Anne & Lars Build a House

Chapter 8: Signs

Yeah. It's been a while.

So what the heck went on in the twenty months(!) since the last post? In one sense, quite a bit: we revised the design twice, found a bank to finance the project, and found a builder to put it up. We even put the property up for sale.

We did that because the bulk of that twenty months was spent waiting for the town to approve our revisions, and during this time it was not clear that we would ever be able to build the project for a price we could afford. The details are grim, but I'm going to leave them for later. (And let me tell you, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. Totes!)

For now, we're focused on the positive: the property is off the market, and things are happening. Real things. Not just paper-pushing and check-writing. I'm saying that actual physical activity with lasting, visible consequences has taken place on our lot.

You can tell by the signs.

Notice of Changes

We needed to modify our approved design in order to reduce its cost. You have to submit an application for this. Then you wait. Several weeks and many emails later, the town puts up a sign telling passers-by what you want:

They also send this via mail to nearby properties, so that others may share with us their opinions of and objections to our changes. For this privilege, we pay the surprisingly hefty cost of the mailing, even though the town almost certainly has email addresses for all parties.

Weeks later—because you wouldn't want to rush things—the town makes a decision. Weeks later, they issue a Notice of Decision. Weeks later, the decision becomes effective. Weeks later, the appeal period expires and you can proceed.

They let us have most of the changes we asked for, including the ones that would save us the most money. Other changes were denied, inscrutably (and perhaps illegally). There's a lot more to the story than that, but it's a little too raw to relive in the telling right now.


It turns out that to build a house, you need money. Who knew?

Since the housing bubble burst, construction loans are hard to come by. A lot of banks wouldn't even call us back. A few finally did, and a couple had decent rates. We applied with both of them. Only one gave us a realistic appraisal of the property, so they are the ones who get to post their sign on it:

As your faceless monoliths go, they have been responsive, efficient, and altogether pretty easy to deal with. (I even met one of them in person once.) They didn't give us a hard time while we went through a couple of cost-reducing redesigns and extended the application process out by a year. So we're happy to let them advertise on our site—which is good, because the loan agreement says we have to.


One big challenge in this project has been finding a builder who would give us a fixed-price bid for a sum that the bank was willing to lend us. After an intense search, we settled on Radco & Associates, helmed by Jim Radu. He is a find-a-way, get-it-done kind of guy. He's got a nice big sign:

He's been a builder in Marin for many years, with several commercial and residential projects in Sausalito. He keep things moving with a relentless positivity that has been a real shot in the arm for this delay-plagued project.


There is exactly one public parking spot adjacent to our site (or nearly so -- it's across the Oak Lane steps). Jim immediately paid the town $46 to reserve it for a month during business hours:

This is critically important, especially during the first stages of construction, before our parking deck is operational. I had no idea a public spot was so cheap—or available at all, for that matter. I suspect you can get a sign like this only in connection with permitted activity.

I can hardly wait for someone to block our access so that we can make a call and have them towed!


Jim also deftly created a temporary platform on the steep northwest corner of the lot. It's part treehouse, one corner being supported by the crotch of a downslope oak. On it is a nifty self-contained porta-potty + electrical box combo:

A porta-potty onsite is the surest sign yet that action is imminent. The electrical hookup took a few days, so in the meantime Jim made a deal with neighbors to plug into their house power. Find a way, get it done.


Here's the money shot:

Or, if you will, "the money, shot." Ha ha! Sigh...

Pursuing this green sign took an unjustifiably large chunk of our savings and our lives. Had we known in advance the portion of our net worth that would be wasted on pointless bureaucracy and the resulting delay and carrying costs, we would never have started.

But now the fun begins. Many people—Jim included—have told us that the town's building department is much easier to deal with than the planning department. Compared to the last three years, the actual house construction will surely be easy. Effortless. Free of stress of any kind.

You'll see.

More to come, soon. Stay tuned.