Posts Tagged 'survey'

How to Prepare for the Architect-Client Interview

The first meeting is an opportunity for us both to interview each other.  It is very important that everyone that will be involved in the design process be together at the interview so that we all get the chance to ask questions and get a sense for what it would be like to work together.

“What do you need from us?”

1) Brief written description of your goals for the project, including:

  • list of “must-have” items, “would be nice to have” items, and “don’t want” items (Note: If all of the people living in the house don’t agree about the goals, it is helpful to know what differs.)
  • budget for the construction cost of the project (for more insight into costs, see “How Much Will my Project Cost?”).
  • timeline for the project (when you will be ready to start design, begin construction, and move in)

2) Inspiration photos from magazines, books, vacations, etc.  (Note: It is not necessary that these photos be “the answer” to your goals, so don’t exhaust yourself trying to find that!  It is more helpful that you find photos of things you like, even if the photos represent a variety of architectural styles.  A photo of a “cozy corner” may look different for you than it would for someone else, so photos really help me tune into your own personal taste and learn what those words mean to you visually and experientially. Even photos of something you really DON’T like can be helpful for comparison.)

3) Information that you may have about the house and/or lot, such as:

  • old blueprints – whether original or from previous remodels
  • survey
  • “Improvement Location Certificate” – Sometimes found in your mortgage documents, this is a drawing that shows the outline of your house, garage, etc. (the “improvements”), with dimensions of the structures and of the lot itself.  Sometimes, easement information and encroachments may be included in this document.  If you do not find a one in your file, you may want to check with your title company to see if there was one obtained on your behalf.  I have found that the drawing does not always make its way into your loan document package.)
  • copy of previous appraisal
  • if you’re changing the exterior appearance of the house, it is helpful to know if you anticipate problems with your neighbors
  • neighborhood covenants, if any

4) “Walk and Talk”  – One of my favorite things to do is to be guided around a house by potential clients, listening to what they do and don’t like about their homes.  It is fun to learn what they wish for, what they’ve already changed, and how they see themselves living there.

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Tips for Getting the Best Survey the First Time

When, and how much?

For the majority of projects that involve a structural change, whether “up” or “out”, a full survey by a licensed surveyor is a “must-have”. In Seattle, the fee to have a property surveyed averages between $2,500 and $3,000 for a typical urban residential lot and up to $5,000 for larger or more complex lots, depending on factors such as the distance to nearest recorded monuments, the presence of environmentally critical areas (steep slope, known landslides, etc.), and the quantity and complexity of the existing improvements.

Since subsequent visits to record additional information are not included in the initial price, a list of information required by your local jurisdiction should be provided to your surveyor, to ensure that all it is acquired in a single visit.

Permit-ready site plan, with surveyed information included.

Permit-ready site plan, with surveyed information included

Basic requirements

Here is a list of links to the checklists and standards for the city of Seattle:

City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Client Assistance Memo 103 – Site Plan Requirements

City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Screening Standards – Environmentally Critical Areas INDEX 13

City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Screening Standards – Shoreline INDEX 15

Be sure to check the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development website for the most current version of these documents at http://www.seattle.gov/dpd prior to use.

Similar information for other jurisdictions can be found by searching for “land use department” or “planning department” and the name of your city and/or county.

Be sure to also ask for…

In addition to this list, I always request the following additional information:

  • recorded locations of all existing underground utilities. The marking of underground utilities is usually done by a separate company, subcontracted by the surveyor prior to their visit to measure your property. This cost is not typically included in the surveyor’s estimate, but is sometimes free and usually not more than a few hundred dollars. The underground utility locators can also mark depths of items – sometimes critical for locating new foundation walls and new sewer or stormwater connections, if requested.
  • the elevation of every corner
  • the elevation of finished floor at every door
  • the elevation of every ridge
  • the top elevation of every overhang
  • the horizontal dimension from the outside edge of the overhang (or face of fascia) to the face of the foundation
  • diameter of trunk and species of all trees with trunks greater than 3″ in diameter
  • locations of all impervious surfaces
  • adjacent right of way improvements (full width)
  • neighboring structures within 20′ of property line (if you are changing the front of your house, you may need to have the entire front of both adjacent houses surveyed in order to determine your setback by way of “front yard averaging”)

Avoid conflict.

Whether or not you anticipate problems, making changes to your home’s appearance is something that the neighbors will be concerned about.  For strategies to prevent or resolve conflict, see When Neighbors Disapprove – 6 Tips for Success.

When Neighbors Disapprove – 6 Tips for Success

1- Know your property.

For the majority of projects that involve a structural change, whether “up” or “out”, a full survey by a licensed surveyor is a “must-have”.  In Seattle, the fee to have a property surveyed averages between $2,500 and $3,000 for a typical urban residential lot and up to $5,000 for larger or more complex lots, depending on factors such as the distance to nearest recorded monuments, the presence of environmentally critical areas (steep slope, known landslides, etc.), and the quantity and complexity of the existing improvements.

For more information about obtaining a survey, including a list of required information and additional items that can save you time and money to have recorded simultaneously, Tips for Getting the Best Survey the First Time.

2- Be a good neighbor.

The golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” holds true.  If you have been opinionated and difficult in the past about your neighbor’s projects, they are more likely to act the same when it is your turn.  If you’ve had troubles in the past, it is a good idea to try to repair relationships in earnest long before you begin the design process.

3- Communicate.

If you plan to change the appearance of the exterior of your home in any significant way (including paint color), it makes sense to let your neighbors know your plans.  You are not (necessarily) asking for permission, rather letting them know what kind of disruption to anticipate and how they should handle any issues that arise, such as blocked access, property damage, etc.

4- Know your rights.

Sometimes, questions arise which are difficult to answer with certainty.  If your property has easements, encroachments, or other complexities involving property lines, it would be wise to do some research.  This may be in the form of a feasibility study, a binding meeting with the relevant parties at your land use department, and/or legal advice from an attorney who specializes in residential real estate law.  As an architect, I advise my clients when such additional measures are appropriate.  It is less expensive to secure your footing in the beginning than it is to fight your way through a dispute when you are in construction.

5- Have an alternate plan.

One of my former clients planned to add a porte cochere, a historic type of carport, onto the side of his house.  His property was located in a historic preservation overlay district, where many of the neighborhood homes had this feature.  There was plenty of room on his property, and the structure was permissible under the current zoning code without requiring a variance.  However, due to the overlay district, design approval was required from a separate committee, prior to permit approval.  When we presented the design for consideration, the neighbors attended the meeting to lobby against the porte cochere – not because they didn’t like the idea or design, but because they didn’t like my client!

In the end, we did not get approval for the covered carport, but we did accomplish the goal of providing off-street parking by capitalizing on the fact that the committee did not have purview of driveways, curb cuts, or fences.  Our “Plan B” was to install tire strips and a parking pad made of permeable pavers.  The homeowner now parks where he had originally hoped, and walks up a set of side stairs directly onto his porch, getting out of the rain quickly.  When there is no car parked in the driveway, the permeable pavers look like a grass lawn.

Porte-cochere_web

Parking beside the porch steps was a viable alternative to a porte cochere.

6- Offer up something.

When all else fails, offer up something.  In the past, I’ve known clients to share or carry the expenses on things such as tree removal or pruning, new fences, landscaping, privacy screens, sewer repair, and burying overhead cables.  All of these things cost money, but they are often items which were desired – or would soon have been required.