For the most part, unless your estimate is incredibly off the mark, area jurisdictions will accept your estimate on the cost of construction and charge you accordingly. If it is way off the mark, as one building inspector said, "I'll ask the homeowner just how he or she plans to do the job because I'd like to do it for that little myself on my own house." The process of getting a permit for remodeling or renovation depends on the complexity of the job. As an owner, if you have a contractor doing the job, it's important for your protection that you make sure that the contractor actually gets a permit and that the inspections are done. That way you can be sure that a job has been done according to local codes. Electrical and plumbing inspectors warn that inspections made after the fact may well require you to remove parts of a wall or ceiling, making the entire experience not only unpleasant and messy but also expensive.

One owner reported that a leading home improvement firm hired a contractor to install a new kitchen for him recently. It was only after the job was completed that the homeowner discovered that while a permit had been issued for the necessary electrical work (required by that jurisdiction to be done by a licensed contractor), the individual who had applied for the permit had never been on the job, and didn't even know where the man's house was located. In order to cut his costs, the general contractor had done all the wiring himself, paying another contractor a little on the side to apply for the necessary permit.

If caught, the complaint electrical contractor could lose his license, but in the meantime, the houseowner was left with a job of questionable quality. Such practices are probably not that common, but it's a good idea to check with your contractor about permits and make sure that you see stickers indicating inspections have indeed been made.

For those who are familiar with electrical work, most area jurisdictions allow you to apply for what is called a homeowners' permit to do simple electrical work. This work can only be done on owner-occupied dwellings and usually requires that you take a sort of informal oral exam from an electrical inspector. Only Alexandria requires that you take a simple 10-question test before issuing a permit. In Prince George's County, you have to provide a detailed diagram of the wiring work you envision; in addition you must talk with an inspector so he or she can make sure you know what you're doing.

With the exception of the District government, most area jurisdictions do not require formal plans to get a permit. So long as you provide sufficient information for an inspector to understand what you want to do and know the rough dimensions involved, you can get a permit without consulting an architect or draftsman. Fairfax County's Donnie Woodrow reports that he has even seen plans drawn on a piece of 2-by-4.

District of Columbia renovation or remodeling permits cost $38 per $1,000 cost of construction.

Montgomery County renovation or remodeling permits cost $25 for the first $500 in estimated construction costs plus $3 for each additional $500.

Prince George's County renovation or remodeling permits cost $15 plus $4 for each $1,000 in estimated construction costs. If a contractor is doing the job and it is fairlyh complex, the county engineer prefers scale drawings. They are not mandatory, though, if the owner can explain the work be done to the satisfaction of the county.

Fairfax County renovation or remodeling permits cost $8 per $1,000 cost of construction with a minimum fee of $18.50.

Alexandria renovation or remodeling permits cost $12 per $1,000 cost of construction.

Rockville renovation or remodeling permits cost $10 for the first $500 and $2 for each additional $500 in estimated costs of construction.