Sunday, October 26, 2008

Certifiably Crazy

While some people think we're certifiably crazy for embarking on this project (instead of just buying an existing house), we think it would be crazy to buy a traditional (energy inefficient) house in the DC area that we don't really like and then have to put a lot more money into updates and upgrades. This way, we get what we want in terms of style of house, sustainability in construction and living, etc.

Speaking of certifying, we attended a green building class in Roanoke this past week for the EarthCraft Virginia certification program. This training was geared for construction companies, architects, etc., but they allowed us to attend as owner-builders. The EarthCraft certification is like LEED for homes, but it's a much less expensive certification process. The program started in the Atlanta area and, to date, more than 4,500 homes have been certified by EarthCraft. The program expanded into Virginia just a few years ago and they are hoping to certify several hundred homes annually in the Commonwealth.

The seminar focused on how the certification program works. There are minimum requirements that must be met in order to receive EarthCraft certification, then there are other points a builder has to earn in addition to the minumum requirements. Many of these requirements are tied to energy efficiency. For some homebuilders, this will take some significant change to their construction practices in order to achieve certification. For us, since we have intended the house to be environmentally-friendly from the start, this is a validation to ensure we are actually building green.

We've been assigned an EarthCraft technical advisor who will oversee our construction and conduct some on-site inspections to ensure we meet the required standards. We're very hopeful that we'll achieve this certification.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What a Surprise!

I opened my email to grab and then post the scanned image of the building permit, and received a delightful surprise. Our house designer, John Spears with Sustainable Design Group, emailed me some artistic renderings of the house. Computer imaging is truly amazing. I hope you enjoy seeing these as much as I did.

Building Permit

Three Steps Forward....

So many things came together this week and we're very thankful for that. First, as Andreas posted, the CBIRT meeting went well on Wednesday. Second, on Wednesday evening, we received the completed appraisal, and the value of our project was better than we had hoped for, which should allow us to obtain the financing we want. Third, on Friday morning, the City issued the building permit to us.

The 30 day appeal process (whereby City residents can appeal the issuance of the building permit) is counting down - it ends on November 16th. We scheduled closing for the land for November 17th (tentative date which will be changed only if there's a valid appeal of the building permit, which we don't expect since we didn't ask for any variances and everything is in line with the city code).

We're now working on the co-ownership agreement with our lawyers, developing the detailed project plan, and awaiting the final confirmation on the financing (the loan underwriter will be going through the appraisal with a fine-tooth comb in the next few days). Also, I'm working on a public relations/marketing plan for this project to give visibility to environmentally friendly design and construction principles, and to recognize our partners who are collaborating with us on this project.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sea Birds

The City of Falls Church has a public review process for the approval of grading plans - the Chesapeake Bay Interdisciplinary Review Team (CBIRT). Each grading plan gets discussed at the CBIRT meeting; neighbors within 150 feet of the property are invited, and a public notice appears in the Falls Church News-Press.
Today was our turn.
Normally, people show up to complain about one aspect or another of the proposed construction (even though, strictly speaking, the meeting is only about grading, zoning, and tree preservation compliance). I had a bet with the City's Zoning Administrator that someone would turn up to complain that the house was too small.
Well, nobody showed up to complain - and within a half hour the meeting was over. Our grading plan now has a big "APPROVED" stamp on it; and with the grading plan approved, we can now go and collect the remaining signatures on our building permit. The hope is that within the next day or two, we'll have our building permit issued as well.
And then, we waits.
Our contract for the land is structured so that we close 30 days (to allow for appeals) after issuance of the building permit - we wanted to avoid owning an unbuildable lot. So our next challenge is to find financing. As Mike wrote in an earlier post, Debbie Perper is working hard for us on that aspect. Tentatively, we've scheduled closing for the middle of November, more than a year since we first started this process.
I should say that everyone at the City has been wonderful, especially in working around the fact that we don't technically own the lot yet - all plan and permit approvals are typically issued to the property owner, and only after tree protection and sediment control has been put in place. But with a few quickly drawn-up letters of agreement (we agree to put tree preservation and sediment control measures in place within 7 days after closing on the lot) we were able to work around this. I'm sure not every municipality is this helpful.
It feels like we're on the home stretch.
At least until we start with the building portion!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Appraisal Coming Soon

One aspect of obtaining a construction loan is getting an appraisal for the project (land value + building value). Given the volatility of the financial markets this past week, we were understandably a bit concerned about how the appraiser would view our project. Tonight we received an email from our mortgage broker stating the following:

Just an FYI that the appraiser loves the plans. Here is some of what he has told me:

We are working on Falls Church property. It is an inspiration what they are doing.

The subject property is extremely close to West Falls Church Metro, where there is to be a large new town to be built this Spring.

They are so smart and got a great price on the lot too. Brilliant! Appraised value will indicate an entrepreneurial profit after all costs (acquisition & construction). $X-$X at the end of the day.

Again it is such a blessing/inspiration to be a part of this process. I repeatedly communicate to people of how great open floor plans/contemporary architecture is. My favorite modern edifices are Dulles Airport, the East Gallery and Falling Water.”

We should see a report early next week I hope.

The appraisal is the key ingredient for our financing. Without financing, there's no Falls Church Erdhaus. Needless to say, this email made our day. Sorry for X-ing out the numbers in the quote above, but you understand.