Greetings NJ –
Hope today’s blog finds you well and enjoying your summer at the shore. It’s been a few weeks since my last blog and there have been many new developments and delays in construction activity, as well as excitement (often premature and unwarranted) and frustration caused by the new RREM & HMGP grants.
As always, here is more good information to help our rebuilding efforts. We’ll talk about parking under your house, diagonal bracing for pilings, and elevation levels.
RREM & HMGP Grants: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Good: The RREM Grant is $600 million at $150,000 per home which will go to help about 4000 people rebuild, with another 2 financing rounds of $600 million each following closely behind, but only after the Round 1 money is spent.
The Even Better Good: The $30,000 HMGP Grant can be a better option in the event that you don’t have a need for the entire $150,000, or have started your renovation already (thus disqualifying you from eligibility for RREM grant), or if you only need to raise your house. This grant is designed to bridge the gap between the $30,000 you get from your insurance company for ICC (increased cost of compliance) money and the average cost of a lift.
In fairness to NJ, this grant was well designed and will definitely help many homeowners.
The homeowner can choose any licensed insured contractor and must be lifting their primary residence. The great news is that with $60,000 (as opposed to just the $30,000 from ICC) the majority of lifts are now within budget. We have been doing house lifts ranging from $45,000 – $90,000, depending on the size of the house, the height of the lift, whether parking is created and the type of foundation system.
The FEMA hotline is 855 726 3946 . Call to register for either grant or go on their website at www.renewjerseystronger.org.
The Bad about RREM: That’s a huge restriction – not releasing Rounds 2 & 3 until Round 1 is fully expended. The funding structure currently in place is inherently flawed and not cognizant of current conditions in NJ, and will only serve to delay the 2nd & 3rd funding rounds. These are completely unnecessary delays. We need the money now. 4000 people is a good start but 30,000 were affected.
The goal is to disburse all the funds by the end of this year, which sounds absurd to just about anyone who has ever even seen a hammer. This author predicts that that estimate is off by at least 6-9 months – unless the grant structure is changed immediately.
It’s an old story – if you want movement and progress, get government out of the way and let the market serve its own needs. There is no historical example that can be cited of any governmental entity performing a function better than private citizens were able to.
Governor Christie – we’re big boys and girls here in NJ – we can pick our own professionals, hire our own contractors and decide what we want to build. It’s in our best interest to expect and demand the best value we can from the market – isn’t that an efficient system? Why are 6 additional layers of unnecessary complexity being used to achieve a simple outcome? Does the government want builders building, or doing paralegal and administrative work?
More Bad: So, in a well intentioned effort to avoid Katrina like situations (where homeowners received grant money and vamoosed out of the state), NJ has made the funding guidelines for the RREM grant very onerous. Instead of empowering the homeowner to decide on both the contractor as well as the scope of their rebuild, each home has to be separately inspected by an RREM inspector and evaluated. A specific scope of work is then prepared and it is sent out to no less than 3 contractors, who must be chosen from a rather small pool of approved contractors. This doesn’t sound that bad, but there are currently 19 contractors (though more should be added), to administer 4000 rebuilding projects.
Is that ridiculous or what? Go ahead and try to get a demolition permit for a home, starting tomorrow. Unless you walk on water in your off hours, it will be almost a month before you even submit the permit. How are we doing 4000 separate individual projects in the next 5 months? Maybe I’m missing something.
The simple solution is the same one used by every commercial lender since the Phoenicians – a house or renovation is built in accordance with plans, the homeowner inspects it, all contractors are paid, a request for an inspection is made from the lender or government agency (or architect or engineer, which is then submitted to the lender), and a funding draw is received for work that has been completed. If you don’t use the grant money to rebuild within a certain time, you don’t get it. Simple. Most people aren’t going anywhere anyway – they want to be here.
Stop “helping” us by tying us up in red tape, NJ. If you want things to move, let individual homeowners dictate the speed of the process – not the process dictating the speed of the work.
The Ugly: So there is waiting and delay…and more waiting…and then after you’ve been approved and correctly submitted all paperwork…there’s more waiting for an inspector….waiting for a scope of work….waiting for estimates…waiting for contracts to be prepared…and being warned seriously along the way to stop all progress prior to the process being concluded. Bizarre. The RREM Grant has actually caused a short term cessation of 30% of the activity at the shore which had been scheduled for the next 30 – 90 days. How does that make any sense?
Keep tuned for more developments on this item NJ. I’m just getting started.
New FEMA zones and the Working Flood Maps: Up and down NJ throughout the affected areas, we’ve been working with the new FEMA working maps for the last 6 weeks, and it has come to feel like the norm. There is an unstated understanding that this is how the flood zones will remain, and an unexpressed worry that the FEMA maps will change again. Both thoughts are valid – most places will probably stay the same and there are certain places that may change and become slightly more restrictive in the future as the rest of the data and homeowner data are evaluated.
Let me stress: it is in your best interests to have the option of using the current base flood elevations (as opposed to the generally more restrictive older ones) when deciding how high you want to go (since you can choose to raise to a lower elevation).
Pilings & diagonal bracing: Occasionally you will see diagonal bracing between pilings, in what may appear to be a haphazard random pattern. For clarification, diagonal bracing does not have anything to do with the structural integrity of a piling foundation – it is primarily addressing movement in the house and comfort of the occupants. As one way to save costs, this bracing (which is expensive and unsightly), can be eliminated especially if the house is one story and not over 1500 – 2000 square feet. It is unnecessary – we don’t often experience hurricane force winds and the sway of the house is very minimal. Diagonal bracing is also generally unnecessary if the piles extend less than 5’ above grade.
Elevations: How High to Go?: I do not recommend construction at less than BFE + 4 to finished floor in A or AE zones, regardless of the minimum elevation requirements in your flood zone. If you are unsure, consult with a professional when moving or siting your house on your lot, elevating or otherwise bringing your home into compliance with FEMA codes. A meeting with an architect, builder, or engineer is invaluable for discussing your options.
Remember that in a Coastal A (AE) zone, building to V zone standards is not only often a good idea but recommended as best practice by FEMA. Barring stair considerations,usually a little extra height is better.
In an A or an AE zone, elevation is measured to the finished floor, not the lowest structural girder. This means you can generally raise the house 2’ – 4’ less than you would be able to in a V zone.
New Parking & Storage Underneath Your House: In order to create parking or a garage, you will generally need to raise your house a minimum of 8’, as opposed to the 4’ – 5’ minimum generally needed to comply with FEMA in your zone. A lower move to a minimum increased elevation is a much easier process generally, and the changes in access will affect your life much less. However, the advantages you are creating are limited to proactive asset protection/preservation, which does not necessarily add value to your home, but simply maintains it.
Lifting your house high enough to create usable storage and perhaps parking adds a definable utility and usability to your real estate, which translates into immediate and future value. So you have more stairs to climb – that’s good for your health. Ramps, chair lifts and elevators are also viable options to address the access issue.
Hope this information helped you today. As always, if you have question, comments or just need some assistance, please don’t hesitate to call me directly at 732 300 5619.
On another note, we have been actively purchasing building lots and existing properties and have done so for many years. If you have property to sell, give me a call and I will evaluate it for you.
Stay well NJ. Keep up!
Dream Homes, Ltd.
Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC
Rebuild, Renovate, Raise or Repair Your Home from Storm Sandy
Rebuilding NJ One Home at a Time…
Residential Construction & Development for over 20 years in NJ
314 Rt.9, Forked River, NJ 08731 Mailing: PO Box 627, Forked River, NJ 08731
609 693 8881 x 102 Fax: 609 693 3802 Cell: 732 300 5619
New Home Builder License # 045894
HIC License # 13VH07489000