Permits Issued!

Almost 5 months after applying for building and demolition permits, the City of Seattle finally granted me my documents last week. With barely any permit applications going through the City these days, one would think things would have gone quicker, but in reality, I feel like the lack of permit flow caused more city scrutiny in the end. The main issue that dragged things out was something I wrote about a little while ago: indemnification.

In short, since part of my property is in an “environmentally sensitive area” (i.e. near a cliff) the City insisted that I sign a covenant running with the land that did many things I felt were overreaching and unnecessary. I understand why the City’s standard procedure is to ask for this (and most people accept it as is) but it contained two particular things that my attorney, Patrick Moran, was thankfully able to negotiate out:

  • A clause stating that if anyone sued the City for anything relating to the issuance of my permits, I had to indemnify them and pay for all legal fees, judgements, etc.
  • A clause stating that this covenant ran with the land and if I ever sold the property, the new owners would also be burdened by it.

The first clause was reduced such that the indemnification only covers actual damages caused by construction. This means that if a neighbor decides to sue the City because they don’t like the look of my house, I’m not on the hook to defend anybody or pay anything. The second clause was modified such that the indemnification ends if and when the property is sold. This is key in preserving value, as I would flinch if I was buying a property which transferred such indemnification to me.

A lot more language was clarified as well, and I feel like the $1049.50 I owe my attorney in fees has been well worth it.

During these final stages of preparing for construction, I’ve also completed a few more tasks and spent a little more money:

  • We had the asbestos abated for $2,335.64 by Partners Construction, Inc.
  • Some additional structural engineering work from Swenson Say Faget was completed for $2,192.29.
  • Some additional geotech work was required by the City and performed by Icicle Creek Engineers for $600.
  • The additional City of Seattle fee to complete the permitting process was $3,450.75 (bringing the total permit fee to $8,911.50).
  • Printing fees of $172.91 for some additional drawing sets.

So with that, we’re almost all set to build. I’m still waiting for my refinance to close, but after that it’s all systems go. Unfortunately, the place that is going to deconstruct and recycle most of the existing house is a little booked up right now so we may be looking at July.

It’s also interesting to note that the official amount of investment it took to get to the point of breaking ground has been exactly $78,543.85.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Structural engineering services$2,192.00
Additional geotech work$600.00
Asbestos abatement$2,335.00
City of Seattle Demolition and Building Permits (Completion fee)$3,450.00
Legal fees to negotiate building permit$1,049.00

10 Responses to “Permits Issued!”

  1. lou m. Says:

    congrats. now the fun begins!

  2. Iwould never have thought it would cost 78k just to get to this point. That is nuts.

  3. As always I enjoy following your saga. Thanks for continuing to demystify the process. For our part Rach and I are about to purchase a modern rebuild — and for the time being I’m grateful I’m not having to deal with all the fun like you are.

  4. Darin Says:

    5 months is certainly a long time given the slow down. Here in portland, while things have slowed down, staff has been reduced accordingly. Maybe the same scenario in Seattle. I am surprised at your permit charges. Can you post exactly what they cover? I was able to get a fairly accurate estimate of the permit for my house and it’s $30,000!! Here is our breakdown:

    plan review: 1002.07
    land use review: 612.82
    residential site inspection: 421

    development service fee: 352.06
    PDOT plan review: 189
    BES plan review: 131
    water plan review: 55

    environmental services (higher since we have an ADU): 6987
    parks: 3123
    transportation: 2180
    water: 4401
    water service branch: 3345
    street addressing: 128

    building permit: 1656.85
    plumbing package: 930.72
    mechanical package: 204.96
    electrical package: 689.92
    forestry permit: 134.96
    storm sewer: 150
    metro excise tax: 442.49
    school construction excise tax: 3,650

    total due at issuance: $30,986.13

    Granted, the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) puts us into a more expensive permit tier, but if we were to drop into a more standard residence tier, we’d still be in the $25k range.

  5. Mike D. Says:

    Andy: Yep. Some people spend more than that on architecture fees alone though. So far, the only thing that’s come in substantially higher than expected has been structural engineering fees. $1500 was budgeted and the actual charges were $8749.79.

    Josh: Nice. Congrats on finding a great place. Much, much easier that way!

    Darin: Wow, that is a lot. Maybe we just don’t have all of that stuff to pay for in the Seattle permitting process. Parks? Schools? Sounds like Portland is jamming a lot of pork in there (not that parks or schools are a bad thing of course!). To my knowledge (although I’ll have to check with Build), the only other permitting fees I’m on the hook for after this are the Seattle City Light fees of about $2500.

  6. Lou M. Says:

    It’s all relative and unique to the project in terms of costs per permits, structural engineering, etc. I’ve heard permits as low as 8-12k and structural engineering fees in the 10-20k range for something that has special circumstances (cantilever, unique structural challenges, etc.). No project is truly the same so its difficult to compare apple’s to apple’s. There’s the myth of cost per square foot which is purely mathematical and truly based on construction cost and total sq. footage but what deep down is the true cost to build when you consider cost of land, all the permits, site work, geotech, surveys, county approvals, etc.

  7. Chris Says:

    Great! Looking forward to seeing photos once the work commences. Any chance of a Webcam?

  8. Mike D. Says:

    Chris: I’d love to do a webcam but I’m struggling a little with what equipment to use and how to set it up. The best quality photos come from actual digital cameras and not video cameras, so for that I’d have to find a model with a good continuous time-lapse function. On top of that, I’d have to use something like EyeFi to continuously upload the photos somewhere. And on top of that, I don’t really have an internet connection at the house so I’d have to ask one of the neighbors or something. There’s also no great place to actually mount the camera. I’m thinking the best thing to do is climb a utility pole and rig something up there, although I’m sure the city wouldn’t like that much if they ever even noticed it.

    Suggestions welcome.

  9. Rod C. Says:

    Hi Mike, just recently found your blog and have been reading with great interest as my partner and I are also building a modern house over on the other side of Seattle. We are doing this long distance, as we currently live in San Francisco. Our land is also in an environmentally sensitive area, and we have gotten the same boilerplate indemnification language. My reaction was the same as yours; the City is using its leverage of a building permit to make people sign an overreaching legal document. Would you be willing to share the specifics of the document that you negotiated with the City? I’d rather not reinvent the wheel if possible, and I’m assuming it would be easier to present a compromise to the City which they have agreed to in the past. Thanks!

  10. Mike D. Says:

    Hi Rod. Sorry I let your comment slip. About to send you an email about it.