My Hovel, My Home: Hurry Up and Wait

We decide to do a second phase to remodel and discover plans and permits take much longer than expected.

With the concrete pour for the new driveway imminent, it’s time to decide if there will be a second phase to our remodel.  We stop worrying about our “wants” like a guest bedroom and a dining room and start focusing purely on our needs. 

The main priority is expanding the miniscule family room and remodeling the kitchen. This requires knocking out a wall and reallocating garage space for inside. We’ll have to add a new garage and laundry room to compensate for what we’re taking. We commit to praying about this latest idea. Even if the answer is another “no” we’d rather trust God than charge forward on our own wisdom.

The contractor checks in about the impending concrete pour. “Let’s hold off on scheduling that,” we tell him.  “We have some ideas to run by you first.” His curiosity piqued; he asks what we have in mind. When we lay out our ideas, he responds enthusiastically and seems excited about doing a second phase. 

Within a few weeks he gives us a bid that seems reasonable and takes our graph paper plans to an architect. I lie awake at night envisioning the new room. Imagining the expanded space and the kitchen sink facing a window makes my stomach quiver with excitement. More than the new “stuff,” I think about how
easy it will be to open our home for gatherings after years of struggling with
space limitations. The finances look possible, the plans seem simple and we have a contractor already on the job whose work we like.  A closed door finally seems to be opening. 

The first setback arrives when the building department rejects our plans. Unbeknownst to us, the city owns the first twelve feet of our front yard. The plans for the new garage encroach on the property setbacks. What has been a very modest plan now needs to be scaled back further. 

Even more discouraging: our contractor is headed out of the country for a month. This means waiting until he returns to submit revised plans. Further complicating the situation, we’ve already spent hours with a kitchen designer and have an appointment to order our new cabinets. We never imagined there would be a problem with the plan approval. Now, we feel too committed to the remodel to cast it adrift. We order the cabinets anyway since the permit issue doesn’t involve the kitchen. We see this as part of the refining process and trust that we can work through the problem.

After recovering from our disappointment and praying for direction, we revise the plans to fit the city’s requirements. Ironically, they turn out better than the original ones. 

At first we are “hands off” through the permitting process, letting our contractor manage it. However, numerous setbacks reveal that paperwork and details are not his strong suit. After he drops the ball more times than we can count, we start visiting the city offices personally to monitor the process. Plan approval is
cumbersome and painstakingly slow. It is definitely an exercise in patience, making me realize I have significantly less of it than I thought.

We remain in a state of limbo for months. I choose a positive spin, deciding the
weather is bad and it wouldn’t be a good time to have our house torn apart anyway. Still, we are antsy to begin and doing everything in our power to keep things moving forward. 

Lured by sales and rebates, we buy all of our appliances, kitchen cabinets, sinks, fixtures and even some furniture. Much of it is being held at the stores, some sits in our garage and some waits across town in a family member’s garage.

Finally, six months after we put the idea on paper, the city grants us a permit. This news is a relief, but feels surreal after waiting so long. We think the permitting process tried our patience, but we are completely naïve about the new challenges looming ahead.


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We are a Danville construction company and it has never taken us 6 months to get any kind of permit. I think the permit problem, as well as the "new challenges looming ahead" that the author refers to, most likely stem from the contractor she selected. It is an absolute must to check property setbacks when doing an addition and the fact that neither the contractor or his architect checked them is unbelievable.If you don't want to be part of a construction horror story, get MANY references from your potential contractor and call them, go see and talk to his clients during a job in progress, see the contractor's company in operation and know, if you want a professionally done job, you need to be willing to pay for a professionally run company. BTW, the town of Danville has an excellent building department to work with!
Marybeth McCullum May 09, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Darlene- I agree with everything you say! Unfortunately we learned most of it the hard way. The Town of Danville is very detailed, organized and thorough for the sake of the homewowner. We never saw them as our adversaries in the process, they educated us about many things we didn't realize. I was not trying to give the impression that they did anything wrong. My blog shares a lot of the mistakes we made along the way and is not intended to be critical. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Terry Parris Jr. May 09, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Marybeth: Thanks for writing down your story. Real world examples are so important to any process.


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