New Homes & Rebuilds in Ocean, Monmouth & Atlantic County

Dream Homes Rebuilding Blog 11 – 10 – 13 FEMA Frustration! 5 Great Mysteries of FEMA, Secret RREM Plans – Foundation notes for lifts

Dream Homes Rebuilding Blog 11 – 10 – 13

FEMA Frustration! 5 Great Mysteries of FEMA – Why Don’t FEMA workers live at the Shore?

Why don’t FEMA Builder Consultants Know Anything about Building?

RREM Update & New House Plans & Comments on Foundations & Lifting homes on Slabs

Hello everyone –

Hopefully this post finds you and your family doing well. As a point of reference and to put the Sandy situation back in perspective, the typhoon that just devastated the Philippines made Sandy look like a little wind with some water thrown in. At least we didn’t get hit with 200 mph winds, which would have really ruined our Halloween last October

Today we will spend some time detailing the frustration of dealing with FEMA in an attempt to keep our collective sanity.

It is said that the human animal can get used to any condition, no matter how strange or uncomfortable. I am proposing that we begin to view the FEMA experience through that lens – it is extremely weird, like some artificial construct where the normal rules of physics, reality, common sense and order have all been either discarded or are in use on a random basis. Like something straight from the Twilight Zone. It is what it is though and not going to change – we may as well resign ourselves to dealing with it.

This week alone, I spoke to 14 people who were all dealing with the Black Hole of FEMA and all were wondering the same thing. Was it just them, or are things at FEMA really that bizarre? All were looking for a convenient bridge to jump from, but luckily here at the shore, there are very few that are high enough.

The answer is: They are really that bizarre and completely inconsistent.

5 Mysteries and Great Questions to ask your FEMA case worker:

 1. Why doesn’t anyone working at FEMA live at the shore, where Sandy affected tens of thousands of people? Why do they come from northern and western NJ? How can they have any knowledge of the daily challenges we are facing to simply survive and attempt to rebuild?

2. Why don’t the FEMA builder’s representatives know anything about construction? If you came to me and requested a discourse on nuclear physics, I would suggest there were more competent people to give that talk. When you enter the FEMA Zone, and ask simple questions about construction, you sit for 3 hours while some adolescent pops in and out of a room unable to give you any answers. Why is this? Why doesn’t FEMA ask for actual builders to volunteer to consult (I would in a second) at the FEMA centers? I know 20 builders that would all volunteer to help – and all of them are actually building right now, and not just thinking about it.

3. Why are the RREM plans being kept such a Deep Dark Secret?  Is it unreasonable that homeowners should be able to view plans on a web site, at their leisure? Why is it that I am the only person revealing these plans to the world? It’s not like we’re not going to build 12,000 of these homes in the next 10 years (once the program actually gets started), so why the mystery?

4. Why is it that if you call the FEMA hotline 10 times and ask the same question, you receive between 5 and 10 different answers? this really happens. I have done it myself several times and have proven it many times speaking to clients. IE: Why won’t they just tell you that they will not find a slab lift and reconstruction so you can move on with your decision making process?

5. And now for the real kicker…Why has no money been released yet? Many clients have had surveys and flood elevation certs done from FEMA, and some have even had their environmental reviews done, but as of this date, no real activity has occurred. No money has been spent, no contracts have been signed, and no houses have been started under RREM.

On that note, Federal requirements that each house have an environmental review prior to any work being done are only serving to enrich the company chosen for those studies and to slow the process down even more than it is already. Grrrrrrrrr…..

 And the $100,000 question: When will I really get my money so I can start rebuilding? When will I meet the builder you are assigning me or when can I submit my builder’s estimate for approval?

 I don’t want a letter approving me, or putting me on a wait list, or a preliminary approval or any other version of unclear nonsense, but an actual contract with a real builder who is going to fix my house. I want to get on with my life.

 RREM– Great News! Large Change in Contractor Selection Rules: Yay!! It is great when policy changes correctly, and for the better and it is always a pleasure being on the correct side.

 The RREM rules have changed and you can now pick your own contractor to complete your project.

(Author’s note: I had one client dispute this based on conversation with FEMA, but several others verified that they were asked for a builder that they wanted to work with. More lack of clarity from the FEMA Zone)

This is an excellent (vital) improvement to the program and puts control of the process where it belongs – with the homeowner who knows their own situation best. 

You can still allow RREM to put your project out for bid, but now you have the choice. If you wish to interview and work with contractors you are comfortable with, you can now do so.


General Contracting your job – Delays – What’s Holding you up? :

This author is not a fan of general contracting your own job – we are called in regularly in the middle of jobs to fix them – nonetheless, last weeks blog serves as a decent outline of critical path points to focus on when you are building.

If you do contract your own job and deal directly with subcontractors, you should expect slippage and mistakes along the way. This is normal – it happens to professionals and will definitely happen to you.

There will be items that you do not know you need, that are not included in each individual bid and you will have to deal with them along the way as they come up.

The lowest price for any trade will almost guarantee that items are being deliberately left out of the scope of work on the contract. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when you get different price quotes.

It is our policy to provide complete quotes, inclusive of all aspects necessary in the scope of work. It is honest and how I have done business for 20 years. However, we certainly lose jobs to contractors who don’t include many items in their estimates, and come in with low bids.

Clients don’t realize this and focus on initial price alone, as opposed to considering total cost of the project. Be careful with your scopes of work – make sure everyone is reading from the same book when you get estimates.

RREM Plans – How do you find them?

Great News! I now have these plans digitized with just floor plans and elevations, so they can be emailed and I will also be putting them up on our website and blog.

If you email or call me, I will gladly email you copies of plans that may suit you. Sizes range from 900 square feet to 2000 square feet and are both one and 2 stories. As I mentioned, each basic style offers 3 different elevations – Traditional, Victorian and Contemporary, with the floor plans remaining the same. There are 18 plans offered through the RREM program and most have been approved at this point. There are 3 elevation styles for each house, so there is some variety. Unfortunately, and as you might expect, to date you cannot access them directly on the RREM website.

Foundation Notes – Slab separations & Crawl space reconstruction

As many of you know from following my prose, one of the first items needed when starting a house lifting project is a soil boring. This should be a split spoon boring and not a regular auger boring so an architect or engineer can calculate soil bearing capacity and design a foundation to suit the conditions.

If you are lifting and you are using an architect who is not doing this regularly, advise him to specify either to remove the existing slab or crawl completely and construct a new one, or saw cut the perimeter of the foundation and points in the center for new footings. Unless you can definitively establish that your home is built on pilings or pilings and a grade beam (by digging up at a corner of your home and exposing a piling) you cannot depend on the existing foundation to support the new weight.

Repeat: As you probably already know, the RREM program will not authorize a house lift when the house is on a slab, and to my knowledge even the much discussed case by case exceptions have not happened in this case. If you qualified for RREM and want to use the $150,000, plan on choosing one of the approved house plans and paying any difference over and above the $150,000 from other sources.

       Repeat – Good news: Homeowners affected by Sandy have been granted another 6 months to file a Sandy petition for any revised insurance claims, appeals or additional items you may have discovered after your first claim. This takes some of the pressure off from the October 29, 2013 deadline.

       Repeat: Warning: HMGP Note: Before you get HMGP money, you will be required to sign a deed restriction in perpetuity (which lasts forever and stays with your title)) stating that flood insurance will always be required on the home. I wasn’t aware of this restriction and it is definitely worth noting since it could potentially affect both your future costs of ownership, as well as the sales potential of your home. Be warned and consult with an attorney if you have questions or concerns.

       $50,000 Homebuyer Grant & Investor Grants – Still open for application: For anyone of low or moderate income who is thinking about buying a home (or who needs a house for their college student or newly married child), the new $50,000 1st time homeowner grant is an amazing gift from NJ. If you earn 80% or less of the median income, you are eligible for this grant. A surprising number of households are in this category in NJ and the specific income guidelines vary by county. You will need a credit score of 620 and be willing to stay there for 5 years, but those conditions are not unreasonable. The $50,000 effectively comprises your down payment (for houses up to $250,000), so can effectively buy a house with no money down. Check it out now – this is a great deal.

       For anyone who needs it, the FEMA hotline is 855 726 3946 go on their website at

        Hope this information helped you today. As always, if you have question, comments or just need some assistance, please don’t hesitate to email me or to call me directly at 732 300 5619.  

Stay well NJ. Keep up!


Dream Homes, Ltd.

Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC

Rebuild, Renovate, Raise or Repair Your Home from Storm Sandy

Rebuilding NJ One Home at a Time…

Residential Construction & Development for over 20 years in NJ

314 Rt.9, Forked River, NJ 08731 Mailing: PO Box 627, Forked River, NJ 08731

609 693 8881 x 102 Fax: 609 693 3802 Cell: 732 300 5619 New Home Builder License # 045894  HIC License # 13VH07489000

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