Everybody thinks they can design! Many people are enthusiastic about making suggestions for building improvements and give their advice freely. But if your money and your time are at stake, then take this free advice with a grain of salt. A few projects have come to us recently because the building owner or property manager tried to start a commercial remodel or tenant improvement project without architectural drawings. They went to City Hall and applied for a Building Permit with plans and sketches that were prepared by themselves, or a builder, or a real estate agent. The Planning Department staff told them that they need to have drawings prepared by an Architect. (As discussed in a previous blog article, architects are licensed professionals, like doctors or lawyers.)
Unfortunately, these commercial projects were delayed and incurred unanticipated costs because the owners tried to skip the important step of hiring an architect at the outset of the project. We are then put in the role of playing “catch-up” to get the projects back on track so that they can be built. In at least one of the projects, major modifications will have to be added beyond what the owner expected. I’m sure he would rather have known what he was getting into up-front. He had proceeded on the advice of a real estate agent about what could be done to his building. A licensed architect could have informed him of the actual scope of work.
Often, a contractor or someone with real estate experience will tell a potential buyer that they can “just” add on, or change a building for a new tenant, without knowing whether that is allowed by the California Building Code. It may sound like something that is simple, or reasonable, but that doesn’t necessarily make it doable or cost-effective. The proposed change may trigger accessibility requirements per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), structural engineering to support a change to walls or ceilings, additional fire prevention requirements if the use or occupancy has changed, “green” modifications for current energy requirements, and so on. Sometimes, just the fact that the building is being remodeled at all triggers bringing it up to current building code standards.
Legally, an architect must “sign and stamp” drawings for permits on all commercial or public projects; that is, a licensed architect must place his/her actual penned signature on their own personal license seal stamp. Because architects are held responsible for their work by law, they must prepare or supervise the preparation of the drawings themselves. This also means taking precise measurements and observation of the existing conditions, having a thorough knowledge of the building code and what options are available to the owner, and then drafting the required “permit set” of drawings for the Planning and Building Department.
So, if you are starting a commercial project, don’t skip the first step, and then get stuck at the end! Call an architect and you will get the necessary architectural advice for your project. This is especially true if you are buying the property. Don’t find out that you can’t do what you have in mind after you already sealed the deal. An architect can give you guidance on the possibilities and costs of potential projects for the building that you are considering purchasing. Do you have questions about a commercial property in the San Francisco Bay Area? We can help you. Use the “Contact Us” form on our website at www.kastropgroup.com.
By Lorianna Kastrop
Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects