Thirty years ago, I helped my father build a house. I worked with him for the previous few summers on smaller projects…decks, screened-in porches, fences and the like, but that year I was finished with school and so for the first time I had a hand in the construction of a home from start to finish. I learned how to set up a transit level and surveyed the site with Dad, we discussed views, elevations, and placement options when the plans were still sketches, and later I walked through the completed home, room by room, checking for undotted I’s or uncrossed T’s before packing up the last of our tools and leaving the home to its new owners. This spring we will start building our sixtieth-ish*.

‘That’s really sweet The Hyperbole,’ the impatient glibers may ask, ‘But what does any of that have to do with Liberty, Limited Government, Beer, Pizza, Board Games, or Boobs?’ Good question, I’m glad you asked. Turns out we built all but one of those homes in the same gated, HOA-run community, and over the years I have watched as rules, regulations, fees, and fines skyrocketed, at times it seemed as if the powers that be were actively trying to discourage new construction.**. In the same time, I have also witnessed the development of new tools and products. Some of those changes added value to the final product, some of them only made it cost more. I imagine you can guess which was which.

And so I figured that I would write a few articles comparing the building of that first home back in ’88 with this year’s model. Focusing on the above-mentioned observations, with the odd anecdote tossed in here and there, like the story of the building inspector who would walk through doorways and down stairwells with his thumb placed on top of his head with his fingers extended upwards*** to check headroom clearance. As per Brett’s instructions, I will try to use sentences and paragraphs but I can’t promise anything, I never done too good in writin’ class.


My father likes to oldmansplain that when he was a kid the phrase “Why don’cha make a federal case out of it?” was a common rebuff when someone made too large of a deal over some perceived insult or slight. As he points out**** it was a rebuff because very few things were federal issues, today it’s a meaningless phrase because everything is a federal issue.

Except, remarkably, residential home building which has largely stayed a local issue. To get a building permit In one county all you may need is the approval of your proposed septic system, in the next county over you might need to submit plans showing every little detail down to the color of the tile in the guest bathroom. Thus when I bring up a code change, some of you may have always lived under stricter codes, while others of you may not even have to comply with the old code that is being changed. In short, don’t take any of what I say as a general rule. Always check with your friendly and helpful local building code enforcement department official and get all necessary permits before you build that deck. Unless you can’t easily see it from the street and you can put on your shocked face and say “I need a Permit? For a tiny little stoop? I had no idea!” believably, if so get cracking, those post holes aren’t going to dig themselves.

Stake Out

Richard Dreyfuss #metoos all over Madeline Stowe while Charlie Sheen’s more talented brother watches and Forest Whitaker languidly mast…What’s that? …Oh, STAKE…OUT, not Stakeout. That makes a lot more sense. One of the first steps in building a house is figuring out where you are going to build it, as I mentioned above, back in 1988 my father and I surveyed the property to make this determination, by survey I mean in both the ‘looked over the grounds’ and in the ‘found corner pins, pulled strings down property and/or backset lines’ sense. Thus we made sure the house we intended to build fit on the lot in the orientation we wanted. In 2018 we still do the same but we ‘approximate’ more, ‘Close enough’ has replaced ‘lets double check.’

You see, in ’88 after siting the house we would carefully stake out its’ footprint, so that the guy with the back-hoe knew where to dig and so that the representative from the HOA***** could verify that we were building where we should, and most importantly, so that WE could verify that we were building where we should. What could be more embarrassing (and costly) for a home builder than to build over a backset line or on the wrong lot? but much like how drug companies will kill their customers without government oversight, greedy builders will build on wrong. So now, In ’18 we are required to have a state licenced surveyor stake out the house so we figure ‘close enough’, it saves us a few hours but cost the homeowner $300-$500 in surveying cost.

Uh…Dad, I think we have a little problem.

This change happened fairly early on, perhaps in the mid 90’s. The association hired a local architectural firm to take over the inspections that up until then were done by a board member or volunteers on what was called the Environmental Control Committee. Turns out the lackey that the Architect sent out to do the inspections was an idiot******, and approved a number of jobs that encroached on backset lines. The association could have hired someone competent or required surveys in cases where the building is very close to the backset lines. Instead, they went one size fits all, whether you are trying to stuff a 10-gallon house on 5-gallon lot or you are tossing a hot dog of a home down a hallway of a lot, you are required to pay for a survey.

Some of you may be thinking “What’s the big deal it’s just a few hundred dollars? and it’s a good idea to get a professional survey anyway.” Yes, it’s not a ton of money but bear in mind we don’t even have a building permit and haven’t moved one shovelful of earth yet. And if like 90% of our clients you recently purchased the lot the property itself will have been surveyed, the title companies make sure of that. The professed purpose******* of the stake out is to ensure that the proposed house fits on the lot, something a properly drawn plot plan does. And guess what? we have always been required to include a plot plan with our permit application. The stake out survey is a redundancy at best. It doesn’t protect the property owner, it only shifts liability from the builder to the surveyor, and allows the HOA to act like they are doing something by approving the stakeout, without having to actually check the stakeout.

That’s it for Part One. If there is any interest in Part Two, I will delve into the permit process, and discuss Excavating, foul-mouthed masons, lasers, and more!!….

Not sure if only the links posters get to sign off with a song or not [ED: go right ahead!], but if it’s cool here’s The Woggles covering Chubby Checker.

*I haven’t kept count.
** And in some cases they were.
*** Imagine an inverted Little Rascal’s high-sign.
****Repeatedly, Jesus wept, do all old people tell the same damn story over and over?
***** For a while it was a retired realtor who was also one of the first full-time residents of the community, in short, he knew what he was doing, the idiots that came after? not so much.
****** He once questioned whether the window in a bedroom met the egress size requirements, it did, also there was a patio door right beside it.
******* You may think it’s about ensuring that the house is actually built where it should be, it’s not. More on that in Part Deux, if there is a Part Deux.