Building a new home in NYC is complicated and involved. This article is about the process and protocols for building a house in New York City including some of the bureaucracy. We will not be discussing home design or constructions in this article. This is meant to be more of a guide to the process of building a new home. If you are planning to build a house and it is not in NYC the requirements may be different, but I am sure this can still be helpful.
12 Steps for building a new house in NYC
- Buy a Property
- Figure out your budget
- Find an Architect
- Site Analysis
- Design the house
- File with Department Of Buildings (DOB)
- Find a General Contractor
- Get a permit from DOB
- Build The House – Construction
- Get a Certificate Of Occupancy
- Enjoy Your New Home
Buy a Property to build your new home.
Usually when people contact an architect to design their new home they already have purchased a property. Sometimes they have not and ask us to help them select a property. This is something an architect can help you with. It could be helpful for you to understand zoning regulations before you purchase a property. The zoning codes will determine what you can build on your property. For example some zoning districts do not allow two family homes. You may want to know that before you buy the property. Zoning also restricts the square footage of a house so you may want to know how big of a house is allowed on the property before you purchase it. Here are some issues zoning regulates when building a new house:
- The number of families allowed.
- The square footage allowed to build.
- This is called FAR floor area ratio (it’s a really important calculation)
- How tall can the house be.
- The minimum size of your yards.
- Can you have a detached garage, for example.
- There are also special zoning districts with all kinds of specific regulations.
Figure Out Your Budget for your new home.
Building a new house will, for most people, be the largest expense you ever have in your life. Think it through. Talk to architects and contractors when you start thinking about building a new home. I highly recommend having a reserve budget for contingencies. Don’t think of your budget as just a construction budget. Think about your budget as a total project cost. This includes: Construction, Architectural fees, filing fees, landscaping, furnishing, legal fees and all the miscellaneous issues that can arise that vary from project to project.
I know some people do not like to tell their contractor or even their architect their budget. This is not always a good idea. It can be very helpful to share your budget up front. First off don’t work with people you don’t trust. That should be obvious. Second if they are honest professionals telling them your budget upfront can help you save time and money.
Find An Architect to design your house.
The architect will be on your project from start to finish. Hiring an architect is an important decision when building a new home.
Only hire licensed professionals
An architect is someone who has a license to practice architecture issued by the state. A licensed architect is also known as a “Registered Architect“. Make sure to verify if the architect is licensed and has at least a $1,000,000 insurance policy. Note: you can ask them to send their license certificate and insurance policy for your records, but nobody ever asks me for those.
Hiring an Architect For a Single Family House
I often give my clients an option to start small. We do not always start with a contract for the entire job (especially when its a big job). You can start with a small contract. As an option you can hire an architect first to do a zoning analysis for example, or a preliminary sketch design. This will give you an opportunity to work with the architect before making a large commitment, while starting to get the project done. Of course if you are happy with the architect, you can hire them for the whole job upfront.
Expenses You My Not Expect When Building A new Home
Ask your architect about expenses you may not know you need. Make sure they tell you what is and what is not included in their contract. For example, do they include: surveying, geotechnical, structural design, HVAC, plumbing and electrical design, interior design, inspections, filing with DOB, printing and so on. Did you know you have to pay for inspections in NYC… are these included or not? Ask your architect what services are necessary and what services are optional. You will want to know who is responsible for filing with the DOB. Asking all of these questions beforehand might prevent delays later on.
Site Analysis of your property
Your architect and the rest of the team will start the project with a site analysis. As mentioned in step 3, you can hire people just to do this first, if you want to hold off on signing a contract for the entire job. Site analysis for building a new home may include / require at minimum:
What goes into a site analysis.
- Property Survey, you will need a licensed land surveyor to perform a survey of the property (and provide a final survey after the house is built). We usually call these a complete “Architectural Survey” and a “Final Survey”. The architect does not do these.
- Geotechnical Report, a geotechnical engineering report based on soil borings or a pit will be required in New York City for all new construction projects even small ones. They will take soil samples and send them to a lab to assess the bearing capacity of the soils. This will be used to determine the appropriate foundation for the house.
- Utilities availability. In most cases in New York City you wont have a problem with access to utilities. Utility work can be expensive, so it’s good to know upfront what is available. For example: did you know there are no sewers in Breezy Point, Queens? That is something you want to know upfront.
- Zoning. You will need to determine the zoning requirements for your house, including how big of a house you can build in square feet and height, how big are your yards required to be, and many other issues. The architect should be familiar with performing a comprehensive zoning analysis.
- Demolition, Is there an existing house to be demolished?
- Special requirements are you in an area with special environmental or zoning requirements. Examples: Building in the Flood Zone (example Breezy Point / Far Rockaway) , Natural Area Districts (Examples in Riverdale, Bronx), Hillside Districts (examples in Staten Island), land marked Historic Districts (examples all over New York), special zoning districts etc…
- Miscellaneous Restrictions Deed restrictions, property easements, etc…
The Design for You New Home
As an Architect I would say of all the steps to building a house the design is the most important to make sure you get what you want. You and your architect will work together to design your new home. See an article I wrote on the Five Phases of Architectural Design if you would like to learn more about the process.
There will be endless decisions to make during the design of your house. I will not get into any detail on the subject in this article.
Once the architect finishes the design, they will produce complete and comprehensive drawing sets. The architect will file the drawings with the Department Of Buildings. Additionally the architect will provide the contractor with drawings for pricing and construction.
File Your House With The Department Of Buildings
I prefer to file jobs online when filing with the NYC DOB. whether it’s a renovation or building a new home. Filling with the DOB takes time. Please be patient. I warn you to be suspicious of anyone who tells you they know exactly how long this will take. It varies from project to project and it varies based on how busy the person reviewing is.
You may also need to file documents with other agencies at this time, depending on your property and the extent of the work. As an architect I always explain the process and let you know upfront what to expect. Here is a list of some of the additional agencies having jurisdiction:
- Borough President’s Office
- CPC – City Planning Commission
- DEC – Department Of Environmental Conservation
- DEP – Department Of Environmental Protection
- DOB – Department OF Buildings
- DOF – NYC Department Of Finance
- DOT – Department Of Transportation
- FDNY– Fire Department Of New York
- LPC – Landmarks Planning Commission
Hire a General Contractor / GC / Builder
If you have not yet selected a contractor, the time when you are waiting for DOB approvals is ideal for this. In many cases you are going to bid the job when the architectural drawings and specifications are done. You may choose to have several contractors price the job. You can also bring a contractor in earlier if you have one pre-selected. If you select a contractor earlier in the process this can be very beneficial as the contractor can work with the architect during design in order to control costs.
The architect and contractor should work together as a team. Mutual respect and communication are essential to the process. If you find the architect and contractor at odds that is usually a sign that there is something wrong with one or both of them. As an architect I treat contractors with respect and expect them to treat me the same. I am constantly surprised when I hear colleagues telling me stories where this is not the case. If your architect and contractor do not work well together it can cost you time, money, and headaches. Building a house is a team effort.
Make sure that you are hiring a licensed and reputable contractor with the appropriate insurance. Your architect can help you in this process. Sometimes a contractor doesn’t have a license and uses someone else’s, don’t work with people like that. There is no reason someone should be doing a job without the required license. That goes for architects as well.
Get a Permit From the Department Of Buildings
Before you can get a permit you will need Approval from the Department Of Buildings on the architects application. Be aware that an approval and a permit are two separate things. The architect gets the approval but the contractor gets the permit. A permit goes under the name of a contractor. Under the contractors license and insurance.
An additional item you need is a special inspection agency. You will be required to do several inspections and possibly testing on certain aspects of your construction project. There are agencies called special inspection agencies that do these inspections. You will need to pay for these inspections. The engineer or architect from the inspection agency needs to be signed on before pulling a permit. Ask your architect upfront about this. Please be suspicious of people who do not tell you about additional expenses before you sign a contract. If someone starts naming additional expenses (without any warning) after the contracts are signed I would be concerned.
Once the contractor pulls a permit you are ready to begin construction. You will get several permits for your house including
- New Building Permit – Pulled by General Contractor
- Plumbing Permit – Pulled by Plumbing Contractor
- Electrical Permit- Pulled by Electrical Contractor
- Mechanical Permit – (Heating & AC) this is pulled by a plumber or GC
Often there may be more permits depending on what you are building and how the work was filed.
Build the House – Construction
Building a house takes time. Please be patient during this process.
The architect stays on the job during construction but their involvement will be much less than it was during the design process. The architect will occasionally visit the site. At certain milestones during the construction the architect will perform progress inspections. Progress inspections are required by the department of buildings and a Technical Report has to be submitted by the architect to the DOB. The architect will also help out if there are any issues, questions, problems that arise during construction. It may happen that some additional drawings may have to be produced to clarify the GC’s questions. Sometimes design changes happen during construction. Prevent this when possible, because new designs can mean greater cost.
The architect does not typically supervise a construction job. Supervising the construction is the job of the General Contractor or Construction Manager. Some architects also do construction management and some architects are also general contractors. You can have your architect review the contractor’s pay requisitions and sign off before you issue progress payments to the GC.
Inspections on your new home
We already mentioned inspections, but lets get a little more detailed. There are three basic categories of inspections done on a new house. The following is based on NYC regulations and standard practices it may differ in other locations.
- Progress inspections.
- Special Inspections
- DOB or other agency inspections.
Progress Inspections for Building a New Home
Progress inspections are done by the architect. There are two types of progress inspections. TR8 – Energy Code and TR1.
Tr1 is a technical report that must be completed on your construction project. Typically the architect does the Progress Inspections section of this report. These are a few general construction inspections that the architect will perform and coordinate with the contractor.
The TR8 is an Energy Code Technical Report. This also is typically done by the architect. These inspections are for energy usage and thermal properties of the home. For example the architect needs to verify the insulation R-Values, the type, and quantity of insulation used. This is one of several Energy Code inspections required. At the end of construction the architect submits the technical reports to DOB.
Special Inspections are often done by a third party inspection agency. These vary from job to job depending on the type of construction of the house. Some architects may be licensed to do some of these inspections. Typically your architect will not be doing all or even any of these inspections. Make sure you know who is paying for these inspections before you start construction. These inspections are usually done by a third party private company. They will charge you extra if they need to come to the job site repeatedly to reinspect. You should be aware of who is responsible if the inspector has to come look at something more than once due to failing inspection. Is the contractor paying or are you? The special inspection agency will submit a TR1 Technical Report upon completion of all inspections.
I am also going to include testing in this category. You may need to get concrete testing done. Samples of concrete are sent to a lab for testing. There are instances where this may not be required but often it will be.
DOB Inspections and other Agency Inspections
The Department Of Buildings or DOB will also perform inspections. These you do not pay extra for. You pay DOB fees when you file the job in step 6. You will have at least one inspection done by a DOB inspector depending on what was done in the house. There will definitely be a general construction inspection when you build a new house in NYC. You will also very likely have additional inspections for electrical and plumbing. In some cases inspections can be done by the contractor responsible for the work. The New Building (general construction) inspection is always done by the DOB inspectors. Sometime you may have other types of work that require inspections. Every project is different.
Get a Certificate Of Occupancy
You can not legally occupy your new house without a Certificate of Occupancy also known as a C of O or CO. Upon completion of construction and passing all inspections one can apply for a C of O. All Technical reports along with some miscellaneous documentation will need to be provided to the DOB. When you file a job with the DOB they generate a “Required Items List” specifically for your project. You need to fulfill all the items on that list to get a C of O. Once you have a Certificate Of Occupancy you can then move into you new house.
Furnishing Your New House
One of the most important steps to building a house is the finishing touches. You can get help from your architect, an interior designer, or furnish the house on your own. In our office we often provide furniture layouts to our clients and work with them when selecting furniture. After building a new home you will want to put a lot of thought into your new furniture. Do not leave this for the last minute. Do not let it be an after thought.
Enjoy Your New Home
Sit back and enjoy your new home.
Steps to Building a House
As an architect, I study the building process, but it is complicated and quite involved. In this article, we reviewed some of the basic Steps to Building a House. This analysis does not assume to cover every possible issue and condition, but provide a general overview of what you will do when building a new home.
Thank You for reading our Blog Post on Steps to Building a house In NYC.
Please feel free to post questions or comments below. If you are interested in discussing a specific project please Contact Us directly to speak with an architect. Follow this link to learn more about our services for New Home Design. I hope this was helpful and we wish you good luck with your upcoming project.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.