Living and doing home construction in Albany

Hi, we are considering buying a home in Albany, probably a fixer-upper type just so we can get a "perfect" home with renovation.

We currently live in Oakland and have dealt with the Oakland Building Department on multiple occasions, so much so that we dread the process of doing another renovation because how horrible and slow the process had been.

Our big question is, how's everyone's experience with the Albany building department? So we can plan/budget accordingly.

Thank you so much!

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We've had no issue with the building department. Our work has been relatively straight forward (electrical panel upgrades and seismic retrofit which included decreasing garage door opening width with shear walls for a soft story). I prepared the plans for the seismic retrofit (I'm a structural engineer) and my contractor handled the permitting. It was all really easy. I have a bathroom reno planned in the next few years (slowed down due to covid) and have no concerns with permitting there either.

My family recently completed a renovation project on our Albany home, and had no significant problems with the city.  We weren't managing the approvals or inspections ourselves; we had a design-build general contractor handling it, so I don't recall all the details, but although there were some minor delays in the design review process (and we couldn't get a setback variance we wanted), once the building permit was pulled, all went smoothly.  There is only one building inspector for the city, which is a good thing actually because if he tells you something will pass, you're not risking that another inspector will disagree when the time comes to sign off.  It's a small town and the bureaucracy is much less convoluted than Oakland's, so in general it's not as difficult to find the right person to talk to.

We did a second-story addition and renovation on our Albany home. Overall, the Albany planning/building department is fine to work with, but a few comments: (1) We did have to re-landscape a front planter area, uprooting established existing plants, mainly to satisfy the cosmetic preferences of the planning committee (2) we had to sprinkler our home because of how the city calculates 'modified area'. These two changes easily added $10k+ to our budget, so they're not trivial. If your architect has worked in Albany before, they should be able to anticipate these and plan ahead. A separate note, lots in Albany are small, so home additions are limited by setbacks and total built area restrictions. You may have to build a second-story (as we did) which adds significantly to the cost.