Building a Own Custom Home Series, Part IX: Building Permits

Building a Own Custom Home Series, Part IX: Building Permits

Now that your grading plan is nearing completion and your house plans are in final design, you should start to prepare for the county building permitting process. Take deep breaths, drink some hot tea (or your choice beverage), and buckle in.

Some have described the county permitting process as difficult, frustrating, maddening, disheartening, overwhelming, and ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is another word to describe it: necessary.

Dad always talks about how he used to walk into Fauquier County Building Department to submit for his building permit, and after his first cup of coffee, he’d walk out with his building permit. Those were the days. Reminds me of the old stories you’d hear…when I was your age we didn’t have _______ (enter favorite modern convenience here). I’m guilty of this too. I’ve caught myself telling my boys how lucky they are to have so much entertainment to choose from. In my day we had three network channels and then later got channel 5 (Fox), channel 20 and that random “U” channel (what was that anyway?). And the only way to get a consistent good picture was to adjust the rabbit ears just so. And if we couldn’t find anything on TV, we’d head outside and play in the creek until dark.

Yes. Those were the days.

I think building a custom home is fun! But there are a couple of steps in the process I could do without and county permitting ranks at the top of the list. It is one of the steps we truly have no control over and to me that is frustrating. But like I said, it is necessary.

So here is my advice…

Hire a Permit Runner
It will cost you about $1,500 but it will be some of the best money you spend during this process. By hiring someone who knows the county process, you will save HOURS of trying to figure it out yourself. Seriously. Well worth the money.

Expect Rejections
I don’t care how good an architect or a site engineer are at their craft, submitting plans to a county reviewer is a crap shoot. I can submit two identical sets of plans to Fairfax County on the very same day and each would have a different outcome. One might take three weeks to review and the other might take six weeks. One might have three comments for the architect and one might have ten. It varies but one thing is for sure…the plans will be rejected.

…and Delays
The county should give you an estimated time for the review process. For example, in the City of Falls Church, the estimated review process is two-to-three weeks. This is a little misleading because that would lead you to believe that they will review the plans, send out any comments to be addressed and that’s it. Well, unfortunately, that is only the first of many steps. After the plans are reviewed and approved, there are bonds to post, neighbor letters to send out, etc. I went on the city’s website to see if I could find resources about the process of getting a building permit. I found these:

Checklist-1-of-3-1

Checklist-2-of-3-1

Checklist-3-of-3-1

Clear as mud right?

I also found it a little strange that there is no mention of the actual process. For example, after all of the plans are approved, the City of Falls Church requires a CBRT meeting. CBRT stands for Chesapeake Bay Review Team. The purpose of this meeting, usually held on Thursdays, is to limit the impact of development on local water. Learn more here.

Is the mud getting thicker?

It took us almost three months to get our building permit approved for our project on Great Falls. There was a rejection on the grading plan and a few things on the building plans that had to be addressed. Other than that, it “sailed” through.

Ugh. Building permits.

I obviously say all this very tongue-in-cheek, but you do need to prepare yourself for (what can be) a very frustrating process. Consider my first suggestion of a permit runner. Hopefully after reading this you see why it is absolutely worth the money. It may still be frustrating, but at least there is a professional dealing with the day to day headaches. If want to take this on yourself, make sure you do your homework. Check websites. Call the permitting offices and ask questions. As with anything, the more prepared you are the better. And if that doesn’t work, see my suggestion about a beverage.

Dream Big. Build Smart.

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