kins80, Home Buyer in Fairfax, VA

Approval for adding a second story to a house we want to buy

Asked by kins80, Fairfax, VA Sun May 13, 2012

Hi, we're looking to buy a house in Falls Church. We saw a 1951 one-story rambler on a full acre of land. We would only want to buy if we could defintely get approval to add a second story to it eventually. How does one go about figuring out if a house you don't own yet would be able to support the load of a second story? Also, do you need to own a property before you submit a permit application to the county? Could an offer be made on the property, contingent upon a permit being approved?

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Hi. You didn't mention whether or not you are in Falls Church City or the part of Fairfax County with a Falls Church postal address. In Fairfax County, the code is on-line. In Falls Church City, you would do well to visit the permit office, which, as far as I remember, is located on the lower level of the City Hall, and asking there for builders with experience in doing what are called "pop-tops".

As a retired builder, I can say this: I have never seen a 1950's rambler built in Arlington County that could not be made to support a second story. A lot of "pop-tops" are being built in Vienna, too. That's just a simple engineering problem. Even foundation work, with modern engineered materials and techniques, is not that big a deal.The design,in and of itself, represents a considerable investment of time and money. I don't think that a seller in this heating-up market will be willing to take his property off the market for the two months it would take to find a builder and have his architects and structural engineer prepare a design. Furthermore, under the new statewide building code, building permits expire after, I think, two years, if work has not been started.

I would be much more concerned with saving the money to do the "pop-top" right, which, currently, is running at least $250,000.00. You will want, at a minimum, to raise the ceiling joists up so that you have a high ceiling. I think you should buy the house and look at a lot of "pop-tops" in Arlington and Vienna. A lot of the ones in Vienna, especially, are really attractive. Your Realtor should be able to put you in touch with a reputable builder, or, if not, you can contact me for more information.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
A lot of the homes built during that time were built so that a second story could be added. If you send me the address, I would be happy to have one of my builders take a look at it and let you know. Please send it to There are also two great options for doing that - the FHA 203k home renovation loan, which is a mortgage that allows you to include the costs of renovations and repairs with your mortgage, all for only 3.5% down. Wells Fargo also has a conventional renovation loan to do the same thing with 20% down but you'll save on all the mortgage insurance. You can get some more information at There are some before and after pictures of clients homes as well as a short renovation video of a home we recently did. We didn't add an addition on that one but it was 74 years old and you'll see how powerful those loan programs can be.

Typically, you don't want to spend time or money on a home until you have it under contract because if its not under contract, anyone could buy it while you are spending your money on inspections and due diligence. So, contracts can be written with certain clauses to give you control and protect your interests. For example, "Subject to confirmation that a second story addition can be added to home," or something similar to that. You can also call the county and ask some basic questions. Even easier would be to look around the neighborhood and see if any other homes have had second stories put on them or if homes have been knocked down and rebuilt with two story homes.

I'd be happy to help you if you would like. I am an agent who specializes in helping clients buy and renovate homes as either primary residences or investment properties.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
The process can be managed, based on the the jurisdiction, Falls Church can be the city of or in Fairfax County. Connecting your offer to an approval has a number of implications, price, seller needs, your needs, etc. I recommend we scedule a meeting time to discuss your senario and this important decision. Let me know if you want to schedule a time this week or next to discuss your situation- thanks
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
Find a general contractor working in the Falls Church area who specializes in adding additional floor space to existing homes. There are probably blueprints for the work you want completed on previous homes. The home you want to purchase is possibly a production home built in several locations in Falls Church by the same builder.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
Hello Sir/Madame. Regarding your first question, you can usually take with you a licensed building contractor when going to see the house. The contractor would be able to give you a good idea if it is possible to add a second story to the house. Here is the link to Fairfax County zoning requirements, you can call them and ask about the zoning of the house. An experience licensed contractor in the area usually knows about the permit process of house in the area. An offer can be made on the property, contingent upon certain conditions about the house including a permit being approved, but depend on the area housing price and the house market condition, the owner can choose the best contract with less contingent and good price to accept.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon May 14, 2012
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