Uh-oh, you have received a red tag: 10 Steps to legalize construction done on your property without a permit

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

In these days of housing shortages, a lot of cities and towns are looking at their housing stock and making sure that it is safe, legal, and counts toward their housing inventory to report to the state.  Garages, sheds, and enclosed porches that have been converted to bedrooms are being red-tagged, if they were converted without permits.  This is especially true if they are being rented out, which can be a liability to both the homeowner and the city.

Perhaps you bought the property with this as an existing condition, but you will still be required to remedy the unpermitted work.  Perhaps you did the work yourself.  Either way, the red tag usually means you will need to hire an architect to document the work and help to obtain the required permit(s).  Sometimes changes are necessary to meet building code requirements.  Please do not panic.  This situation can usually be corrected.

Here is what to expect if you contact us for a legalization project (based on the COVID-19 protocols):

Step 1—We will do a quick search of the property on GIS and County records to familiarize ourselves with the property.  We will do this at no fee to you.

Step 2—You will send us whatever information you have about the property, e.g., the red tag violation, interior and exterior photos, and any correspondence you have had with the City.

Step 3—We will provide a proposal to you estimating our fees for a preliminary assessment of what we find to be correctable deficiencies.  This preliminary assessment will be based on our best guess after review of the given remote information.  The actual existing conditions of the property can be double-checked later.  The proposal will be provided in PDF format with an option for digital signature.  It will also include our standard Terms & Conditions.

Step 4—Once you have signed the proposal, The Kastrop Group will provide the preliminary assessment.

Step 5—If the assessment is adequate for your use, we will send you the first invoice electronically.  We allow online payment for your convenience.  If more information needs to be included, we can work this out further.

Step 6—If you decide to move forward based on the assessment, The Kastrop Group will provide you with a proposal for the work to be completed at the site, including construction documents for approval by the City.  We understand that we will most likely be working with a third-party plan check service during this process, since many cities and counties are using outside consultants for this purpose.

Step 7—Once you have signed the proposal for architectural services, we will schedule a site visit to verify and analyze the existing conditions on the property.  We can do this with necessary personal protection equipment and social distancing.  (Once we are allowed on the property and in the building, you do not have to be in the same room with us and can remain at a distance.)

Step 8—We will draw up the existing conditions on our computer-aided design and drafting system (CADD) along with the construction documents for required remediation work.  You will receive an electronic invoice from us for this work.

Step 9–We will submit the drawings to the appropriate permitting agency.  (You will need to pay them for the permit fees and any fines assessed.)  We will submit electronically, if allowed, otherwise we will follow their instructions for permitting procedures.

Step 10—Once you receive your building permit, you can hire a licensed contractor to do the required remediation work.  We have trustworthy General Contractors that we can recommend to you.

We will make every effort to be collaborative with the City, so that your goal and their goal of legalizing your property are met as time-efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.  Be assured that this legalization will likely improve your property value.  It will also make your home a safer place for you (and any tenants).

Thank you for reading, and as always, we are Designing for Your Reality.  Stay safe, stay well.

Posted in Ask an Architect, Commercial, Design and Construction, Hiring an Architect, Residential, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COVID-19 Pandemic: Is there a silver lining to the black cloud?

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

As I’m writing this, I am praying for the soonest possible relief to sufferers of this illness, people who have lost their jobs, children who are out of school, businesses that are out of work, and everyone dealing with stress in their lives.  It is a very frightening time in our world.

You have already seen so much communication about the dark side of the coronavirus.  Here I’d like to focus on some positives.  In the architectural world, we are seeing incremental progress in efficiency and green business activities directly related to the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic.

Here are just a few that we have noted:

  1. Cities and counties have begun to allow submittals for permits in electronic form. Architects and engineers have been drafting electronically for decades, but many jurisdictions have been slow to allow anything other than large format paper construction documents.  This is costly, cumbersome, and takes more time than electronic submittals.  It also requires in-person delivery to city hall, which increases billable costs and adds to vehicle trips, increasing carbon emissions, traffic & parking congestion.  Going digital avoids all of that and it is easy for the planning & building department officials to reply to the submissions by email.


  1. With digital signature software easily available, a clear record of signatures can be documented in the approval process (including those of the licensed architect and engineers). We have been using digital signatures and billings with our clients for years, but cities have been slow to adapt in this area as well.  We are hoping to soon see changes to state & local laws to allow digital signatures in the permitting process, as we get past the outdated “wet stamp” and signature era.


  1. Telecommuting will become more widely accepted. Given the extremely high cost of office space and long commute times in the Bay Area, it’s surprising that more companies have not already switched to work-from-home strategies when possible.  Yes, we want to be able to be in a professional environment, working together and sharing ideas.  But sometimes, participating in an online chat or team meeting in your comfortable clothes from home is good enough.


  1. Learning what is essential and what isn’t. This is a personal judgment call, of course.  It will be interesting to decide what to reconnect with once we are allowed to do so.  Maybe some things will become more important—e.g., getting together with friends, working out at the gym, trips & outdoor activities, etc., and some things will be less important.  I know that the next time I say “Let’s get together for lunch” I will really mean it and will schedule it right away.   Construction is an essential business activity!  Let’s start building again soon.


  1. Architecture can be done remotely! While sheltering from home, The Kastrop Group employees are continuing to work on projects to either submit electronically or have them ready to submit when jurisdictions re-open. Check on some of the Bay Area jurisdictions by going to our worksheet that we are updating as we obtain information. Go to our homepage at kastropgroup.com and click on the COVID-19 link at the top.  If you wish to get a project started, now is a good time while things are slow, so that you will be at the front of the line when the crisis is over.  We wish everyone wellness and the earliest possible recovery from this extraordinary situation.  Take good care of yourselves.
Posted in Commercial, Community, Design and Construction, Hiring an Architect, Residential, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COVID-19 Virus update as of March 16, 2020

Dear Clients,

We are aware that six Bay Area counties including San Mateo County, have issued shelter-in-place orders for three weeks beginning tomorrow. Public meetings and non-emergency interactions with the public are suspended until further notice.

We know that you rely on us to make every effort to keep your project moving forward. As a result of the shelter-in-place order, The Kastrop Group has requested that our employees work remotely from home. Our projects and drawings are hosted on a cloud computer service and our staff is working on all our projects to the extent that we are able.

In keeping with safety protocols, our office will be closed. We will have to postpone face-to-face meetings, site visits, and in-person visits to city or county departments. Whenever possible we are communicating by email and telephone with agencies that are still open. We are unsure, however, if your project will be delayed due to agency closures and restrictions.

We send you our best wishes for the health and safety of you and your family. We will communicate with you directly whenever we have specific information about your project. We appreciate your patience and trust at this difficult time.


Best Regards,

D. Michael Kastrop, A.I.A.
President, Principal Architect

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Architectural Consultations before you buy or lease property

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

We often get inquiries from people who wish to buy a home or buy/lease a business property and want us to confirm that the property will be suitable for their needs.  This is a very good idea.  You want to know the facts before making a big financial commitment.

Usually the first question we are asked is “Will I be allowed to do what I’m intending to do with the property?”  And usually the answer is: “It depends.”  In order to answer the question, we need to find out exactly what you plan to do and then to look at the specific property records to determine critical elements like zoning, existing structures, required setbacks, neighborhood ordinances, conditional use permits, base flood elevation, utilities, slope, floor area ratio, any unpermitted construction, open permits, etc.  (Some of those things might not apply in every case.)

If you are making a big decision on whether to buy the property based on our advice, we want to make sure we are providing informed opinions, not just guessing.  That kind of research and professional assessment takes time and we cannot provide it for free, but this is a good investment of a few hundred dollars before making the decision of hundreds of thousands or even millions to sign the lease or the deed.  Based on this information you may decide to negotiate further, walk away from the deal, or make the commitment.

The sooner you contact us, the better.  Obviously, lease or purchase negotiations tend to have short deadlines.  If you want something done quickly, we will try to squeeze it in among our existing project schedules. A 24-hour turnaround is probably impossible, especially if we have to meet you and see the property.  (Usually a realtor needs to arrange access to the site.)  So, if you think you will need advice, call us as early as you can.

Please be aware that some issues cannot be guaranteed.  If you want to do construction, going through the Planning and Building Department process for permits will often uncover obstacles that are unknown in the early stages.

You can also do some of your own research in advance.  If similar projects have been done nearby, that information is helpful in assessing the possibilities.  For example, if you are planning to add another story to a building, and there is another multi-story structure nearby, then chances are that it will be possible to build up to that height.  Asking other property owners in the area about their experience with modifications to their buildings can reveal interesting information.  Knocking on a few doors of future neighbors may be worth your time.

Most communities in California have public property record information online.  You can check to see if the building and lot size are correct, if there were any modifications done, permit status, restrictions based on flood or fire danger, etc.  Sometimes a quick browser search of “<city name> gis” will lead you to a site where you can enter the address and search the public database.  Sometimes you will first have to go to the website of the County Tax Assessor to get more detailed information.  A word of caution:  if the tax assessor’s records do not match the building as it is currently listed for sale or lease (e.g., the wrong number of bedrooms on a house), that is a red flag.  It may indicate that the building was modified without obtaining a building permit.  A future owner could be held liable for any legalization work that would be required.  Be sure to bring up that information in your negotiations.

Good luck with your purchase or lease, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

Posted in Ask an Architect, Hiring an Architect, Residential, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the drawings look nice, but aren’t adequate for permitting or construction

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

In the April 5th issue of Engineering News Record magazine there is an article that addresses the issue of contractors encountering design documents that are not complete enough to build.  The article raises a number of concerns, but this is the one that caught my eye:

“younger, tech-savvy designers who are replacing retiring baby boomers. Stuart Coppedge, a principal with RTA Architects, Colorado Springs, recalls how his experience on summer construction jobs during high school provided valuable preparation for his future career. Now, he says, finding architecture-school graduates with construction experience is increasingly difficult.  ‘They may not intuitively understand work processes and how materials work,’ Coppedge says. ‘It’s up to a firm’s leadership to train people and help them understand what they’re doing.’  Virtual design and construction technology, often cited as a boon to productivity, can be a double-edged sword as well. ‘It lets you draw a whole lot, but it doesn’t guarantee good results,’ Coppedge says.”

Click here for the referenced article.

We have come upon this problem numerous times when clients bring us projects.  They say that they “already have a design”.  They have drawings that look nice on paper, but when seen with an experienced eye we find numerous errors that will not allow the project to be permitted, much less built by a licensed contractor.  Sometimes the drawings were created by an architecture firm (but an inexperienced architect).  But more often the drawings were prepared by an unlicensed residential designer, interior designer, friend or family member, etc., using design software.  The software creates drawings that look like formal construction documents, but without the experience and knowledge of a licensed architect they are just concepts, not construction documents.

It upsets the client when we explain that we can’t use much of what they gave us, often needing to start completely from scratch.  Common problems include:

  • Not considering setbacks, floor area ratio, or other applicable zoning ordinances.
  • Not using accurate measurements from the existing structure.
  • Not following Building Code requirements.
  • Not understanding enough about construction to specify the electrical, plumbing, heating elements properly.
  • Not understanding structural needs, for example creating a large open room without a beam appropriate to support the roof.
  • Doors and windows of odd sizes and in odd places, such that they don’t meet construction standards.
  • And the list can go on and on.

Some of the code books we have in our office library.

Sometimes a client has spent quite a bit of money and time to get to the point where they are ready to submit for a building permit.  Then the permitting agency tells them that they will need an architect.  Of course, they want the architect (us) to just stamp the drawings that they gave us.   No, we can’t do that.  Not only because we can’t take legal responsibility for substandard work produced by a non-licensed designer, but also because we will have to spend many hours fixing mistakes that we would not have created in the first place. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to construction as well as to many other things in life.  Design and construction documents by an experienced licensed architect will cost you more up front than going to an unlicensed designer.  That is undoubtedly true.  But you will ultimately avoid costly errors and time lost in making corrections to fix hidden mistakes in the drawings.  Don’t assume that because the drawings were created using architectural design software that they are necessarily correct.  The software cannot substitute for architectural, engineering, and construction knowledge.

As always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.  Best wishes on your project.


Posted in Ask an Architect, Design and Construction, Hiring an Architect, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why you should consider solar panels and a home battery for your home

With the demand for renewable energy on the rise and projected to continue to increase in the future, solar energy is something you should consider when remodeling your home. Solar energy is a great way for you to participate in the production of renewable energy that benefits both yourself and your surrounding community.

While it is true that the upfront investment of solar panels is quite steep, around ($19,000 – $24,000 for a 10KW system) the benefits that follow with solar panels should definitely be taken into account. The major factors in which solar panels are beneficial are:

-Your home value goes up

-Solar panels will pay for themselves after about 7 years

-Last up to 30 years

-With a home battery you can store solar energy for emergencies

-You will be saving a lot of money each year

In the Bay Area solar panels on a 10KW system will allow you to save on average $2,700 annually from your electric bill. With all of your savings from drawing solar power, the average time for solar panels to break even is 7 years. Basically, you would have spent the same amount of money after 7 years of relying on energy from the grid. Here is a link to calculate your savings and payback period for your own home: https://www.solar.com/.

Most solar panels will stay efficient for about 30 years, so after you have gotten your return on investment, you will continue to save money for years to come. Homes that have solar panels will increase in value by approximately $15,000. Not only will you recoup the money you spent on the solar panels, but you will also find it easier to sell your house in the future.

In addition to installing solar panels, adding a home battery will help you save even more money and prepare your home for power outages and other natural disasters. With a home battery you will not rely on the grid as much.   Because you have energy saved at your home that you collected with your solar panels, you will still have power for some time if there is a power outage.  Home batteries will allow you save money because you can draw from the battery during peak hours to avoid the high energy rates from the grid. Most home battery systems currently cost between $8,000-$10,000 per battery and will last up to 15 years. The payback time for a battery is around 11 years, so you will still see a return on your investment.

With solar panels and a home battery, you are able to maximize both investments. From power outages to high electricity costs, you are doing yourself a favor by switching to solar and a home battery. If you have a family member at home who is attached to a medical device, it is very important to always have energy for that person. Solar energy is something you won’t have to think about once installed and it will passively save you money.


By Robert Rochel, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects









Posted in Beneficial Buildings and Healthy Homes, Commercial, Community, Design and Construction, Residential | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Kastrop Group has moved our office!

As of April 1, 2019, our architectural office moved to a new location.  We are still in Redwood City, now in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood within walking distance of our wonderful downtown.  We have reserved parking at our new place, and that’s a benefit to employees and clients alike.  The new office has such great natural light that electrical lights are mostly unnecessary.  There are walking paths and mature oak trees nearby and even a picnic table under a tree next to the building.

We did have to downsize a bit to fit in the new space.  And rents have gone up a lot since we signed our prior lease 8 years ago.  Nevertheless, we think this move has worked out for the best.  We are still working with the cable company to get an upgrade to fiber optic high-speed service at our new building, which is the last piece of the puzzle.  We have almost finished unpacking and finding the right space for various supplies, wall hangings and office equipment.


For any business owner who is facing a big move, either because of or after construction, here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Change the address associated with your credit card to the new location early. Then change all of your recurring charges to use the new address.  There were a few vendors that did not process the change of address quickly, causing the charges to be denied by the card company when the wrong zip code was used.
  2. Give utility companies as much notice as possible of the turn-off date at your old location and the turn-on date at the new one. Some companies require lead time to handle this, especially if equipment, like modems and telephones, have to be relocated.
  3. Get your IT people working on the set up at the new location right away. They may need permission from the new landlord/outgoing tenant to go in and see where the internet connection(s) will be, where the server will go, set up the firewall and wifi, etc.
  4. Line up regular service providers like janitorial service and delivery companies to understand that they will be shifting to a new location and make sure they know where it is and have access keys/codes.
  5. Talk to the mail carrier (in person) at your old location and your new location. They will smooth the transition so that your mail catches up to you quickly.
  6. Have your employees figure out the best configuration for furniture and computers at the new location. They have good suggestions to consider since you will be able to start with a blank slate.
  7. Order signage, new business cards, letterhead, return address labels, etc. Change the templates on soft copies of invoices, letterhead, contracts, etc.  (It took more time than I expected to track down all the documents that needed to be updated.)
  8. Update your address on all of your social media sites.
  9. Tell your clients and consultants in person or by telephone if possible. We found that sending an email is not enough.
  10. Update your address on all of your insurance policies, banking information, business licenses, professional licenses, and tax agencies.
  11. Hire a good moving company. Have cash on hand to give tips to the movers.  Check to see if leased equipment must be moved by the leasing company or a specially-authorized service.
  12. Assess any furniture and supplies that need to be ordered for the new location—kitchen appliances, restroom items, walk-in mats, fans, air filters, water filters, etc. Any eco-friendly or accessibility modifications should be considered before the move.
  13. Start boxing non-essentials early if they are going to be moved. Label the boxes clearly.
  14. Prioritize time for scanning documents to avoid moving them. (Hopefully you already have most of your essential files in the cloud.)
  15. Recycle paperwork that is not moving and shred any sensitive documents. Contact an e-waste recycling company if you are not taking all of your old equipment with you.  Contact a local charity, incubator start-up non-profit, church, or school to see if they can use any office furniture that you are not moving.
  16. Make sure all of the mapping services know how to locate your new location. It turns out that Google and Bing both had wrong directions to our new office because it faces a one-way street and some landscaping blocks entry at one end of our parking lot.  We were able to submit corrections to update their driving directions.
  17. Contact all of your business associations and membership organizations.
  18. If you still receive hard copy mailings such as newspapers and magazines, check the procedure for processing change of address. The U.S. Postal Service only allows forwarding for a short time on 3rd class or bulk mail.

I hope this checklist is helpful.  Moving is difficult and stressful, especially on short notice.  If you keep a record of what you have done and what you have left to do you can work your way through the list systematically without jeopardizing your business or your peace of mind.

If you are one of our Bay Area clients or colleagues, please visit us at our new location:  160 Birch Street, Suite B, Redwood City, CA  94062.


Posted in Ask an Architect, Community, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment