Next Step Discovery Review: My Secret Weapon to Avoid Costly Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is to rush into design before the goals and potential obstacles are well defined. This can lead lots of wasted time, wasted money and disappointment. 

I remember all too clearly getting 2 hours into a first meeting with a client, excitedly sketching options for a room addition when I stood up from the table and noticed that the vegetation just beyond the lawn and some low bushes was a sea of skunk cabbage, a clear indicator of wetland soils. Unfortunately, the wetlands were too close to the house and the project did not go ahead. Fortunately, we did not waste a lot of time and money on an impossible design! This mistake happens more often than you would imagine. 

The thing about these issues is that they are not always as obvious as skunk cabbage=wetlands! Wetlands need to be identified by a soil scientist. It takes a trip to the Conservation Department to see if you are in an area that requires further investigation.

There are many examples of costly assumptions we make that can haunt us later. Here are a few true stories from my projects where I caught problems early during the Discovery Review.

1.  A renter planning to buy and renovate the property he was living in was told by the seller that Zoning Approvals for proposed changes had been obtained, but he failed to mention that they had expired and that the new owner would have to start over with no guarantee of approval on a new plan. (I discovered this at the Town Clerk’s Office. It resulted in a reduced sale price.)

2.  Just because you are building a new room on the footprint of an existing deck does not mean you will not need a zoning variance. (The helpful Zoning Officer referred me to the panicked client.)

3.  A Power Company Easement on a tiny seaside lot that was grandfathered to allow encroachment of 3 steps from the door to grade, would not allow a full story stair the owner was planning when raising the building to the new FEMA Height Requirements. This would have left no way to get into or out of the house. (Time to visit the Engineering.)

These examples are why I created the Next Step Discovery Review and why I always use this pre-design step before putting pencil to paper.

A doctor would not treat a patient without a proper diagnosis. A good designer will not begin design until all the factors that can affect the project have been identified. Then we can bring a laser focus creating a clear design brief, a roadmap that will guide the design process to a success without expensive detours.

The Next Step Discovery Review is a systematic approach to understanding a project’s regulatory requirements, uncovering obstacles and dealing with them early in the project when it is relatively inexpensive. Typical Cost: $1,000 to $1,500 depending on project size and complexity.

To get started, click on this link and you’ll be taken to a page where you can schedule an on-site consultation.