Diary of a New Construction Project

525 Replies

Originally posted by Karen Margrave:
J Scott LOVE that crew! Our son was on the job from when he was a baby. When he was around 3 he got up on the backhoe with my husband. Some people saw it and called to turn us in for child endangerment... though he was just sitting on a parked backhoe!

I got some of the same comments from this picture a couple years ago:

He's now the one second from the left in the new construction picture above...

J Scott Cute kid! (must get his looks from his mother!)

Originally posted by Mike Hurney:
J Scott Cute kid! (must get his looks from his mother!)

Absolutely no doubt! :)

DAY 73: DEMO INVOICE

We received the invoice for the Demo work today. It included the $1800 for the asbestos work, the $75 rodent letter, $1240 for permits and $6500 for the actual demo. This is right in line with what we had expected, with the exception of the extra asbestos abatement costs.

Here are some links to the documents if you're interested:

Demo Invoice

Rodent Letter

Asbestos Abatement Form

Demo Permit Receipt

Great thread J Scott. I love the crew. Thanks so much for documenting your hurdles and successes. I've learned so much from you and all here on BP and am very grateful.

DAY 79: SETBACK ISSUES

We received our final architectural plans today, and went down to the permit office to apply for our final building permits. After waiting for about 3 hours for our turn to submit the application (yup, this is how it works in Atlanta), we were told that there was a problem with the setbacks (the distance the house is being built from the road).

When the house was built back in the 1920?s, there were no zoning requirements for how far from the street the house needed to be built, so it was built about 15 feet from the road. Since then, zoning has been put in place in this area that says houses must be built at least 35 feet from the road.

We were under the impression that if we left at least part of the foundation, we were grandfathered into the old setback requirements. Apparently, this is just a myth. While they might not catch it and might let us build on the old foundation, they could always come along later and say, “Whoops, we shouldn’t have let you do that…now you have to knock it down again!” Not wanting to take that risk, we asked what our options were.

Apparently, the rule (in Atlanta, at least) is that you need to build a distance from the road that is at least a minimum of the higher of the following two values:

1. Half the distance of the current zoning setback (half of 35 feet, or 17.5 feet); or

2. The average of the setbacks for some sample of the surrounding houses (probably about 15 feet).

Assuming the average setback of the surrounding houses is less than 17.5 feet, it looks like the higher of those two values will be #1 — 17.5 feet.

This would require us to move the house back about 3 feet from where the current foundation is located. This won’t be a huge issue, as we’ve realized we’re going to have to rebuild the foundation anyway, but it will require us to get a new survey (to verify the average setback of the surrounding houses) and will require us to update our building plans to move the foundation back a few feet.

This will likely set the schedule back another week, but at least we’ll have formal approval of the new location as opposed to having the risk of them coming back later and telling us we have to move the house.

Here is a link to the version of the Construction Plans we plan to submit for permits:

CONSTRUCTION PLANS

J Scott, this thread is so cool. I visited a property today and we're thinking of wholesaling the property to a builder. I can use this info on evaluating what we'll acquire the property for taking into consideration what a builder vs. a rehabber will do. Thanks!

J - Thanks for this thread, it's very interesting.

One question - what was the rationale for making the roof so large (and so sharply pitched at 10/12) and making the second story have a clipped ceiling? Seems like it would have been cheaper to run the siding up higher and make the roof flatter and smaller and make the second story full width all the way up to the ceiling.

Originally posted by Aaron McGinnis:

One question - what was the rationale for making the roof so large (and so sharply pitched at 10/12) and making the second story have a clipped ceiling? Seems like it would have been cheaper to run the siding up higher and make the roof flatter and smaller and make the second story full width all the way up to the ceiling.

Great question...and I don't know the answer... :)

My partner has been dealing with the architect and the final drawings, and I know he sat down with the architect and the lumber company to do take-offs and come up with final structural design elements. But, I don't know why we landed on a second floor that wasn't the same footprint as the first.

Good question, and I'll see if I can get you a good answer... :)

Hey J, What's you Completion/On the Market projection?
Around here the market dies after Labor Day (kids not wanting to move schools).

I think that 8' knee wall by the entrance is an improvement.
There was something about walking in the front door and stepping into the Family & Dining rooms:-( I've been in enough houses in Marietta and tried to remember if that was a local thing.

Very nice curb appeal with that entrance/front view!

Originally posted by Mike Hurney:
Hey J, What's you Completion/On the Market projection?
Around here the market dies after Labor Day (kids not wanting to move schools).

The in-town market stays pretty active through October, so we have a little more time than if this were in the suburbs.

We're actually expecting permits to be issued on Monday of this week (still catching up to that point in my "diary"), and hoping the build will be completed in about 10 weeks from the start.

So, that would put us on the market right around Labor Day...

We actually started pre-marketing it a couple weeks ago and have some preliminary interest, so we think our price point is pretty accurate.

J Scott I don't know how you can build that house for those prices! As far as the roof pitch you have to take into account if you're using trusses, etc. A 10/12 pitch is a high pitch. We used that on our house over the garage, but it was necessary.

@Aaron McGinnis is right in that a style that allowed a lower pitch would probably have been cheaper to build. The closer to a box you get, the less it costs to build! I don't know your prices there, but a standing seam roof here is much more expensive than a heavy comp shingle so you might want weigh it against the end value. However; you have to be able to compete with other builders in the neighborhood, and only you can determine the market.

Also, have you considered putting the master upstairs, and the active living spaces on the lower? (that would also allow you to have a door to the back yard in back of the house). A lot of buyers want their kids on the same floor as them for safety reasons, and by having it on the 1st floor you may be narrowing your pool of buyers. (Each region has their own preferences on such things, so I'm not sure about yours)

Also, remember most "architects" are building their resume, you are looking for a high quality design at the most affordable price, so hold the line on features that don't add actual value ( or offer them as upgrades)

Originally posted by Karen Margrave:
J ScottI don't know how you can build that house for those prices! As far as the roof pitch you have to take into account if you're using trusses, etc. A 10/12 pitch is a high pitch. We used that on our house over the garage, but it was necessary. Aaron McGinnis is right in that a style that allowed a lower pitch would probably have been cheaper to build.

Good information...and greatly appreciated!

It's too late for this project, but definitely worth going back with my partner and doing a post-mortem on how we could have designed this better to build more cheaply. Perhaps even worth sitting down with our lumber company and engineer to talk through it.

Ultimately, our dry-in framing costs look like they'll be about $11/sf, which I'm pretty happy about (and this is with one of the most reputable national lumber suppliers and framing companies).

I'll post all the bids we've gotten over the next several weeks...we're still trying to decide among several of them, so I still don't know where our pricing/cost will shake out...

DAY 86: SETBACK SURVEY

Our surveyor completed the average setback survey that we needed for our building permits (and to determine where we could locate the house).

He determined that the average setback for the surrounding houses was 31.1?. The house we demo’ed was setback 27? (a good 12' further back than I had estimated). Given the city rules I stated above, the new house we’re constructing will need to be about 4? further back than the original house was. Not too bad.

I’ll be heading down to the City of Atlanta building department today to try to turn in our permit application…again…

Here is a link to Average Setback Survey:

AVERAGE SETBACK SURVEY

DAY 87: TURNED AWAY AGAIN

We went back to the City of Atlanta building department yesterday to try once again to submit our permit application. After waiting for about two hours, we finally got called up by the “intake” guy to review our plans to make sure they had all the basic information needed to submit (this is the way it works here). Unfortunately, once again, we were denied.

The first mistake was that we printed our survey not-to-scale. I didn’t expect the intake guy to actually pull out a ruler and check the scale, but he did. And it was off due to our printing it on the wrong sized paper. He likely would have let that one detail slide if there weren’t other issues as well. Our plans didn’t include all the footing details it needed, it didn’t include the right cross-sections for our second floor framing and it didn’t include any of our deck plans. Plus lots of other little stuff. From what I’ve heard, different intake people will require different things, but I’m guessing some of this stuff would have been required by anyone we spoke with.

Anyway, we sent the feedback to our architect who is in the process of updating the plans. Hopefully we can try again next week…

Outside of the printing issue, shouldn't most of the other problems have been things the architect should have known about? Hasn't the architect been through this process many times before? I would hope that if I paid an architect to come up with plans, that person would know how to create them such that we would get through the building department without too much friction. Am I expecting too much?

Originally posted by Mike G.:
I would hope that if I paid an architect to come up with plans, that person would know how to create them such that we would get through the building department without too much friction. Am I expecting too much?

To give you an idea of what one issue was -- the plans had a page with standard cross-sections of stairs, footings, the floor system, etc. I assume the architect includes it at the back of every set of plans as standard reference material for the plans. The in-take guy (the guy who reviews the plans to determine if they can even get submitted), basically said to us, "I don't like these standard drawings with all the cross-sections that may or may not be needed. I want to see only the cross-sections needed for this plan, and nothing else. Get rid of all the stuff that's not pertinent to these specific plans."

While I respect his opinion on the matter, my guess is that other in-take people probably wouldn't have cared if there was extraneous detail on the plan that wasn't really needed. Was he just exerting his power? I don't know. But, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the reason he had that particular issue. Though maybe that's an issue they all would have had.

As I've been told repeatedly by lots of investors who deal with the city, many of their requirements are arbitrary and constantly changing. Permits have to go through in-take people before they are even accepted, and then go through zoning, architecture review, the arborist, and who knows what other departments. And from what I've heard, it's very, very rare that a permit application will make it through the entire process without getting kicked back at some point.

While there were a couple of things I think the architect should have caught (definitely not making excuses for him), there were a couple other things that seemed completely arbitrary, and my guess is that there wasn't much chance of us getting past in-take on this round no matter what.

On the bright side, the in-take guy said he'd remember us, and if we made sure to come back to him the next time around (as opposed to another in-take person), he'd make the process a bit easier at that point... :)

J Scott Every area has their own process, and those guys in planning rule the world and know it. The best thing to do is get to know them, and hopefully they'll give you a little grace on close calls. We submit the complete plans, with all the framing, electrical, plumbing, footings, foundation, site plan, etc. all at the same time. There are details that are drawn for specific things (such as you had on yours). I don't know why that would be a problem. But... sometimes you have to deal with the quirks of the people you are working with. Once you get to know them a little better as the process moves along, it should be easier.

Next time just remember, the closer to a box you get the cheaper the construction! Use standard sizes on windows and doors, etc.

You can probably find a draftsperson that can do the plans for you and save yourself some money. Just make sure they have experience drawing plans in the area where the house will be built. (though double check that, because I hear there's areas that require a licensed architect)

You can always go online to the stock plan sites, plug in the width and depth of the house you want to do along with other features, and find a plan you like and will work for your purposes. Then, a local draftsperson or architect can use that as a starting point and it will save a lot of time.

Originally posted by J Scott:

On the bright side, the in-take guy said he'd remember us, and if we made sure to come back to him the next time around (as opposed to another in-take person), he'd make the process a bit easier at that point... :)

Yeah, I would hope you would get the same guy! It would be a bummer to have to face someone else's potentially arbitrary "rules". :)

Originally posted by Karen Margrave:
J Scott Every area has their own process, and those guys in planning rule the world and know it. The best thing to do is get to know them, and hopefully they'll give you a little grace on close calls.

We actually found a better way...

We ultimately ended up using an "expeditor." This is a person who used to work for the building department who -- for a fee -- is happy to handle the entire process for us. She knows everyone in the department, can just walk right behind the desk to talk to people when she has a question and can get things turned around a lot more quickly than we could.

Of course, the fact that the expeditor took a few times to get all the right information is what tells us that there's a lot of arbitrary stuff going on. If someone who worked in the building department for decades (and who now deals with this department for a living) can't get it right on the first try, there's something wrong.

You mentioned in an earlier post that construction should take ten weeks. Is this realistic? The builders that I know take closer to 5-8 months. With all of the red tape and government roadblocks you've had just to get up to this point, it sounds like you might have more delays during construction. Are the inspectors in the field easier to deal with than these pencil pushers behind the desk? Having to wait two hours seems like they want you and the other builders to leave town.

Rob -

8-10 weeks is definitely best case. The three wild cards are:

1. Foundation work
2. Framing/dry in
3. Inspections in City of Atlanta

Those are the three areas we've never dealt with before. We're hoping foundation can be done in a week and framing can be done in two weeks, but I honestly have no idea. One framing is done, things get easier.

We've done dozens of renovations from the studs, and six weeks should be enough for that. Though there week likely be other surprises along the way that I haven't even considered yet... :-)

Originally posted by J Scott:

We actually found a better way...

We ultimately ended up using an "expeditor." This is a person who used to work for the building department who -- for a fee -- is happy to handle the entire process for us. She knows everyone in the department, can just walk right behind the desk to talk to people when she has a question and can get things turned around a lot more quickly than we could.

Excellent choice and money well spent. Sounds like building departments all across the country operate in the same ultra inefficient manner.

DAY 91: FRAMING/DRY-IN BIDS

While waiting for our permits to make some progress, we’ve started getting some bids to frame the house. I had originally estimated about $15,000 for this work, but it turns out that this is one of those things that every bid is going to look different. Some include just the framing, some include full dry-in (installation of doors, windows, decking, subfloor, etc), some include more or less here and there. So, we're finding that it's difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison of our framing costs.

One thing that we've learned is that the cost of materials will highly depend on the design of the flooring system, the roofing system and other main structural design elements. Each lumber company is happy to have their engineers look at the plans, make recommendations on how the house should be framed and then give a bid on materials based on that design. Unfortunately, three separate lumber companies have given us three separate designs, take-offs and bids.

Ultimately though, we found the company we wanted to do our framing -- in fact, they're going to do all of our framing, dry-in, roofing, siding, doors and windows. Not only did they have the best price, but the fact that they're doing all the work should help condense the schedule considerably.

Here are their bids:

Click for Framing Bid

Click for Siding Bid

Click for Roofing Bid

Click for Door Bid

Click for Window Bid

Now that we have these bids, it really helps us validate some of our budget assumptions. I originally estimated about the framing, house wrap, roof decking and subfloor to be about $21,000. The main framing bid we received was about $28,000 -- so I was a good bit low there.

On the bright side, I budgeted about $9000 for doors and windows, and that's actually closer to about $3000 (I forgot to consider how easy door and window installation is when you install during framing :).

I estimated $12,000 for siding, and that came in around $9400. And I estimated $3500 for roof, and that came in around $4100.

Overall, while I was high in some places and low in others, the estimates I put together for all this work were pretty close to what we'll end up paying.

Here's what our current budget looks like based on these bids...just a few thousand over at this point (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

Btw, given the new current budget estimate ($158,400) and the new proposed square footage, our current build price is looking to be about $60/sf. But, I don't expect it to stay that low...I have a feeling there are some things I'm still under budgeting for or forgetting altogether...

Just crazy looking at some of your numbers. On a renovation I am doing currently I am reconfiguring the entry and adding 2 new windows and a new front door. The windows are $1200 each and the front door with hardware will be a bit over 1k. This is just materials, not installed.

So for 2 windows and a front door I will be in deeper than you are for your whole house of windows and doors. Anything with modern design costs triple. To get the cost of the door down to 1k was a challenge.

Sometimes I feel like I am doing it wrong.

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