How to start a new architecture or construction project

At New Avenue we have three simple steps to start every project:

1 – Get started online for free: There is a Goals & Ideas questionnaire that is as much for you to define your goals as it is for our architect to start preparing for a meeting with you. A Roadmap on your project page. The design agreement on your project page spells out every step start to finish.

2 – The hiring process starts with the meeting at your home, which is what we charge the $250 for. We introduce the one and best designer we have in your area.  That’s part of our service is that we’ve interviewed hundreds to narrow it down to the one we believe is the best fit.  Design requires meeting on site and that takes at least half a day’s work.

3 – The platform is for you to work with the architect and later the contractor.  Project management is provided by the designer/architect during the design and permitting process.  Then during construction the contractor provides the project management.  An additional project manager would cost $160/hour and just a few hours a week adds up to $30,000 over the course of a project.  We don’t offer that “extra cook in the kitchen” as it is not a good use of your money.
Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Who owns architecture plans? You paid for the service, not the plan

If you are a typical owner, you expect to “own” your plans after you hire an architect and pay them to create a design for you.  That is not exactly how it works because any set of plans has tricky liability and copyright issues. We will explain these issues and how the industry standard of the owner having the right to build the project while the architect owns the copyright is very reasonable.
First we’ll share an infuriating scenario that really is the architect’s fault: Fairly often, an owner hires an architect, they progress through a certain amount of design and the relationship or project is just not working out. The owner decides to fire the architect and the architect says “This is my design, you can’t use it in any way unless we negotiate a price and you buy it from me”. This happens.
The owner’s mind is blown! Imagine you just paid thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for someone to work for you and then they tell you that he or she “owns” what he was just paid to do? That’s simply not how any typical employer/employee relationship works.
While a nightmare, this is a communication error that can be easily mitigated and it is the architect’s responsibility to explain why the plans are copyrighted.
Most importantly, what you want as an owner is typically the right to build your project. This is what you get with New Avenue.  Many (but not all, and not even most) architects follow this practice too.
There is a nuance with architectural plans that is similar to buying a book. When you buy a book you can read it and keep it on your bookshelf.  You can’t edit it or start making copies to sell.  You have the right to use the documents created by the architect for your project in the same way.  This is similar to having the right to buy and own any copyrighted material.
Frankly, you can stop working with your architect, or you can hire another architect or you can hire your own contractor and in each scenario you can use the plans.
There are two big limitations though:
1.  You don’t have the right to replicate the designs or use them build another home on another site. There are several reasons for this:
– There are always specific site conditions that need to be considered by the architect for plans to be safe to use.
– An additional project increases the legal liability of the architect so it is not allowed.
– You did not pay for the vast majority of the “details” in the plans.  Details are often times dozens of intricate drawings for how to assemble a part of the project.  These are crafted over decades and are used over and over again on projects.  Since you, as the owner, did not pay for the years of development to make them, you don’t own the right to use them or copy them.

2. You don’t have the right to use incomplete plans to build the home because this creates liability for the architect who created the plans. For example, you can pay to just sketch up a floorplan in the Schematic Design (Phase II in our process) and then stop. You can then use these completed Phase II documents (i.e., the floor plan and design) to work with another designer or architect.   But you can’t get half way through the construction documents (Phase IV in New Avenue’s process) and then fire the architect and try to build the home with an incomplete set of drawings.  This also creates liability as mistakes inevitably occur and it leads to liability, and lower quality construction that leads to lawsuits.

In conclusion, you can stop working on your plans and keep the portion of the work that is completed and this is for the one project that the plans are for.  If you want to finish an incomplete set of plans you typically start all over with a new architect however you may be able to sign a release from the original architect who then allows the new architect to finish the plans. This involves a release agreement that releases the first architect from the liability that the new architect will assume.  Then you can continue the plans from that point forward.

Why you need insurance when remodeling or building a new home

Insurance is a good thing when remodeling or building.
At New Avenue we require that you have homeowners insurance for your current improvements on your property.  Improvements are basically your home and anything else built on your property.  A typical homeowners policy covers these buildings.  Our lawyers tell us of scenarios where something bad happens when a consultant, architect or contractor is on site.  For example, a dog knocks over your grill and burns your garage down.  This happens while the surveyor is also there so you blame him or her. Your insurance covers this and protects the surveyor.
There’s no need to fear this though.  Check your current homeowners insurance and you should be covered so you don’t have to buy anything new:)

Remodeling, Buying Fixer Uppers, and Adding Accessory Dwellings with Team Floyd

When done right, the renovation loan process will take 30 days.  There are five steps in this process:

  • Pre qualification (1 day)
  • If buying a new home the offer to purchase the home must be accepted. If renovating our own home or adding on, this is obviously not relevant (1 day)
  • List of repairs to be approved and choosing a contractor (10 days)
  • Loan approval, appraisal, final conditions for the borrower and renovation (11 days)
  • Closing (7 days)

The renovation that follows can range from 30 days to over six months.

Kris Floyd and Pinnacle Renovation Lending spends over 80% of this time working with owners to obtain renovation loans.  At New Avenue we are working with them to help owners who are considering 203K loans and remodeling loans.  They have the ability to finance the “soft costs” which includes the design and permit fees. You will typically pay these soft costs out of pocket and then be reimbursed once construction begins.

Kris estimates that over 95% of all their renovation loans take frmo 30-45 days to close.

Pinnacle has a renovation loan that allows owners to purchase a home and renovate the home with one loan.   There are two key benefits in their renovation loan that we find unique. First, t he mortgage is based on after-improved value.  Second, there is only one closing and then repairs begin.
To learn more about remodeling costs, to speak to an architect or contractor or to discuss the financing options you can sign up at New Avenue.
We will share example budgets, example floor plans.  Any owner, architect or contractor can use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

 

$1,000 for a custom home plan? This is a ripoff that will cost you.

One of our architects recently emailed this to me:

“I lost a commission on a NEW BUILD to a guy who charged a grand!!! Now I made most of my fee back, fixing it, but you wouldn’t believe how often that is the case.”

The key here is that the owner in this story still paid “most” of the original architect’s proposed fee. For the same cost the owner had to endure a painful experience of starting with a defective plan, then figuring out how to fix it during construction.

Every architect has this story.  Very few owners understand it.

The lesson is that a great designer or architect will create a better design, your project will be a much more enjoyable experience, and the time that the architect spends working on your project creates efficiencies that save you money.  Basically, you can’t avoid the work so you might as well hire a professional who knows what he or she is doing!

Eight years ago, I founded New Avenue and at the time I was guilty of misunderstanding the design process.  I had no idea what an architect really did. I fell for the prefab myth that scale and efficiency would save you money. It turns out shipping costs and cranes eliminate any cost benefits of prefab building. Worse than the lack of savings is that you get stuck with the existing design. That is never as good as a truly custom design for the specific site where you are building.

The key is finding a good architect who follows a good process and stays involved start to finish.

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

 

 

3 Reasons Why We Recommend You Hire an Architect

At New Avenue we are all about great value.  In design and construction the hard way is usually the right way and that means the best value is often the more difficult and more expensive way.

This applies to architecture as much as any other part of the process.

Many people cut out an architect and trust the design to their own capabilities or to a contractor.  The hope that you will save time and money is a shortsighted decision that can sound like a good idea at first, but it will typically make your project more costly and painful in the long run.  This is a big mistake.

When hiring and architect for the first time, we recommend you consider these three reasons for hiring a professional designer or architect:

Reason #1:  You want your home to be amazing.  An architect with 10, 20 or even 30 years of experience and a creative ability is critical to creating a truly great design.  An architect can make a good design great.

Reason #2: You studied anything other than architecture.  Exposure to hundreds of photos on Houzz.com and Pinterest makes you a more informed and better client, it does not make you an architect.  The skill required to manage the design, permitting and construction process starts with formal training, involves rigorous licensing and requires years or experience.   An architect will typically require at least 100 hours of work to get a design and permits together.  It may be 300+ hours of work if your project is larger and more complex.  If you were to try this on your own it can easily take five or ten times as long. An experienced person can pull from decades of experience to create a better design and they can do it all in a fraction of the time it will take you.

Reason #3: You will probably make at least one big design mistake that you will see every time you look at your new space or new home.   Even if you design something amazing on your own, one design mistake is something that will be built into the home and it may never go away.  It is worth a few thousand dollars to avoid how a mistake like this will reduce the enjoyment of your home.

The super pragmatic perspective is to acknowledge that having an architect should save you from at least one major mistake and that alone will justify their entire fee.

At New Avenue our standard practice to incorporate an architect in all of our projects because of these three reasons.  We mapped 300+ key steps in any residential addition, remodel, accessory dwelling or new home.  Not all steps are essential but each step is a potential pitfall and an ally who can navigate and resolve the design challenges effectively creates a ton of value.   You can review the New Avenue Design Agreement and specific role of an architect Here

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

 

How to permit and permit costs of an accessory dwelling vs. an accessory structure in Albany, CA

The Albany Planning Department has a very strict interpretation of an
“accessory building” (that is not a dwelling with a kitchen) and what triggers requiring a permit. Based on a conversation in February 2017, if a storage building (accessory structure) that is less than 120 square feet in size has power or electricity, then Albany requires a permit.

Similarly, if the accessory structure is intended for any use other than storage, Albany requires a permit. A workshop accessory building would require a permit based on the proposed use. This interpretation is unique to Albany.

Re: parking
Parking requirements have been waived as of January 2017.

Re: planning and permit costs:
Because the technician was not forthcoming with what fees would apply, we made some assumptions so that we will have a reasonable amount in the budget to account for potential fees. Our project falls somewhere between an Albany defined “accessory building” and an ADU. We exist in a grey zone which their fee structure does not account for. We think once we have a master plan for development of the back yard, we should sit down with the actual planner to review the project, and the likely phasing of the
project.

At that time we should get a clearer idea of the planning fees.

Again, the building permit fee we estimated was based on a $200,000
construction budget all submitted as a single project. That’s a number we
pulled out of thin air at the counter just to get the technician to commit
to an amount for a building permit.

As we revisit the proposal, do you have drawings of the existing house and
site that might have been prepared for your recent remodel?

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

Legalizing an existing accessory dwelling in-law unit in San Francisco

We know of just one apartment out of an estimated 30,000-40,000 illegal in laws in San Francisco that was legalized! This is the story about that apartment’s legalization process.

One of our partner architects, David Locicero recently completed the legalization of an existing in law unit in San Francisco.  The process from start to finish lasted 21 months and cost just over $50,000. This was an existing and unpermitted in-law apartment that was updated to meet current codes.

Do you wonder:

  • Can I legalize an illegal in-law apartment or accessory dwelling in my home?
  • What permits do you need to legalize an unpermitted apartment in your home?
  • What do building permits cost?
  • How long does it take to get permits?
  • How much does it cost to build or legalize an unpermitted apartment?

It’s near impossible to get the answers to these questions because very few people have done this. We answers these questions here and this is based on experience, not guesswork!

Our network of architects and contractors collectively have more experience than any other company we know of and we only know of this one project that legalized an unpermitted in-law apartment.  Of course we know plenty of unpermitted apartments.

Here are the facts about the legalization process:

When did the clients accept the design proposal and hire the architect: June 2015
When were permits submitted: September 8, 2015 (3 months of design)
When were permits approved: April 2016 (8 months waiting for permits! you should plan on the same)
Construction started: April 2016
Construction finished:  November 2016 (8 months of construction).
However we didn’t get the Certificate of Occupancy until January 2017. Between the holidays, and some confusion among the inspectors, it took us quite a while to get our “CO”. (an additional 2 months of waiting).
# Hours of design time: Approximately 45 hours including responding to plan check comments and construction administration.
We had a very good contractor and very few problems uncovered during construction. The existing conditions were very favorable for minimal design costs.
Other subconsultants needed: Title 24 (Energy Conservation Compliance). I used NRGcompliance.com
Approximate design cost: $5000
Approximate construction cost: $50,000

Total timeline: 21 Months from start to finish.

We can share much more details, copies of the plans, and review your project ideas.  It’s free to call New Avenue if you have any questions.  We offer a $250 design session in your home if you want an assessment of your property.

Here are before and after photos of the living room and bathroom:

sunset inlaw_before_1 sunset inlaw_after_1

Bathroom Before

sunset inlaw_after_3

 

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

 

Cost of a Garage Conversion to an Apartment or Accessory Dwelling in Near San Francisco

This garage conversion is just over 25% completed at the time of this article.
The owner of this home is a young recent Berkeley graduate who bought a home near a local BART station.  He can commute to downtown San Francisco in about 30 minutes (when there aren’t BART delays… a big “if”)

Michael plans to rent the home out.  Other clients with projects like this have collected $2,000+ per month and paid off the entire project in 5 years.

This is a tricky project as it is built on the property line. This is allowed when converting an existing space.  The structure that is there will technically remain in order to meet permit requirement however the wood is all rotten and useless so it is just an added challenge that complicates construction and makes building a big more expensive.

The full budget is saved as a pdf file that you can view or download here: Garage Conversion Budget

Photos of the plans follow:

Site Plan - Garage Conversion Elevations - Garage Conversion Floorplan - Garage Conversion

 

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

Photos of accessory dwellings, backyard cottages, casitas, inlaw units, ADUs and guest homes

Backyard Cottage / Accessory Dwelling for Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley
Backyard Cottage / Accessory Dwelling for Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley

This was our first project, a tiny backyard cottage for a Berkeley professor (the loft is way too small, but that vaulted ceiling is quite nice: https://www.pinterest.com/NewAvenue/karens-cottage-studio-with-a-sleeping-loft/

Modular backyard cottage

A cottage we did with Sunset Magazine
https://www.pinterest.com/NewAvenue/the-new-backyard-cottage-at-sunset-celebration-wee/

Backyard Cottage
Berkeley walkway

A small cottage with a proper sized loft and nice landscaping/entry:
https://www.pinterest.com/NewAvenue/susan-s-cottage-studio-with-upstairs-loft-in-the-e/

Bruce and Nancy's Guest Room, office, storage
Bruce and Nancy’s Guest Room, office, storage

This is an office/guest room with no permitted kitchen (that we know of:)

https://www.pinterest.com/NewAvenue/bruce-and-nancys-pad-in-berkeley-ca/

Judy's Backyard Cottage in Albany, CA
Judy’s Backyard Cottage in Albany, CA

This is a 420 square foot cottage: https://www.pinterest.com/NewAvenue/judys-garden-cottage-downsizing-to-a-backyard-cott/

Our architects can work in any style. These are all in the mid range for costs.  We can show you some luxury projects and more basic projects too.

You can sign up here and I’ll set up a meeting for as early as next week. We can do almost everything remotely too: https://newavenuehomes.com/pricing