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Ask the Architect

In a hurry? Forget about it.

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Q. I’m wondering how the pandemic has affected architects and contractors. As we prepare to start our home planning, we’re concerned about whether we’ll have delays. We want to get this going before winter, if possible, to avoid bad weather. Can it be done?

A. Probably not. People generally dread winter, but work goes on all year round, except on occasional severe weather days, depending on the project size. During this unusual time, there have been many changes in the way planning is reviewed by authorities and how we go about our work. Delay is an understatement.

Owners who think that the process of plans, approvals and getting either permits or construction started is simple are due for disappointment and self-created aggravation. That has never changed. The process has never been quick, and the pandemic altered almost everything. In March of this year, building departments closed their doors nearly everywhere around us. Internet filings and drop-off boxes took over.

You can help the process move along more quickly with data you hopefully have in your purchase documents. At the beginning of every project, we need background information to get started. We need to see the property survey, which looks like a map of your parcel of land with a detailed and dimensioned outline of the building, even for houses. The survey is often attached to the deed and title paperwork you may have gotten from your attorney. It also helps to see any kind of former permits with attached approved plans.

Many people make the huge mistake of thinking contractors and workers will respect the need to protect original stamped permits and plans during construction, but they almost always get damaged or go missing. Handing the originals out may be the last time you see them. The plans get separated, torn, spilled on or just blow away. I instruct everyone to treat those documents like “closing papers” and to only distribute copies, keeping the permit and stamped plans safe, to be brought out only for the building inspector. I make copies of every plan and permit document for clients, just to have a backup when owners panic that the inspector won’t sign off the project.

As work began again in June, contractors were ordered off construction sites, and work already begun, plus work just starting, got all jammed together into the same time slots. How you do that and keep customers happy is a magic trick that rarely works. As well, material prices went up, and many construction components have been hard to get.

The demand for real estate in the suburbs, and people working from home, has also caused upward movement in home values and needed alterations due to life changes. This has caused a strain, because many real estate closings are being delayed by the sudden realization that the illegal shed, deck or pool needs plans, permits and inspections. In other words, expect delays, and patience will help you through. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.