If you’re in a position to have your first home built from the ground up, you’re no doubt captivated by the nearly limitless possibilities of designing your own castle. However, bringing your vision of a dream home to life starts with a heavy dose of reality in the form of obtaining a building permit. A building permit is required before starting virtually any form of major construction, and although the process may vary slightly from municipality to municipality, the basics of the process are fairly universal.

Getting Started

As with most municipal procedures, the permit securing process begins with the payment of a required permit fee determined by the local government. In some areas, this is even the end of the process, as a permit is then issued, but in most cities and towns you will then have to appear before the local zoning or planning board to further detail your construction plans.

Presenting a Proposal

The difficulty in obtaining your permit from the local planning board depends on factors such as the scope of the project as well as its appropriateness for the area based on its design, the materials used and the character of the neighborhood.

The board will ask to see the construction schematic and other details about the new home’s impact on its surroundings along with tax and financial information, and will then typically review the proposal as presented for a period of time. They may also request an on-site visit for a more thorough evaluation of the specific area. Each state is different, for instance the house and land packages in Perth can be a lot easier to get through, when compare to some other states.

Many proposals are approved on the first evaluation, but there are several common reasons for a rejection of an otherwise legitimate proposal. One of these is planned construction in a protected area such as an official historic district, which has a more protracted process and much more stringent guidelines for approval of new construction. Another is unsuitable design, an outcome in which the committee finds that the new structure will detract from or otherwise negatively alter the surrounding area.

More frequently, when an application is not approved outright, it is returned to the proposer with suggestions to bring the construction plans into compliance. If the plans are amended to include the suggestions, they are most often approved unless there are other issues with the construction or the prospective homeowner.

Building permits serve an important purpose in helping communities retain a defined identity and aesthetic. Although the process of obtaining one may seem inconvenient, it is measures such as these that distinguish the most desirable home building locations from faceless plots of land.


  1. Jon @ Money Smart Guides Reply

    We have the dream of building our own house and I really need to get around to understanding the logistics and costs for everything. Right now we are living in “fantasy land” and just designing the house and are not thinking about the associated costs just to be able to start building.

    • @Jon – I think the biggest challenge is finding land and making it “build-able.” There are so many things to take into consideration like if the land is level, has the soil been tested, is there water and utilities nearby, etc. If you can get past those basic steps, the permit shouldn’t be too cumbersome.

  2. I was looking at property the other day (since I do dream of downsizing at some point) and I came across a lot in the Oakland Hills that cost over 300k….. And that was just for a plot of land!

    Building your own home might be great because of the options but finding a lot of land somewhere in your dream area could be a real daunting task too!

    • @Zee – It’s very difficult finding land in a big city, especially affordable land! I have the same problem here. Any vacant lot is super expensive unless I want to go into the hills where it’s a little more desolate.

  3. Paul @ The Frugal Toad Reply

    I remodeled my master bathroom and had to take out a permit. The process was fairly simple but time consuming. I drew my own plans and had them reviewed by a city planner which approved them. Don’t forget to have a final inspection and clear the permit before selling your home!

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