Ask the Architect

‘Figure out who to ask’


Q. We want to either add a second floor and change our first floor or, if it makes sense, replace our house with a new one, but we’ve gotten such conflicting advice about what it will cost, and especially how it affects our taxes, that we’re looking to move. Can you clear up whether leaving one wall standing, as one contractor told us, will still keep our taxes lower because the house is considered a renovation, or if we do just the second floor and then wait, can we do the first floor changes later and not be considered for higher taxes as a new house? We’re so confused.

A Whew! You have a lot of questions. The first problem to solve is to figure out who to ask. By asking anyone and everyone except the right one, you’ve taken a complicated issue and made it even more confusing. With questions about taxation, you should ask the people who tax you, the county tax assessor’s office. Be specific about what you want to do, even describing the square footage. Because they changed the way they assess from a cost per square foot to a comparison of recently sold similar properties in 2003, only they can tell you a reasonably approximate idea of your potential tax increase.

The person who told you to leave one wall standing was, unfortunately, way off. While New York City has such a policy, I’m not aware of any municipality in Nassau County that recognizes the “one wall left standing” supposition.

What is left to answer is what to do about the physical changes to the house. Most municipalities look at comparisons of square feet and cost. For example, after getting the current value of your home in a printout from the tax assessor, figure out how many square feet you’re adding, compared with what you currently have, and if it’s over 50 percent of the current total, by cost per square foot, the changed home will be considered to be new and taxed higher as a new house. If the square footage you add to the current home exceeds the existing building area by more than 50 percent, then it will also be considered a new house and taxed higher than a renovation. This is all based on the opinion of the building official and the tax assessor, which is why you can’t be sure of the final result without asking for information, opinion and advice from those officials.

As for the strategy of doing work in stages, you need to ask the building official if your idea makes a difference. Some building departments accept that if you do part of the project under one permit, wait a specified amount of time, such as a year, then file another application for other work, the two projects can be thought of as completely separate. The key is to ask questions of the right officials.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.