I get asked this question all the time when my clients who need parking consider a house that doesn’t have a garage. There are many older homes in San Francisco—and a Planning Department that likes to retain the historical character of these buildings. Garages usually don’t fit into the period detail thing.
The answer is that you typically won’t be able to get a definitive answer on a garage permit before you submit an offer. But you can get an informal answer that may help guide your decisionmaking.
I talked with architect Steven Whitney, who recently provided input on a garage-free house my client was considering purchasing. You or your architect may be able to meet informally with someone at the Historic Preservation division within the Planning Department to get initial feedback on whether you may be able to install a garage, says Whitney. He adds that Preservation is conservative about changing facades of older buildings, and that they would look at whether there’s a pattern of other homes that have been given permission to install garages.
But even if there is such a pattern, Preservation would likely require an environmental evaluation (EE) to clarify if the house is a potential historic resource, adds Whitney. The EE would involve getting a report from a preservation architect and then waiting a few months for Preservation to review the report. The cost for the report and EE would probably total around $6,500.
So, unfortunately, it often takes a long time and an investment on such projects to clarify what’s feasible with Preservation. Make sure you’re comfortable with having no garage after your purchase, and have a contingency plan in case Planning doesn’t greenlight a garage.