By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects
We often get inquiries from people who wish to buy a home or buy/lease a business property and want us to confirm that the property will be suitable for their needs. This is a very good idea. You want to know the facts before making a big financial commitment.
Usually the first question we are asked is “Will I be allowed to do what I’m intending to do with the property?” And usually the answer is: “It depends.” In order to answer the question, we need to find out exactly what you plan to do and then to look at the specific property records to determine critical elements like zoning, existing structures, required setbacks, neighborhood ordinances, conditional use permits, base flood elevation, utilities, slope, floor area ratio, any unpermitted construction, open permits, etc. (Some of those things might not apply in every case.)
If you are making a big decision on whether to buy the property based on our advice, we want to make sure we are providing informed opinions, not just guessing. That kind of research and professional assessment takes time and we cannot provide it for free, but this is a good investment of a few hundred dollars before making the decision of hundreds of thousands or even millions to sign the lease or the deed. Based on this information you may decide to negotiate further, walk away from the deal, or make the commitment.
The sooner you contact us, the better. Obviously, lease or purchase negotiations tend to have short deadlines. If you want something done quickly, we will try to squeeze it in among our existing project schedules. A 24-hour turnaround is probably impossible, especially if we have to meet you and see the property. (Usually a realtor needs to arrange access to the site.) So, if you think you will need advice, call us as early as you can.
Please be aware that some issues cannot be guaranteed. If you want to do construction, going through the Planning and Building Department process for permits will often uncover obstacles that are unknown in the early stages.
You can also do some of your own research in advance. If similar projects have been done nearby, that information is helpful in assessing the possibilities. For example, if you are planning to add another story to a building, and there is another multi-story structure nearby, then chances are that it will be possible to build up to that height. Asking other property owners in the area about their experience with modifications to their buildings can reveal interesting information. Knocking on a few doors of future neighbors may be worth your time.
Most communities in California have public property record information online. You can check to see if the building and lot size are correct, if there were any modifications done, permit status, restrictions based on flood or fire danger, etc. Sometimes a quick browser search of “<city name> gis” will lead you to a site where you can enter the address and search the public database. Sometimes you will first have to go to the website of the County Tax Assessor to get more detailed information. A word of caution: if the tax assessor’s records do not match the building as it is currently listed for sale or lease (e.g., the wrong number of bedrooms on a house), that is a red flag. It may indicate that the building was modified without obtaining a building permit. A future owner could be held liable for any legalization work that would be required. Be sure to bring up that information in your negotiations.
Good luck with your purchase or lease, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.