How Building Permit Costs Are a Hidden Factor Remodeling Costs

approved construction plans and building permit
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Question: How do building permit costs affect the estimate and/or final costs of home remodeling?

Answer: If you're accustomed to low permit costs for things like installing a fence or building a deck, you might be horrified to learn that they are so much higher for full-scale remodeling that they constitute a very real percentage of total costs.

Recently, Jake, a builder in Massachusetts, reminded me of the importance of keeping an eye on building and remodeling permit costs. While I cannot verify every detail of his account (a permit to install a kitchen countertop?), local codes do vary. So, the permit fee for a project in Akron or Miami may differ wildly from a fee in Sacramento or Reno.

Permitting Fee Bundles Drive Up Costs Astronomically

Remodel in Fairfax County, VA--a suburb of Washington, DC and one of the more expensive places to live in the U.S.--and building permit fees for that $50,000 kitchen remodel will run you $950.

That fee includes all work you will do on the kitchen except mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems.

Fremont, California, another expensive area (near San Francisco) has a kitchen remodel permit fee "bundle." That permit bundle--about $366 for jobs over $2,500--includes the basics of a kitchen remodel: five 20-amp circuits, upper and lower cabinets, one dishwasher, one water line, and so on.

Real-Life Story Of Building Permit Costs

The main takeaway is that building and remodeling permits hide in places you may least expect. After all, building permit offices exist not just to protect public safety, but to generate revenue for municipalities. Jake says:

"I just went through a small project for a condo I own...the town in which it is located has jacked up the permits for installs (or replacements!!) of all the appliances - for example, to merely replace a dishwasher, in [Jake's city] it is $55 for electric permit and $55 for plumbing (water).

This is only to replace a worn out dishwasher--the water and electric connections are already in place and working. In addition, the state requires that a licensed plumber do the work. The minimum charge for first 1/2 hour runs about $115 and installs typically take at least an hour since the machine 'needs to be run' to be sure everything works OK.

If the kitchen has a new countertop, there is a permit for the construction/install of the counter, then the permits for any appliances underneath it--garbage disposal, dishwasher, oven, etc. Starts to run up the costs

If the old kitchen is to be totally removed and redone, permits are required to be drawn for every single appliance, even a refrigerator - even if all you have to do is plug it into the wall!

I'm told the towns are looking to use permit fees to balance the building department budgets since new construction permits have dropped so low. Of course, no appliance store will warn the consumer that 'permits for installation might be required in your location', lest they lose a potential sale. I was certainly surprised!"