts weren’t advertised in the Sears Catalog.  This one came with a sled hill that could handle 10 kids with eash, a basketball court that worked on the day of your first communion and room for a Buffalo News paperbox.  Always hire paper carriers is a good rule to live by, but that’s obviously a line of work that’s harder to come by these days.

Sled Hill

Buffalo News, Basketball, Catholic Stuff

So without providing too much of a family history, that’s what home is about.

A few stats that are relevant about this home:

  • Distance to The Miller’s pool – 100 yards and one 4′ fence that is easily jumped.
  • Distance to South Davis Elementary – .5 miles
  • Distance to my father’s office: 100 yards
  • # Kids aged 5-18 living within one block ca.1988: 25

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.

How to Build or Remodel a Home for $250 per square foot, $300 per square foot or $500 per square foot

The best way to think about a major investment is your monthly cost and the monthly value. One common question that people have about design and construction is “what does it cost per square foot?”.

Is the greatest kitchen you can ever imagine worth $500 per month in enjoyment?  Or is it worth $100,000 more when you sell? If yes, then it’s worth $100,000.

Is a guest house for your kid or parent worth $800 to you? If yes, then that will cover a $200,000 mortgage.

People don’t usually think this way though. Many people ask us “what is your per square foot cost to build”.

At New Avenue we have found the “per square foot” estimate to be misleading.  We do respect the need to answer this question though!

The problem with per square foot pricing is that it is easily manipulated. Kitchen and bathroom space is very expensive while adding an upper floor or lower floor is extraordinarily less expensive.  By minimizing the percentage of your project that is kitchen or bathroom and maximizing the size of the living and bedroom space makes your project less expensive.

For example:

A single story 400 square foot guest house with a new kitchen, bathroom, and high end custom finishes will often cost around $200,000 or $500 per square foot

Making that same guest house 800 square feet by adding a second story will cost around $250,000 or $312 per square foot.

Lastly if you can add a walkout basement and count a basement floor then you will create a 1,200 square foot guest that will cost about $300,000 or $250 per square foot.

By making the project bigger we were able to cut the cost per square foot in half!  The catch here is that you have to build bigger – and spend more money – to get the lower price per square foot.

We have completed a 5,000 square foot custom luxury home for $1,500,000.  That cost $300 per square foot by using all three tricks above.

We have also completed 300 square foot guest houses for 90% less than that.  They cost about $120,000 or $400 per square foot.

We provide the full budgets for every completed project so you can view these costs as a menu that you work off of.

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.


A Country Getaway in Wyoming: A New Home, Barn and Office in Alta, Wyoming

Carlo, A hedge fund manager based in San Francisco used New Avenue to design and build a ski house outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming.

The ski house has a main home, and barn/office.  The main home is a four bedroom ski house with a rustic modern look while the barn is designed to host his entire trading team from his investment business.

Carlo used New Avenue to manage this project remotely. As a business owner with kids and a busy life he needed an efficient way to manage the architecture, interior design and construction.  He used the new avenue platform to coordinate and manage everything.

Alta Exterior 1 Alta Exterior 2Alta Exterior 3Alta Exterior 4 Alta KitchenAlta Bed

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.

Carriage Houses and Second Dwelling Units of San Ramon

The City of San Ramon is seeking to amend their development standards to encourage more second dwelling units.  According to their housing element, the city will revise the zoning ordinance to facilitate second unit development.  Specifically, 50 second dwelling units within the 2014-2022 housing element planning period.

What qualifies as a second dwelling unit per the city’s standards? Although the terms are used somewhat interchangeably in the city’s planning code, a carriage house is a type of second unit located on an upper floor above

Carriage House
Carriage House

the detached garage of a single family dwelling.   A second dwelling unit is the comprehensive term.  According to the city’s definition, a second dwelling unit is:

“A second permanent dwelling that is accessory to a primary dwelling on the same site.  A second unit or carriage house provides complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, sanitation, and parking, and if attached to the primary dwelling, is provided exterior access separate from the primary dwelling.”

Here are a few of the requirements related to second dwelling units in San Ramon, though we recommend you review the zoning ordinance for the most accurate definition, requirements, variances and exceptions:

  • Whether it’s attached or detached, second dwelling can range from 350 – 1,200 sq ft, but no larger than 35% of main house (whichever is less)
  • If attached, setback min is 15’-0”, but if detached, this reduced to 7’-0”
  • Maximum height is 35’-0”
  • New address assignment is required
    • Separate water meter is required for a new address
  • Must pay sewer connection fee and school district fees
  • 1 additional parking is required
  • No design review if the dwelling is a single-story structure, but must pay a $300 fee for a 2-story unit

Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements in your zoning district. Learn more about transforming your home by learning about our process, read our client stories or contact us today if you are interested in building your own second dwelling unit, carriage house or other home 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.

Summer in Southern Ontario (Backyard Cottages Galore!)

I’m just back from a week in Silver Bay, Ontario where I had a great time with family and old friends. Silver Bay is a little bay on Lake Erie south of Toronto and west of Buffalo, NY. I grew up spending summers here and spent time in and around a number of little backyard cottages. There was the bunk house that we used to crash in after sneaking Labatt’s Blue past the parents, the mansion with a “gate house” that I rode past on my way to a summer camp, and the backyard cottage that a friend’s mother built for herself so her kids and grandkids could live in the main home.

While there I took a quick bike ride through some neighboring bays to see how many other small cottages might be tucked in corners or hidden back in wooded lots and hoped to find something worth sharing. I was shocked to see that there were tons of backyard cottages that came in all shapes and sizes.

The bays along Lake Erie’s north coast (yes, a lake can have a coast) has been a part of Canada’s cottage country for over 100 years. Trains used to cut across Canada to get from New York to Buffalo to Detriot, Chicago and beyond. A quick shot across the Canadian side of Lake Erie was the most direct route and since this was before cars were common, people would hop a train and ride 10, 20 or 30 miles, (just far enough to escape the city heat and get away from the belching smoke of the steel mills) then hop off at their stop and walk one mile from the tracks to their cottage. And then they’d stay there for months. It was a summer we’d all dream of: truly off the grid and literally unplugged.

Here are a bunch of the backyard cottages, guest houses and in-law cottages that are tucked away on dirt roads and little firelane’s around Silver Bay, Ontario.

A few old friends enjoying a martini (or two or four) on the deck of their main home.

And the backyard cottage behind where their children currently live.

2 - Jake and Sue Laneway House

This mansion was build over 100 years ago… and came with two great little gate houses that are now perfect little homes.

3 - Mega Mansion

One of two gate houses to that accompany that mega mansion.

4 Gate house 1 of 2 for the mantion - front

The second gate house.  This is just across from the blue one.  5 Gate House 2 of 2 for the mansion

6 Gate House 1 of 2 for the mansion

Here’s a second stone mansion on acres of land.  The little house on the left was truly a carriage house when the original home was built approximately 100 years ago. The carriage house is now it’s own nice little second unit. 7 Carriage House on the left

A close up of the carriage house…8 Carriage House - Now a private home

Another mega “cottage” in the back right that came with a carriage house that is now a perfect little beach front home. 9 Big 100 year old house and carriage house

That little cottage on the right is an old garage that has grown and evolved overtime.  It hosts a small business part time and family the rest of the time.

10 Guest House tucked away behind the main home 11 Guest house tucked away between the street and the main home

This guest house was a big surprise.  It’s tucked away in the woods but it’s an architectural gem and frankly, way nicer than you’d expect in a little bay outside of Buffalo, NY. 13 Guest House Cedar Bay

The side of the Cedar Bay guest house.

14 Guest House Cedar Bay - privacy lattice

The front of the Cedar Bay guest house. This is the front deck that looks out over Lake Erie. 15 Front of Guest House in Cedar Bay

There’s the main house on the left and the little guest house on the right. 16 Cedar Bay Big and Little House

This is standing on the beach looking back.  You can see a bit of the guest house hidden in the trees on the left. 17 Guest house tucked away on th left

This cute little cottage is not all that little, but the red is inspiring.

20 Not a small home.. but looks great

If I was a gambling man, I’d bet that everyone who has stayed here enjoyed profound clarity of thought, deep soul filling happiness and they wrote a novel while there. 22 Stone Guest House

This was once a garage but is now a serving a much more important role in this universe… it hosts poker nights, sleepovers, and rowdy games of eucher. 23 Garage Conversion

I’m really not sure if this is just storage or if it’s a working cottage.  It looks like it has some history to it and hopefully it will have a colorful future too. 24 Guest room… needs a little TLC

25 Squatters

People are often looking for barn doors.  It’s not necessarily an expensive project that has $2,000 custom doors and $700 hardware… there are countless sheds and barns with simple hardware like this shed has…28 Rolling Barn Door - the budget variety It’s not all mansions with carriage houses around here.  There are a number of smaller homes with us regular folk living there.  This little guest house made of reclaimed windows is a great little backyard cottage. 29 DIY guest room

This is neither tiny, nor small, nor a backyard cottage, but it’s such great design that it’s worthy of inclusion here.  30 Huge Porch on a not so small cottage

31 Fireplace

Technically the little detached guest room does qualify as a second unit… 32 Tiny Guest room

33 Tiny Guest Room

When a growing family needed more space they added a second cottage just slightly behind the first one.  It looks quite separate from the street now and they feel like two totally separate homes while only being about eight feet apart. 34 Two little houses 35 Two litle houses 2

Lastly,  this little guy has been hanging around for a while and there never seems to be a summer weekend when it isn’t put to use.  36 This works too!

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.