Home repairs and rebuilding after a natural disaster can be a tedious and frustrating task – especially when building material costs are high and insurance companies and contractors are overwhelmed.
Newnan City officials and a real estate restoration specialist spoke about the rebuilding process at the Coweta Community Foundation Reconstruction Forum last week.
We are here to help
The City of Newnan and Coweta County are partnering with homeowners to make reconstruction easier.
Building permits are free, and some of the non-compliant property rebuilding processes have been tweaked to make the process easier and faster. Some requirements have been waived.
“Our job is to make this transition as easy as possible,” said Tracy Dunnavant, Newnan’s director of planning.
A common question is: what can I take back?
The answer is – several things. And it depends on who you are. If you own a damaged property and want to rebuild, you can rebuild exactly what you had before.
Or you can build something smaller as long as it meets the minimum house size in your zoning area. The house does not have to have the same floor plan as the previous house.
The dimensions of the property and its setbacks can limit the design of a home, but the city and county are working with homeowners on these issues.
However, if you bought a damaged home or property that had a house demolished, Dunnavant said the home must meet current requirements. If there are problems with setbacks and other distances, a property owner can apply for a derogation from the city, although that derogation may not be granted.
Homeowners can remodel storage buildings on the same area. Fences can be rebuilt where they were or possibly elsewhere if desired. Fences require approval.
The best you can do, said Dunnavant, is to call their department and ask about your particular situation.
“We are here to help. We can guide you through this so that you don’t waste time and build a house that is approved, ”she said.
Coweta County has also streamlined the process for building homes that do not meet current zoning standards. A homeowner can build a home the same size as before, either the exact floor plan or something else.
Houses don’t have to be exactly the same as long as the house is the same square footage as the previous house or larger. It can even be smaller, but it must meet the county’s minimum area of 1,725 square feet.
The county’s community development department can work with homeowners in the event of setbacks.
Codes, inspections and permits
City Planning Officer Bill Stephenson spoke about inspections as well as code update requirements.
To aid in the rebuilding process, the city has hired an outside inspection company to conduct all inspections for new buildings so that city workers can focus on the tornado rebuilding. The city staff will continue to conduct commercial inspections.
“We’re staying in the tornado area, so if we’re called, we’re right there. We’re in the neighborhood,” he said. Most inspections can be scheduled for the next day, and the city can usually offer same day roof inspections.
Stephenson said one problem he sees is how to deal with code upgrades and insurance companies, particularly black electrical cables wrapped in cloth. Most insurance companies will pay for this upgrade if people have the code upgrade option in their policy, he said.
Whenever an electrician carries out work that requires a permit, smoke alarms must be coded, integrated into the house installation and connected to one another. “That’s required for any rehab,” said Stephenson.
With other codes, if more than 50 percent of the floor area of a house is damaged, the whole house must be coded.
Georgia law requires general contractors to be licensed, including contractors who build decks.
However, Georgia allows homeowners to act as their own general contractor, which includes obtaining permits, soliciting inspections, and taking responsibility for failed inspections.
Decks are projects that many homeowners prefer to tackle alone, so the city has a “Deck Guide” document for homeowners. “We’ll email it straight to you and if you build according to these instructions you won’t have any problems with the inspector,” said Stephenson.
Remodeling takes longer
Penco Restoration’s Joey Pendley said people often get frustrated when houses are built quickly while their construction process is delayed. But new construction and restoration are very different.
“I can build a new house a lot faster than I can renovate yours,” Pendley said. “There are many steps involved.”
Pendley says the rebuilding process is taking longer due to the amount of houses to repair and the lack of building materials.
“What would normally have taken 45 days two years ago is a six or eight month project,” Pendley said.
Insurance companies are overwhelmed, so it takes longer to get permits.
Pendley normally gets a claim settled in about 30 days, but some claims from the tornado have still not been approved.
“When I told people to plan for six months, I didn’t mean it would take five months to get approval,” Pendley said of the same problem, it takes even longer.
The wood prices are falling, but the waiting times remain long. Windows and siding can take 12 to 13 weeks to complete.
Material problems aren’t limited to Coweta County. “Everyone in the country is talking about it,” said Pendley. Part of that is the labor shortage.
The panel discussion picked up questions from the audience and several were about making sure you have a good contractor.
General contractors must have a state license, often referred to as a “state card” by building authorities. Anyone who does a job should have a trade license and proof of insurance.
Pendley recommended staying on-site and receiving referrals. And if you’re worried about a contractor you’re looking for, just ask on social media.
“Put your name out there and you will find out very quickly,” he said.
Another way to know whether or not you have a good contractor is by how long you wait.
“If he tells you he can start your job tomorrow – you might want to check it out,” Pendley said.
Two more community education forums are planned. The focus this Thursday is on the SBA disaster loan process.
The forums start at 6 p.m. in the Central Education Center. Tornado survivors can learn about case management from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. You can also sign up for case management online at https://tinyurl.com/ek68rxzh.
The final forum will be on September 2nd and is “Next Steps and Progress”. The forums will be streamed live on the Coweta Community Foundation Facebook page.