Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

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WarChest
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Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by WarChest » Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:20 pm

Strongly considering a major remodel/rebuild on westside neighborhood of Los Angeles. Tearing down ~1500 sq ft house built in 1940s and building 3,000+ sq ft house. For those on this board who have gone through with something like this, any big tips, stories, pitfalls, etc you are willing to share? We are looking at design/build firms as well as the separate architect/designer/builder route and leaning towards design/build for simplicity sake. Most everyone we've talked to guides to $400/sq ft (or a bit more) all in costs. Whole process of planning/permitting and then moving out for a year seems nuts but for a lot of reasons it seems to make sense and be worth it in the long run...what say you?

AKsuited
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by AKsuited » Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:14 pm

$400/sqft seems excessive even for West LA. I looked into a complete rebuild in the LA suburbs; specially San Gabriel Valley and it's around 150-200 sqft. I know West LA is more expensive but I think you can probably find a lower bid.

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WarChest
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by WarChest » Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:41 pm

Yes seems high but seems to be "all in" cost consensus from what I've heard/been told. Curious to hear from anyone else in a high cost of living area who has gone through with something like this to hear what their experience was like...

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TimeRunner
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by TimeRunner » Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:54 pm

We're up the coast a few hours from you, and we're using $375/sq. ft. as the estimate. $400 is not unreasonable. Don't underestimate planning/permitting costs as well as utility relocation. Next door neighbor went through a major remodel five years ago and water district required moving the meter, and the City required undergrounding electrical and communications. Sewer district required a fresh hookup to the lateral line and a new cleanout. Gas company of course required relocated meter adjacent to utilities entrance. Permit to move the water meter was $5K, although they were able to negotiate that down.

We've done the survey (required), and are looking at initial sketches, so we're early in the process. We're figuring $400K, perhaps $450K by the time we optimize some nice-to-haves like adding panels for electric vehicle charger, space for powerwall, wire for solar, rainwater capture (much pressure by City), and whatever the CA Coastal Commission adds to requirements (e.g. permeable driveway pavers so as not to generate rainwater runoff). So fun, but it's the 'final house' so it's 'suck it up, buttercup' time. Costs may drop a bit if economy tips into recession, which is not out of the question a year from now.
Last edited by TimeRunner on Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Watty
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by Watty » Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:05 pm

WarChest wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:20 pm
Tearing down ~1500 sq ft house built in 1940s and....
If you have a mortage or a home equity loan you may not be allowed to tear down the house without their permission since that is part of what is securing the loan. Be sure to get that first.

With modern computer systems when the demolition permit is issued the lender will likely quickly find out about it and they will not be amused if you have not already worked out the details with them.
WarChest wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:20 pm
Whole process of planning/permitting and then moving out for a year seems nuts but for a lot of reasons it seems to make sense and be worth it in the long run...what say you?
There is an old joke, "The final step in building a custom home is to file the divorce paperwork."

There is a grain of truth in this, to me that it "seems to make sense" is too low a bar and I would want a clearly compelling reason to do this.
WarChest wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:20 pm
....stories, pitfalls, etc you are willing to share?
In addition to all the normal problem there is always the chance of an unexpected "Murphy's Law" situation that you did not plan for. A while back there was a post where someone was having a house built by a small builder and the builder unexpectedly died halfway through the construction. It was a mess since there were unpaid subcontractors and they had a hard time getting any other contractors to even look at taking over the project because of all the liability, lack of some plan details, and the building permits would need to be reissued in their name. I don't think I ever heard how that turned out.

Be sure to have a lawyer draw up the contracts and have contingencies for things like this.

SC Anteater
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by SC Anteater » Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:09 pm

AKsuited wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:14 pm
$400/sqft seems excessive even for West LA. I looked into a complete rebuild in the LA suburbs; specially San Gabriel Valley and it's around 150-200 sqft. I know West LA is more expensive but I think you can probably find a lower bid.
I don't know about L.A., but current bids here in NorCal are indeed around $400/sq. ft. The cost of lumber has skyrocketed and labor costs have also increased. I'm not in S.F. or the pricey peninsula either.

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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by stan1 » Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:32 pm

AKsuited wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:14 pm
$400/sqft seems excessive even for West LA. I looked into a complete rebuild in the LA suburbs; specially San Gabriel Valley and it's around 150-200 sqft. I know West LA is more expensive but I think you can probably find a lower bid.
You can find a lower bid but you might still end up paying closer to $400/square foot by the time everything is done. "Buy in" is a real thing; builders make money on change orders and upgrades. We did a first floor remodel in place (did not expand footprint or move walls) in a 1996 coastal Southern California house a few years ago (kitchen, bath, family, dining, living). No movement of pipes. A little electric (new LED can lights). High quality and nice but definitely not over the top luxury. We could have spent twice that much. Cost was about $200/square foot. I'd note that good subs are not cheap.

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WarChest
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by WarChest » Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:41 pm

Thanks for the replies. Yes, there is an element of market timing here...every architect or design/build firm I've talked to has said "we are crazy busy right now". So I'm hesitant to jump into a crowded market. Much rather do this during a downturn when quality subs are cheaper or even just available but hey, the years keep ticking by and the remodel boom continues. Hoping bigger/quality firms have the long term relationships to get good subs to show up.

Good to hear costs are not crazy compared with other areas. I mean, its a lot of money but seems like it is what it is. My specific area has changed a lot over the past 20 years (and past 8 or so even more so). Tons of high paying jobs here now, big tech companies have moved in (or are building big offices), new entertainment boom, etc...We'd love to buy something bigger that fits our needs but the only things that (rarely) come to market with the size we seek are less well built spec houses. There are a lot of folks doing big remodels but they all seem to be staying put for the long term. Marriage stress is not what I am seeking as we've got young kids and that's enough of a drag but again, it is what it is.

Anyone with any insight on using one firm (design+build) vs picking an architect and then also picking a separate builder?

softwaregeek
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by softwaregeek » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:34 am

I am just completing a major remodel in silicon valley which went very much over budget. Problem number one was not using a design build. Because of this, nolbody told me that many of my decisions were driving up costs. if I had known, for example that the massive windows I specified meant thicker foundations, for example, I would have picked something else.

Go with design build, no matter what.

bikesandbeers
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by bikesandbeers » Thu Jun 13, 2019 3:01 am

We did a similar project in California and came in roughly around 400 a sq ft, adding ~1000 sq ft to a 900 sq ft 1920s bungalow.
My big question is are you really doing a total tear down or keeping parts of the old house - and connected, are you thinking $400 a sq ft just for the additional space or $400/ sq ft for all 3,000 square feet?

We love our neighborhood and couldn't find another larger house for less than we thought we'd spend on the addition, but hopefully you've already looked at other properties and aren't overbuilding for your area.
The construction process was painful- cost over-runs, unexpected issues, poor communications with contractors, extended schedules. But with 2 years of enjoying the house now, it was all worth it in the end as we got exactly the house we wanted hopefully for the next 20-30 years.

We had a family friend architect to the design, and ran the permits ourselves before putting out to bid. We did interview some big design build firms, but they seemed more expensive. However, we didn't pay the architect for additional on-site project management/supervision and the contractor screwed a few things up. If we had gone with the design build firm, i feel like many of the issues would have been caught earlier (and at the firms expense).

Interview lots of different companies and check references.

With the current market, I will note that patience will be needed for good subs, and the project as a whole. Our tile guy was booked up for months and we moved back into the house walking on subfloor for a couple of months...

SR II
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by SR II » Thu Jun 13, 2019 3:34 am

WarChest wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:41 pm
Thanks for the replies. Yes, there is an element of market timing here...every architect or design/build firm I've talked to has said "we are crazy busy right now". So I'm hesitant to jump into a crowded market. Much rather do this during a downturn when quality subs are cheaper or even just available but hey, the years keep ticking by and the remodel boom continues. Hoping bigger/quality firms have the long term relationships to get good subs to show up.

Good to hear costs are not crazy compared with other areas. I mean, its a lot of money but seems like it is what it is. My specific area has changed a lot over the past 20 years (and past 8 or so even more so). Tons of high paying jobs here now, big tech companies have moved in (or are building big offices), new entertainment boom, etc...We'd love to buy something bigger that fits our needs but the only things that (rarely) come to market with the size we seek are less well built spec houses. There are a lot of folks doing big remodels but they all seem to be staying put for the long term. Marriage stress is not what I am seeking as we've got young kids and that's enough of a drag but again, it is what it is.

Anyone with any insight on using one firm (design+build) vs picking an architect and then also picking a separate builder?
I have a friend in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles that is in the (hopefully) final stages of a slightly smaller project. They are a family of four with a dog and cat that moved out to a nearby one-bedroom apartment for what was estimated to be about an eight month timeframe. That was over a year and a half ago. They hired a company to do both the design and build. That firm did all the demo, then had issues getting city building inspections approved and then disappeared. After they found another builder that they absolutely love, and things seemed to be on track to complete, the house was vandalized, ripping all the copper pipes and valves out of the walls. I wouldn't wish this nightmare on anyone!

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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by TomatoTomahto » Thu Jun 13, 2019 6:01 am

We are doing a major renovation near Boston, and imo the price isn't out of line.

We also went with a design-build firm, and couldn't be more pleased. We had previously used an architect separate from the builder, and much prefer this.

Prices go up and down because of decisions you make. Sound insulation is important to us, and it is expensive (double Rockwool, resilient channels, QuietRock, green glue ($0.65 per square foot!)). Picking Lutron Caseta rather than Diva adds costs. Mechanized roller blinds adds costs. And the list goes on. If you are frugal in your decision making, costs will go down. If you decide that you want to do this once and be happy, costs will go up.,
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WhyNotUs
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Re: Big (expensive) remodel in LA -- advice and tips?

Post by WhyNotUs » Thu Jun 13, 2019 9:02 am

Interview the architect from the design build firm as if she/he were just another architect and do not hire them unless you feel clear that they "get" you priorities and lifestyle or at least that you are confident they have the tools to help you discover them. The upside is that they should be able help you get better pricing and cost consequences of decisions. The downside is that their long term relationship is to the builder, rather than with you.

Regardless, do whatever you need to do to understand the building, layout and choices before going to create permit set. Changes made from that point on will tend to have greater price consequences. Most customers cannot read drawings, fortunately there are other tools to help you understand the building. Ask the architect for examples of their products and select an architect who can meet your visualization needs. A fancy computer program may work for one person while another benefits from taping out walls, doors/windows on a gym floor, other want a cardboard model, and others benefit from staking it out on the site. Once again, doing all of this before finalizing design reduces change orders, which are the reason many people have bad experiences.

I assume that you have already tested the tear down for asbestos and other issues that could blow up the price of demolition and examined the site for potential environmental hazards.
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