If you’re remodeling a home in an older neighborhood, you may find your plans are subject to design review. Who has this authority? Sorry, but you agreed to it when you purchased your home. It was in that huge pile of papers you signed at closing.
Don’t be quick to draw the wrong conclusion, though. Design review serves an important function in maintaining character, consistency, and property values in your neighborhood. It works in your favor.
Why Architectural Review Boards Exist
You’re not the sole owner of your home when you live in an architecturally restricted area. The overall look of your house is actually “owned” in part by the entire community.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow for some people. Who’s paying the mortgage, after all? But stop and think about this for a moment: Wasn’t it the character of the neighborhood that drew you to your home in the first place?
You’re sharing that character with your neighbors, and in turn, they’re protecting the character of theirs for you. That’s why architectural review boards exist. They protect your investment, and they help you develop your property in a way that protects the investments of your neighbors.
What ARBs Do
Review boards vary in their scope of power. Many are informal and relaxed. Others are highly restrictive—especially in historic neighborhoods. Sometimes, they’re enforcing guidelines published by the National Park Service. It’s their job to preserve and restore properties with historic significance.
In older but less historic areas, it’s less about preserving history than it is about maintaining the unique character of the area. In new residential developments, the developers may start with a concept for the homes that includes a certain level of architectural design and detail. They want to see this theme sustained over time.
What to Expect from a Design Review
Read and understand the design guidelines. It’s easier to have a dialog than an argument. And frankly, the design review members want to say yes. If you know the guidelines, it’s easy to get an approval because you know what they are charged to enforce.
Ask for a concept review first. Plan to bring along your exterior remodeling contractor to meet with the board. Everybody will benefit. It’s an informal and non-binding once-over by the review board. They’ll highlight any issues of concern, and your contractor can get first-hand input.
This is the optimal time for your contractor to determine what the board likes, and what they don’t. You’ll have the opportunity to negotiate solutions before your contractor commits the project to final drawings.
Be flexible. Your heart may have been set on a particular detail, but there are almost always other possible solutions. Let your contractor explore them with the board. A small change may be all you need to get the board to agree.
Be patient. You may have already been working on this with your contractor for quite some time. It’s the first time the board has seen it. Give them ample time to study the designs and ask questions. That’s why it’s important to have your contractor with you.
Present complete documents. Public review boards will require applications and permits for everything. You’ll want your contractor to prepare detailed drawings that leave nothing unanswered. Have your contractor bring material samples and paint colors.
Prepare to negotiate. Go into the meeting knowing ahead of time what you’re willing to give up, and what you must keep. It’s a conversation you’ll want to have with your contractor before the review. Design review boards will often trade something you want in exchange for the elimination of what they believe is undesirable feature.
And finally, keep this in mind. The people on the review board are on your side. They’re going to be the same champions who keep your neighbor across the street from painting his house neon pink.
Will your exterior remodeling project need a architectural board review before you can get started? Talk to us about getting the process in motion. Our estimates are always free.