Saving money by applying for permits yourself

JoeT

Member
Dec 17, 2023
22
7
I've run across the advice that you can save a ton of money by applying for all building permits yourself, before the contractor starts work, rather than relying on the contractor to do it all for you. What do you think about this advice? Is it really that easy to do?
 
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I've run across the advice that you can save a ton of money by applying for all building permits yourself, before the contractor starts work, rather than relying on the contractor to do it all for you. What do you think about this advice? Is it really that easy to do?

I think it's possible, but seems like contractors generally go into projects assuming they'll be handling all the permitting themselves. You'd have to negotiate that division of responsibilities upfront. In most cases, "permit processing" isn't offered as its own optional line item, I don't think. Depending on the type of project and how technical the permitting issues are (e.g., a large remodel involving multiple trades), I imagine the contractor would have good operational reasons for wanting to handle all the permitting in-house. The permitting becomes part of a larger project management workflow at that point, which the homeowner probably shouldn't be part of. On the other hand, for simpler projects that require much less technical permitting review (e.g., installing a shed or minor electrical or any other project that takes less than a day to complete), I think homeowners could reasonably handle the permit application submittal and coordination with inspector.
 
I've run across the advice that you can save a ton of money by applying for all building permits yourself, before the contractor starts work, rather than relying on the contractor to do it all for you. What do you think about this advice? Is it really that easy to do?
I'm sure some people go this route, but I can see some contractors being annoyed by this as they usually handle it themselves. At least from what I have witnessed over the years. If you're someone who can build as well, that may be an option for you. Also, you may need a contractor for some of the required permits, or so I would imagine. Some may not be obtainable unless you have a contractor already picked out.
 
I wish it was that easy to do. Every time I've needed to do any work, I had to get a contractor to do the majority of it. I tried to file for permits for work I was going to do, but ended up having issues when I was required to get a contractor in to finish most of it up. It may save money early on, but it could turn into a headache later on when the contractor needs to obtain the permits anyway. I'd say stick with your contractor for those needs.
 
Applying for building permits yourself rather than relying solely on the contractor can indeed save you money and potentially prevent any missteps in the permitting process. However, in order to do so you need to be familiar with local building codes and regulations, the complexity of the project, and your willingness to navigate bureaucratic procedures.
 
Unless you are familiar with the permitting processes, it's best to have the contractor do it. In Florida, homeowners can do their own work, however, the majority of the permits obtained are by contractors, therefore, the systems are designed for customer base of more than 90% contractors. This can be frustrating to a homeowner who is trying to navigate new language/lingo and not understanding everything. The permitting costs from a Building Department isn't any less expensive, but the cost the builder charges may be- I would hope most absorb and calculate it in their overall cost for the job.
 
Unless you are familiar with the permitting processes, it's best to have the contractor do it. In Florida, homeowners can do their own work, however, the majority of the permits obtained are by contractors, therefore, the systems are designed for customer base of more than 90% contractors. This can be frustrating to a homeowner who is trying to navigate new language/lingo and not understanding everything. The permitting costs from a Building Department isn't any less expensive, but the cost the builder charges may be- I would hope most absorb and calculate it in their overall cost for the job.

Thanks for the insight. It makes sense that the staff responsible for designing application forms and online systems would have contractors in mind, rather than mom-and-pops, if these staff are only generally working with contractors and that's who they fundamentally consider to be their audience. We have the same issue at my agency. Part of the issue, at least for me, is that the number of processes and technical know-how required to navigate the system have grown so much over the years that to really make permitting accessible to the layperson (without handholding by agency staff) I think you'd really need to focus on simplifying the processes themselves, in addition to whatever "plain language" improvements you might make to the application materials. Can we take a look at some processes and ask, "it is really critical that we require this level of detail?" and "if simplification of process X would have negligible costs (e.g., in terms of legal liability), how do we go about demonstrating this to leadership and actually making the change happen?"
 
I can see that I've been misinformed that it's a good way to save money on a building project. I've run across that tip so many times. Now I have to wonder whether the article writers really ever tried it for themselves. Thanks for setting me straight!
 
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