Cost to design a basement remodel in Alameda, CA

The design and engineering cost for a full basement remodel, including adding a kitchen and bedrooms is $14,300.

This is for a construction project that is budgeted for $200,000 in construction spend.

The proposal is here: Basement Remodel in Alameda

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How to hire an architect & what to expect in your first design session/meeting

Unless you are a Rockefeller you probably didn’t grow up watching your family hire architects.

The best way to start any major project of approximately $50,000 or more is to talk to an architect.  Architects have the ability to solve design and permitting challenges, they have the talent to create something beautiful, and they can be your trusted ally throughout the project.

But what is the first step to hiring an Architect?

At New Avenue we make it easy to get started.  We provide a free Goals & Ideas form that asks you the right questions to get you thinking about the what you want to do.  Then all of our projects start with a free call to review your goals and introduce the best architect from our stable of vetted architects.  If you choose to have a Design Session in your home, we will introduce one of architect who is a vetted partner in our network.

The Goals & Ideas questionnaire is based on 25+ years of experience and lessons from hundreds of projects we managed in the past few years.  Our questionnaire may remind you of just one thing that you want to incorporate in your design and that alone can save you a major headache and thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars during construction.

This is because realizing important design elements during construction is expensive!

When a New Avenue pro comes to work for you they will prepare beforehand, typically for 3-5 hours.  They will discuss the following:

  • Goals and Ideas: Homeowner’s answers to the online questionnaire.
  • Design ideas: Homeowner and architect’s ideas saved to the Project Page.
  • Roadmap: The 300 design/build steps in the project Roadmap.
  • Permit risks: Preliminary discussion of the permitting process.
  • Design Proposal: A detailed line item proposal will be posted to the Project Page after your meeting.

    Most importantly, they will show up ready to work, not to sell.  They will start talking to you about your program and they will create a lot of value in this first meeting. 

    We charge $250 for this Design Session.

You can use New Avenue with one of our partner architects and you can add any architect that you find on your own. That’s the beauty of a free software platform!

After your Design Session, the architect will provide a detailed proposal that is broken down by line item.  You can accept this to hire that architect or you can use this as a format to compare to other proposals.  You’re not obligated to continue with New Avenue or the architect you met. Of course, we hope you do, and we’re eager to address any questions you may have.

The deliverables for the initial Design Session are spelled out in our Design Agreement. You can read that here, or Get Started and use it for free on New Avenue. 

How to Interview an Architect

Architects are flexible and can work in any number of styles, shapes, styles or cities.  That is part of the practice of architecture.  The challenge is finding the right design for you and your home.  The best way to start is to define your Goals and Ideas so that you can define both the design problem you are trying to solve and the needs or goals you want to meet.   New Avenue provides a list of “Goals and Ideas” that you can fill out to start your “Program Development”.  This will guide your discussion.
When meeting with the architect, try walking through these questions:
– Ask for his or her ideas about your project
– Ask what the biggest challenges for this job will be
-Get a feel for how receptive he or she is to your ideas
Find out how involved he would be as the building progresses 
-Confirm what is included in the fee.  Are the following included:
  • Permit forms
  • Responding to city “plan check comments”
  • Recruiting sub-consultants such as engineers and surveyors
  • Reviewing contractor bids
  • Reviewing contractor bills
  • Approving/denying contractor change orders
  • Picking out finishes: Flooring, tile, paint colors, cabinets, counters etc..
-Confirm who will actually do the designing
– Ask for clarification about anything you don’t understand
– Ask if they can provide three dimensional drawings
– You’d want to see previous work
– Talk to clients 
Anyone who is part of New Avenue has the skills to get the job done.   So this is mostly about your feelings about who you want to work with. Ideally like him or her very much and when you are talking it becomes quickly obvious that you are on the same page. 
Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

A Fixed Price Construction Agreement Is The Only Way To Stay On Budget

A client recently asked one of our architect partners the following question:
“Could you ask to see the receipts so we know they aren’t cheating me on the purchases? They are not supposed to make a profit on the purchases, but they do make a profit where it says profit in the budget”
If you want to compare a project budget to the actual cost, you will need a simple table like New Avenue uses in our Budget Page.   Anyone on your team can look at the budget tab on your project page by signing into
To give an example of how budgeting works, I have attached two pictures.  One is for a roof.  This shows an original budget of $4,500.  In this example, the roof is already on.  The budget for the roof has not changed, it is now 100% complete and you can see that the client paid $4,500.  That is completed “on budget”.
 Shingles and Shakes Budget - Roof
The second shows the windows and doors.  This changed via a change order the client approved.  The client ended up selecting nicer quality windows that cost more than was budgeted for the windows shown in the architectural plans.   In this example, the bid was $4,700.  The windows selected were $7,914.58.  The contractor provided a “Change Order” on the New Avenue budget page and the client reviewed this and approved it. In this case, the contractor was under contract to purchase and install the windows in the architectural plans for the $4,700 bid. The owner shopped around and chose nicer windows that cost $3,214.58 more than the specified windows.  The owner chose nicer windows, the contractor bought them and installed them. No one was surprised and everyone was happy:)   This is fairly common.
Windows and Doors Budget
You can review every line item in a budget.  To do so is a matter of reviewing the budget line by line to see what has changed.  Using our system, there isn’t any way for a contractor to charge you more than was budgeted unless the client approves a change.
Auditing receipts is not something that we expect any architect or client to bother with.  We realized years ago that tracking receipts is not helpful in getting fair pricing or managing a budget.  A “time and materials” contract is one where the client pays for all labor and materials plus a markup for overhead and profit.  You do see all receipts in this type of contract. This markup is typically 15%.  We don’t do that type of contract because it consistently leads to 100% overages.
A “Time and Materials” contract shifts the responsibility to track expenses and manage the budget from the contractor to you – the homeowner.
Every contractor marks up portions of the materials and labor, that is simply how the industry works.  For example, a Time & Materials contract may have the contractor showing laborers at $35/hour when they actually pay them $20/hour.  The difference is a markup that goes towards overhead, profit, insurance or anything else that the general contractor has to pay for.   Even in a Time & Materials contract, clients do not see this markup.
Auditing the materials purchased is nearly impossible.  Some materials are supplied by subcontractors, some are bought directly by the contractors.  If a contractor wants to cheat they can always buy extra materials and return some of it. It’s impractical and even impossible to follow this. Your best strategy is to hire someone you trust and pay them what they bid.  Then leave it at that.
We have found that the best practice in the industry is a fixed price budget and that is what we insist on for any project where the owner has a budget in mind… and that’s almost every project.
Now, even if you’re a Silicon Valley or Hedge Fund billionaire that has no budget, and you want to create a work of art, and you want Time & Materials then we still insist on starting with a fixed price budget and then approving change orderes for any changes.  It’s better for us too when we have a process, a contract and expectations set at the start.
Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

When and how to pick appliances when remodeling a home or building a new home

There is often a question about who buys the appliances for your new kitchen and when to buy them.

Appliances are a very personal choice so almost all owners want to shop for them and choose them.  Ideally you can find what you want and provide the “cut sheets” or specs to your architect and/or contractor.

Typically a contractor will say that all appliances are Purchased by Owner and then either installed by the dealer or by the contractor.   When installed by the contractor they should charge an installation fee that is based on the difficulty of installing the particular appliance that you’ve chosen.  The cost of the installation will vary based on the appliances.  Generally speaking much more expensive appliances carry more liability as the contractor carries it through the house and installs it. If they are installing it and they scratch it then they are responsible to fix it or replace it.

Many an architect and contractor have ended up with an unwanted refrigerator by making a mistake in specifying the size or when installing it.

The best practice is to have the appliance dealer do the installation.  Most appliance dealers offer this service.  The contractor typically is happy to hand this work off to the dealer too.  Plus, as the owner, if you pay the dealer directly for the appliance and installation then the contractor doesn’t charge the 15% markup for overhead & profit (OH&P).

The best time to pick your appliances is during schematic design.  That might be a year or more before your they are needed. You don’t have to purchase them at that time.  Small changes in the appliance size can cost thousands or more to retrofit.

We have had contractors move walls to accommodate a refrigerator that “saved” the owner money because it was on sale.  Moving the walls was over $1,000 in effort and it ended up costing the owner more in the long run.  Planning is everything!






How to Stay On Budget With An Architect & What is an “Additional Service” from an Architect?

At New Avenue we have determined that the best practice for providing architectural services for remodels, additions, and new custom homes is to provide detailed Design Proposals.  Our online proposal system structures each proposal in with each major task listed in a line item proposal.

The architecture services are billed hourly and the dollars billed are presented next to the original proposal.

Design Proposal Sample

Both the owner and the architect deserve some flexibility to veer from this proposal.  We state in our design agreement that any increase in billings must be discussed and approved in order for the owner to be responsible to pay for it.

For example typical Schematic Design will have three schemes: “Schema A”, “Scheme B” and “Scheme C”.  These may take a few weeks each to develop and you have a reasonable expectation that Scheme C is your final design. If you want to go do Scheme D, E, F…. K, L, M then the architect will provide an “Add Service” form estimating the number of hours for  the next Scheme and you, as the owner will have the option to approve it.

The Design Proposal sets reasonable expectations.  The Add Service Form prevents owners from being surprised by an invoice for work that was not in the Design Proposal.

Other Add Services may include civil engineering, surveys, structural engineering, permit fees, or interior design.

We provide the details for this Add Service process  in our help section here:

Add Service Proposal

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

Client Quotes and Referrals

We’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of nice feedback from the clients, architects and contractors that we work with.   We typically share this list when a potential client asks for a reference in order to verify a construction budget, construction schedule, building permit process or costs.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Here are several references:

Our son, AJ joined our little family last Tuesday. Thank you for surrounding us with a strong team during all of this,it’s good to know that New Avenue, Mick and Robert have the house project under control while we’re ramping up on this whole parent project thing.

– Robert K (San Rafael Remodel, Addition, new master bathroom, seismic, 5/6/2015, 7 days after AJ’s arrival)

The very nice thing about working with you is that I don’t need to worry about the process and oversight, and vetting people to do the work.  That is a huge value for me. Our architect is a pleasure to work with.  He is very easy and has been responsive and flexible and understands what we’re looking for.  And he certainly knows his business and how to work with the City. So that’s great.

– Marian M (Berkeley master bedroom and master bathroom remodel, client note from 5/2015)

The architect is designing such a nice cottage that I might just move in myself and rent out the main house!

– Ellen H (Albany, CA  client, detached music studio, guest house, landscaping, new bathroom)

Having a fully integrated way of controlling correspondence along with billing is nonexistent… this is really great

– Miklos, General Contractor (Alameda historic restoration, Berkeley accessory dwelling, San Francisco Addition, San Francisco remodel, Oakland guest house, Berkeley addition, El Cerrito accessory dwelling)

“You are rendering a very valuable service to the families and communities for which we have great appreciation”

-Vijai Sharma, PhD, Oakland addition

“New Avenue allows us to focus on what we enjoy doing the most – designing for clients.”

-Patrick, architect 

“Working with New Ave has been such a great experience! From the beginning, New Ave and Paks Builder have been cohesive partners and we look forward to working on many future projects together!”

– Robert P – General Contractor

“You certainly make it waay better than business-as-usual.  No doubt.”

– Prasad, Client

“I’m tired of trolling Yelp and banging my head against the wall.  I just want someone to show up”

– Bryndis T

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

5 Biggest Surprises When Designing and Building a Custom Home in The Berkshires

We recently interviewed one of our project owners and asked for their top 5 surprises.  They came back with 6.  That alone says something about designing and building a home!

This owner just broke ground on a custom home that is over $1 million in construction costs.

So what were the top 5 surprises?
 1) Cost
2) The design process
3) The number of professionals needed
4) A Lack of anonymity in the community
5) Partner communication
6) Time commitment
Here are the unedited, and unvarnished responses:

1.Cost of building: We had zero experience and nothing really relatable other than planning a wedding” – even buying a house is tangible and there is a much smaller starting cost.

2. Architecture Design process: This is our dream house and we are hands on and want to be involved – It took many meetings and lots of houzz and Pinterest to eventually finalize our plans.  It’s a blank canvas and a piece of art, one could never put the pencil down.

3. Other professionals needed: with  architects, general contractors, engineers, landscape designers, interior designers,
Home automation, etc etc etc – you become your own mini GC coordinating all of these individual teams (like getting 5 or more different companies to all work together

4.Lack of anonymity:  There is a difference between the big city vs.  small town living. In the city I don’t care if my neighbor has $10,000 or $10 million remodel.  If they are good people and fun then we hang out with them.  In the small town you feel the judging much more. That makes it more challenging but it is also easier to navigate to who you ideally want to spend time with.

5. Partner: You need to have similar design ideas as your partner.  This is more important for us because we are both hands on and interested.   If my wife was into modern and I was into a rustic cabin then every decision would have been a challenge, debate, compromise.  It would have not worked well.

6. Personal time commitment: We didn’t realize how many hours of personal investment this would take.  From hiring architects until we walk in the door and then even after as we settle in and navigate to the best way to live in the space.  It is never ending so we need discipline. This is hard to manage with work, family and other commitments

Sign up here or contact us for additional information about this project including floor plans, costs, timeline or to use the New Avenue free project management system: Get Started

Should I Cut Out My Architect During Construction?


We know it’s hard to pay hourly for any professional service. You may get great value from it but you just don’t get to hold onto something.  It’s much more satisfying to shop for for the nice tile, expensive counters, faucets or similar.   Because of this, architects are often cut out at the time construction begins.

Contractors love to be “Your Guy” and tell you that they’ve got this.  That leads to problems.

We just had a great contractor, who admittedly doesn’t respect the architect’s role, run with a project, he demolished an old wall that was rotten and had dry rot. He blew off a clear note from the architect not to do so because he though he knew better. It turns out that wall was required as a condition of the building permit. The inspector stopped the job and this cost the owner months of delays as they had to get new permits for the entire project.

In another project the laws changed during construction. The city literally re-wrote the rules.  The new rules allowed the project to become much bigger and the contractor called on the architect to help them add the extra square footage to an already half built building.

While extreme, these things happen all the time.  Even small catches by occasional reviews by an architect can help protect the integrity of your project.  For example, trading out cedar siding for vinyl that “looks so real you can’t even tell” is a sales line from a vinyl salesman – and not the best material for your home.

Considering this, we asked David Locicero, a partner architect in the New Avenue network to explain his role during construction.  Here it is:

What Does An Architect Do During Construction?

Or, in other words, why should you pay for an architect’s services during construction?

Architects ensure quality AND save you money. What we do during construction consists primarily of three things: answer questions from the contractor; visit the site to observe the progress and quality of construction; and review the contractor’s invoices.

Most remodeling projects run into conditions that were unexpected. A good contractor will call the architect and ask for direction, or input of some sort. The goal in answering the questions is to maintain the integrity of the design and minimize any additional costs.

When I visit a project under construction, I am looking to see if the building progress is on schedule, and to see if the construction is being done to the quality expected and that no short cuts are being taken, and that the specified materials are being used. Basically, ensuring you are getting what you paid for.

When a client receives an invoice from the builder, I can review it to ensure that the materials billed for are on site, and that the work being billed for has been completed.

Construction Phase services protect the owner; ensuring that the schedule is adhered to, that the construction is of the appropriate quality, and that the design is executed correctly.

How to Deal With Subcontractors: Don’t!

“Roofers are a different breed, dude. You can’t imagine what I deal with.”   This is what a cousin of mine who works with building materials recently said.

When we were visiting a home that a good friend is building himself, we saw an empty beer can in the driveway and his comment was,  “Looks like the electrician was here earlier”.  It was 2:00 in the afternoon…

That’s certainly not fair to all roofers and electricians.  It is telling though.  The range of customer service skills that subcontractors care to have is unbelievably wide.  Many of the absolute best ones are skilled in a craft that the rest of us will never come remotely close to understanding.   These types are typically in high demand.  They do not work directly for homeowners because they don’t have the time to educate people who are amateur project managers.   Instead, they tend to work directly with a short list of contractors who they trust.

This is part of the reasoning behind a general contractor only being as good as his or her “subs”.  There is some truth to that.

In the case that you hire a great general contractor and, as a result, you do get the great subcontractor, it is advisable that you don’t talk to the subs much at all and you certainly don’t direct their work. That is what you are paying the general contractor to do.  One very good contractor we work with insists that the clients never talk to the subs.  His point is that there will be a miscommunication and there will be a mistake made that costs time and money as a result.   Therefore, the client must talk to him about their plumbing ideas or their electrical changes.  Then he or she manages that work.

As a DIY builder, you will have to manage the subs. Being a DIYer is a great idea if you have the time and interest to manage 10+ subcontractors over 6-12 months.   It can save you 15-25%.  Few people know what this entails, though, and you’ll be learning as you go. Mistakes will occur, and that drives price increases.    In this scenario you will be the one who talks to the roofers who are throwing shingles in the neighbors yard and you will be finding the beer can in the driveway and wondering how to handle that situation.