Berkeley Seismic Retrofit Program

Simplengi Engineering has completed hundreds of seismic retrofits over the years. In particular, we’ve had a lot of experience designing retrofits for single-family homes. Our retrofits have ranged from the simple bracing and bolting of the foundation to more complex solutions for livings spaces over soft stories. Being in Berkeley, we’ve also had a lot of specific experience in helping homeowners get their Berkeley transfer tax refund.

The City of Berkeley has instituted a particularly rewarding seismic program. The City of Berkeley will now refund a sizable portion of the city transfer tax from your property’s purchase as an incentive for you to do seismic work:

Applicants may claim up to 1/3 of the base 1.5% transfer tax rate on a dollar-for-dollar basis for all voluntary seismic upgrades to residential property.

For a $1,500,000 sale price, that’s a $7,500 rebate waiting for you to make your home safer! While there is no such thing as an earthquake proof structure, there are significant and often very simple improvements that can be made to an existing structure to enhance its performance in an earthquake.

How long do I have to complete this seismic improvement?

Property owners have 1-year after the sale was recorded to complete the work and file for the refund. The City of Berkeley does grant extensions for an additional year on a case-by-case basis for serious illness or unforeseen circumstances.

Our Process for Retrofits (10 easy steps to completing your retrofit)

Fill out our form: To get started, tell us a bit about your home so that someone from our team can take a look and send you a proposal for your project.

Sign up: Review our proposal, let us know if you have any q’s, and send it back signed if you’re ready to move forward. That’s all we’ll need to get your project on our production schedule. We’re usually able to complete these in about 3-4 weeks.

Develop as-built plans: The “as-built” drawings that we will use show the location of walls, foundations, and overall dimensions of the structure. It’s great if you have some that we can use (and it’ll save you some moolah). And not a big deal if you don’t since we can provide them as part of our services.

Submit plans to the city: You or your contractor will submit the retrofit plans that we prepare directly to the City of Berkeley to obtain the permit: Online permit application here

Respond to Plan check comments: If the city responds with any structural plan check comments asking for more information on the project, we will respond to those as part of our scope.

Pick up your permit, and start work: Once all the paperwork is thru, you/your contractor can pick up your permit. If you need help finding a contractor, let us know. We’ve worked with a handful that are specializing with these retrofit projects.

Have inspections completed: The city will want to inspect the work and they will also want us to inspect the work (required by code). Once we perform our inspection, we can write a final letter that you or your contractor can provide to the city to close out the job.

Submit retrofit form: Once all the work is complete, fill out the Seismic Retrofit Verification and Refund Application and turn it in to the City Finance Department.

Cash your check: Once you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, you should receive the refund check from the city within three weeks.

Breath Deeply, you’ve completed one of your many home-ownership tasks!

Program Eligibility

  • Structures used exclusively for residential purposes
  • Any mixed use structure that contains two or more dwellings
  • Properties that have already been retrofitted are still eligible, but would need additional qualifying seismic work
  • If the seismic work was performed prior to October 17, 1989, then it is not eligible for this refund

Berkeley City Resources



How is the amount of the Transfer Tax Rebate determined by the City of Berkeley?

  • Up to 0.5% of the home purchase price, or 1/3 of the base 1.5% transfer tax rate, may be refunded on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
  • For a $1,500,000 sale price, there’s a potential $7,500 rebate waiting for you to make your home more safe.

Can you recover all of the 0.5% if you don’t spend it all?

  • No, you can only be refunded what you have spent.

What fees count towards the Transfer Tax Seismic Refund?

  • Any expenses that went towards the retrofit can be used for the refund. This includes fees from the contractor and the structural engineering plans.

What kind of seismic work is applicable to Berkeley’s Seismic Retrofit Refund Program?

  • Foundation bolting and cripple wall bracing
  • Work to repair or replace substandard foundations
  • Securing of chimneys and stacks
  • Removal of unreinforced masonry chimneys
  • Anchoring of existing waters heaters
  • Other earthquake strengthening work that meets accepted standards

What if it’s been almost a year and I can’t get this work completed before the year is up? How are extensions handled?

  • Request an extension by sending a letter to the City that explains why you could not get the retrofit done in time.
  • One common reason is that a homeowner is unable, after a prompt and diligent search, to find and retain the services of an architect, engineer, contractor or other service provider whose services are necessary for the seismic retrofit work.
  • You can find more information about requesting an extension on the Retrofit Program and Refund Guidelines

What info does the city need to reimburse homeowners?

  • Submit the Seismic Retrofit Verification and Refund Application along with copies of receipts for work performed to substantiate costs and dollar amount to be refunded.

When do I receive my refund?

  • You receive your refund once construction is complete and the building permit has been finalized. At that point, you submit the Seismic Retrofit Verification & Refund Application to the City of Berkeley and the refund check is mailed within 3 weeks.

If I pay an engineer to develop structural plans, what does an engineer provide?

  • In order to submit for a permit, structural engineers provide structural calculations and a foundation plan showing wall panel bracing locations and details for construction.
  • They can also perform the code-required structural inspections to make sure the work has been completed per plan.

What is the total cost of a typical retrofit?

  • Engineering costs to develop plans for a retrofit will range from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the level of difficulty of the structure.
  • The retrofit work likely costs from $10,000 upwards.