Remodeling a Commercial Property: What You Need to Know

A commercial property renovation can be both an exciting and stressful time. Perhaps you are just starting a small business, or you have been in operation for some time and have decided to renovate your commercial property.

With an estimated 28 million small businesses in the United States, according to a Business Insider report, commercial property renovations are becoming a common occurrence. There are a few free services online that match business owners with the best general contractors, engineers, and architects available to help your renovations stay on track and go smoothly, whether you are considering a commercial office construction or looking into renovating a restaurant, retail space, or other commercial property.

Every commercial property renovation is a bit different, but most include the steps: planning, bidding, hiring a contractor and signing a contract, preparing and purchasing materials, demolition, construction, and cleaning up. The first step, planning, will involve reviewing a lot of city laws, regulations, and codes.

Reviewing Your City Code

Before beginning a commercial property renovation, you will want to familiarize yourself with your city and state building codes. Most states base their codes on guidelines provided by the International Code Council.

Therefore, many towns and cities have similar laws, procedures, and requirements regarding building permits and a certificate of occupancy. A certificate of occupancy is a document generally issued by a building department or local government agency verifying that a building is in compliance with relevant building codes and other laws, deeming the property in a condition suitable for occupancy.

Reviewing The Certificate of Occupancy

If you are considering leasing or buying an existing property, start your research by taking a look at your potential building’s certificate of occupancy or by searching the Internet for online building records to find if there are any existing violations. Many towns and cities have Internet databases where anyone can view a copy of a property’s certificate of occupancy. If you are considering committing to a lease or buying an existing property, you will absolutely want to look at the certificate of occupancy beforehand. This document will tell you what you can legally use the property for, an office or restaurant for example.

Modifying an existing certificate of occupancy is an incredibly difficult and expensive process. In most cases, you will not be able to alter a building’s use or its certificate of occupancy. This is why the easiest route to take is leasing or buying a property in which the certificate of occupancy aligns with your intended use. Hiring a team of expediters to your building team is an additional option to speed up the permit process especially for a commercial property renovation in a bureaucratic city.

A certificate of occupancy will also lay out minor details and restrictions. For example, if you are planning to use the backyard of a property for outside dining, the certificate of occupancy has to specifically indicate that this is allowed on the property. If not, you may need to have it updated if you wish to proceed with your plans. The good news is that minor details and smaller modifications such as these are much easier and cheaper to do, compared to changing the entire legal use of a property.

Reviewing Existing Violations On Your Property

If a property has not been bought or sold in quite some time, it likely has some existing building violations. These violations could be anything from someone doing work without a permit, installing an air conditioning unit incorrectly, or the fire sprinkler system is not working correctly. If these types of violations are outstanding and not taken care of, they will be discovered during the process of applying for a permit which could result in having to halt construction on your commercial property renovation later on down the road.

Just like certificates of occupancy, city councils keep an online record of all existing property violations. Some of the violations you might encounter include unpermitted work being done on the building or a business operating without the required certificate of occupancy. In the case of a commercial lease, the landlord will usually take care of these violations if it is specified by the lease agreement. For more information, contact your real estate services.

You may be able to find a few open violations on a building through your own research online, but chances are you will not be able to find every one of them on your own. To get a full sense of a building’s potential violations, it is a good idea to walk through a property with a general contractor, artichect, or engineer. A professional will be able to counsel you and help you decide if the property is compatible with your future plans. Some general contractors will even do this as a complimentary service for potential clients.

Reviewing A Building’s Structure and MEP

The next step in your commercial property renovation is determining if your property can support your business. To illustrate this idea, the example of a retail clothing store being flipped into a car showroom can be used. In this example, it would be a good idea to ensure that the building’s floor can support the drastic increase in weight. Another example is if you plan on creating an open style office space, you will need to find out what walls are load-bearing or if they can be moved. Case in point, you should know a building’s capabilities before you make a purchase or sign a lease agreement. To help ensure the safety of your business in other ways, including cybersecurity, look into business security solutions.

MEP stands for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. Assessing a building’s MEP situation is very important, especially if you plan to turn the space into a restaurant with a kitchen. In this case, the building’s gas, plumbing, and electrical will see much more use and in turn be under more pressure. You should determine beforehand if the building’s existing infrastructure can handle the added pressure, or a more extensive renovation will be required. If this is the case, you will need to plan your timeline and budget accordingly. To help with these plans, consider contacting a small business consulting service.

Other than the existing certificate of occupancy, this is another reason why many business owners take the faster route of leasing a building that was already a restaurant. It is a lot easier, cheaper, and faster than starting from scratch. Although taking the express route does not automatically mean that everything will be up to code. The building will likely still have existing violations.

Assessing A Building’s Envelope

Another important step in a commercial property renovation is examining the building’s envelope, which refers to the space that separates the outside of a building from the inside. This can include doors, windows, and the roof. An often overlooked aspect of commercial building renovation is accessibility for the disabled. Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers and businesses to make reasonable and fair accommodations for people with disabilities. Often times this means installing a ramp in place of stairs and making sure doorways and bathrooms are wide enough for a wheelchair to fit through. While many older buildings may be unable to comply with these standards, major commercial renovations are often required to meet the standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When examining a building’s envelope, also be on the look out for asbestos or mold in the window glazing. Issues such as these could alter your plans. You may need to halt your renovation project to call in an asbestos or mold removal service. Sometimes the windows may have to be replaced entirely. Another speed bump along the way may be if your property is located within a historic district in your city or if your property itself has been deemed a historic landmark. This could dictate if and how you are allowed to alter your building’s outward facing appearance, including its windows and doors.

Reviewing Your Building’s Health Requirements

Your city’s health code will often require commercial buildings and employers to provide access to toilet facilities within the building. For office buildings, this is usually a shared bathroom on a single floor. Employees using another building’s facilities is generally not permitted under most city health codes.

If you are renovating a restaurant, it is important to note that its size is a factor in determining how many bathrooms will be required for customers, not counting the bathroom access that is required for workers. For example, New York City requires restaurants, small cafes, and bars with less than 31 seats to have one bathroom. Those restaurants with less than twenty seats are not required to provide a bathroom for patrons. To meet your city’s health code requirements, you may also need to hire a business garbage pickup service.

The Commercial Property Renovation Process

Now that you completed all the necessary preliminary steps, such as ensuring your building is up to code, there are no outstanding violations, your property can support your business, as well as reviewing the certificate of occupancy, you are ready to begin the actual commercial property renovation. The first step of which is to identify the problem you are trying to fix. Think about what your need is for a repair, remodel, or renovation. This could be when you notice a leak in the roofing or hear your employees complain that their workplace is old and out of date.

It is recommended to begin your commercial property renovation by assembling a team of professionals. Depending on your need, begin by contacting a commercial building contractor or an architect. If you are not planning on redesigning a part of your property, start by contacting a general contractor. If you plan on redesigning parts of your property during your remodel, you will need the services of an architect. For example, if you wish to make various general repairs in your building, use a general contractor. If you wish to redesign an entire floor, you will need an architect.

There are also contractors known as design build contractors who offer the services of both a general contractor and an architect. This is an all in one service, including design services, remodeling, and repairs. Hiring an experienced professional team is an important part of commercial property renovation. Before hiring any professionals, you should properly vet them before signing any contracts. Make sure to:

Check Their References – a contractor should have experience with projects similar to yours. Ask them for their references from some of those previous projects.

Check Their License – In many states, contractors are required to have a license, which comes with a unique contractor license number. With that number, you can check their license status online.

Check Their Insurance – Licensed contractors are required by law to have an active insurance policy. Although some contractors have more coverage than others. Ask them about their insurance policy and compare it to other contractor offers you have.

Review The Contract – Before signing a contract, make sure it contains all the necessary information such as the correct address of the jobsite, a list of expenses, a correct start and planned end date, and who is responsible for pulling the permit. You can have your lawyer look over the contract if you wish. After you have signed a contract with an experienced professional, they should outline and thoroughly explain the steps of construction. In addition to this, ask your contractor about a written explanation or guide explaining the renovation process in detail. Discuss with your contractor how the property should be prepared for their arrival.

After your contractor team takes care of the demolition, construction, and cleaning up steps, your commercial property renovation is almost finished. The contractor should take you on a final walk through to talk about the results and any finishing touches that may need to be done. This is your chance to ask questions or raise any concerns you may have.

Your commercial property renovation will go smoothly if it is well planned and executed by a professional team of experienced general contractors, engineers, and architects. Keep these guidelines in mind when choosing a commercial space and putting your team together.

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