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

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.




The Right Way to Start a Project: How New Avenue seamlessly brings together owners and architects to start a remodel, addition or new home

At New Avenue, we make it as easy as possible to start your project right.

We have found that just one meeting in your home with an architect is the perfect way to begin.  Architects see things in minutes that many of us will never see!  Design talent, matched with countless hours in a studio during college and thousands of hours more studying other homes in your community makes a difference.

You can get free visits from architects and contractors. They will come by and give you a sales pitch by trying to impress you with their past work while not giving you new design work for free.  We save you time by charging a small fee to justify making the first meeting a working meeting. We don’t make a sales pitch in your home, we come ready to work for you.

Here are our first steps in the New Avenue process. We recommend you follow this process matter who you consider working with:

Step 1: Owners fill out a Goals & Ideas questionnaire on New Avenue.  These questions are based on our experience with thousands of clients and architects and they are designed to get owners thinking about the right

Step 2: Set up a call with New Avenue project manager to discuss the goals & ideas and the New Avenue process. You can tell us a time to call you here.

Step 3: Sign up for a $250 in-home design session. You can sign up on the New Avenue site here.

In this meeting an experienced architect will listen to your goals, share their design ideas, and review zoning and building codes.

We commit to having an architect follow up within a day and we can meet with you within a week.

Step 4: The architect will introduce themselves using your project page.  Here is an example of an introduction:

Hello Rachel & Laura, My name is David. I am a New Avenue partner architect. Your project sounds really exciting! I would like to suggest that we meet at your property so that we can meet, look over the home and discuss your options for design and development. Are you available in the early evening sometime next week? At the moment Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings are open for me. Do one of those dates work for you? David
Another architect said this:
My name is Brad. I’m an Architect with New Avenue. Your project sounds very exciting and I’d love to meet you at your property to hear more about your vision. Do you have any availability to meet next Wednesday between 11AM and 1PM or the following Tuesday also between 11AM and 1PM? I look forward to meeting you.
These messages are posted in a private message on your project timeline
Private Message on Timeline
Step 5: After the meeting you’ll receive a detailed Design Proposal that will list every step in the project, the hours and cost for each step. You can click approve to hire the architect and we automatically provide a design agreement the delivers the industry’s best practices in design, permitting and construction administration.

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.

Trust us! Seriously. Use These 3 Essential & Free Tools Every Addition, Remodel or Custom Home Needs: A Design Agreement, Construction Agreement and Budget

If you are planning an addition, remodel, or custom home then save this message.  Seriously. Save it and use these three documents.

This is the most important article we can share with you.

Communication is always stressful and challenging.  Every remodel or new construction project has questions that need to be answered or changes that an owner, inspector, architect or contractor want to make. Some of these changes are great improvements, some are in response to discoveries, some are just part of the creative process (picking, kitchen pulls, paint colors etc…)

Anyone who promises not to make mistakes and not to have changes is over-promising. Sometimes over-promising is caused by optimism and enthusiasm while other times people may just outright lie to you.

Every project needs a Design Agreement, Construction Agreement and Budget. These three documents help the owner, architect and contractor communicate expectations.  That’s it.  That’s the goal!

Owners, architects and contractors use New Avenue’s innovative system to manage projects that cost between $50,000 to over $2,000,000.  Current projects are located from California to New York.  Our software system collects insights throughout the design, permitting and construction process. In one year we see more transactions, proposals, and changes than most most architects and contractors see in a lifetime.   We incorporate those lessons in the industry’s best agreements and budgets and we provide these to you for free.

We are genuinely afraid of any project that does not have a clear agreement and budget in place.  In fact, we won’t work with anyone who doesn’t want to use these.  Without this expectations are guaranteed to be wrong.  We recommend that every project use these three agreements to set the right expectations and establish a healthy working relationship:

New Avenue Construction Agreement

New Avenue Design Agreement

New Avenue Example Budget Format For $100,000 – $5,000,000

Project are easier to manage, more efficient, and more affordable when the team has a clear understanding of the work to do.

  • This saves you time and headaches.
  • When you save the architect time, you save money.
  • When you save the contractor time you save money.
  • When mistakes go down the owner, architect and contractor will have fewer mistakes and this improves quality.

Everyone is happier as a result!

Following the guidelines set forth in these agreements requires discipline and the New Avenue project management system makes that part easy.

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

9 Construction Communication Gaps – How to Talk to a Contractor

Construction lingo can lead to confusion before your job even begins. This often creates cost overruns and frustration.

This article tells you what to look for in a construction bid so you can avoid surprises.

Anywhere you see something you don’t understand you should expect to be surprised by a cost that you didn’t anticipate. If you don’t know an acronym or brand name or word in the bid, just ask. That’s the goal of reviewing the bid with a contractor.

Here are 9 common communication issues that can cause you pain that is easily avoided:

Allowance: This is a dollar value that a contractor has noted for something in your project.  For example, your allowance for your bathroom tile is $2,000.00.  If the cost of the tile goes up or down then you pay or save the difference.   A large number of allowances means that the contractor is shifting the responsibility of getting certain products for a specified price to you.    Be careful of more than 5 allowances in any bid and make sure you know how to buy something for the allowance price noted.   Often times an allowance for windows is just a small fraction of the windows that you probably want to buy.

OPCI:  Owner Provided Contractor Installed.  You will be paying for these products and storing them on site for the contractor to install.   The contractor is responsible for installation costs. This can be a great way to save money, but you certainly want to be aware of what you have to buy. If you buy the wrong thing or too little then the contractor is justified in charging you hourly to go out shopping for you.

PBO: Purchased by Owner.  This is the same as OPCI.

NIC: Not in Contract.  This is work that the contractor is not responsible for.  You will have to accept a change order and pay additional money to get this work completed

By Owner: This is the same as NIC.  You are responsible for all materials and labor to complete this work.

TBD:  To Be Determined.  There will invariably be something needed that costs you money.  TBD should rarely if ever be part of a construction bid.  The point of a contractor is to eliminate TBD.

Verify in Field or VIF: Danger!  The contractor will verify if some work needs to be completed after he or she starts and it will then be your responsibility to pay for it.  It’s better to pay them hourly to remove any VIF conditions before you sign a contract and before they start work.  Be very clear that the site slope, soil conditions, plumbing, underground utilities, electrical are all included in the bid.  We’ve heard contractors complain that the dirt was heavier than they expected.  While possibly true, it’s their job to deal with that.

Existing Condition: The current condition of anything such as underground utilities, underground rock/soil issues, mold, asbestos, dry rot.  These should almost all be determined prior to accepting a bid.   For example many roofers will say that dry rot (which is a visible fungus) is an existing condition and is not part of their bid but they could easily look at rafters from outside and see that dry rot is an issue.

 T&M: Time and Materials.  The contractor will work by the hour and will bill you for their hours plus their materials and then will typically mark it all up by 15%.  This puts all the risk on you as the customer and gives them an incentive to take their sweet time while running up both labor and material charges.   There’s no reason to use T&M for anything other than a small job that takes just a few days.

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.