Existing Building Evaluations

The importance of knowing what you’re getting into

For a whole host of reasons, many companies are choosing to take over existing spaces in smart locations rather than undertake new construction. If you’re one of the growing number of shrewd businesses looking to take advantage of this growing trend, it’s imperative to minimize your risk of hidden liabilities and costs. The best way to know exactly what you’re getting into? An existing building evaluation performed by an experienced architect.

Why an outside professional evaluation is the only way to go

Sure, you could simply rely on the building owner to give you details about the property on which to base your feasibility study or renovation plans. But the building owner does not have the technical expertise of a trained, experienced professional and is often not aware of changes made to the building throughout its history and uses. Does the air conditioning system still have life in it? Will you be facing asbestos remediation? Are the ceiling heights adequate for your concept? The end goal of your existing building survey is information and peace of mind, knowing that when you start to execute your plan, or actually occupy the building, you won’t be hit with costly surprises and delays. An architect, oftentimes in collaboration with engineers, will give you the complete, accurate and unbiased facts you need to walk into tenant / landlord negotiations with confidence.

Your part in getting the most from your evaluation

Think of your “as-built survey” or existing building evaluation as a complete documentation of the current conditions of the space. It identifies any hurdles standing between you and your final concept. It will also provide insights for determining the most cost-effective way to use the building to meet your needs.

Plan your evaluation well ahead of your final lease negotiations so you can be prepared to delineate the scope of tenant and landlord responsibilities. Remember, you can’t properly negotiate who will cover the costs of unforeseen repairs and improvements without knowing all the potential issues. Moreover, the tenant typically has less leverage in negotiating with the landlord.

The 7 most important pieces of information to give your architect

With your evaluation scheduled, set the stage for efficiency and success by providing your architect with these important items upfront.

  1. USE: Your concept for how you will use the space. What are you trying to accomplish and what are your areas of focus?
  2. RECORD DRAWINGS: The most current drawing or set of plans for the building, including structural and MEP information.
  3. LOCATION: If the plans are missing, outdated or unreadable, as is often the case, provide the exact address and previous tenant names. Your architect may be able to obtain plans from the local permitting authority.
  4. AGE: The date when the building was first constructed, as well as the approximate date of the last remodel.
  5. ACCESS: Permission and the best method to access the space. If it is occupied, will your architect’s intent be openly known, or do you have a need for confidentiality?
  6. UTILITIES: Whether or not the utilities are on at the space. Is there electrical for lighting and running water?
  7. DATA: What level of data are you expecting? For example, does your architect need to punch holes in the walls in an effort to identify hidden conditions, or is a visual, non-destructive observation sufficient? Again, knowing your concept for the space can help determine your direction.

Avoiding the most common oversights and pitfalls

Leading architectural firms are equipped with the right technology to gather complete data during your evaluation. Tools such as 3D scanning equipment, 360° cameras and video documentation can provide answers and accuracy. Still, all the technology in the world won’t help if it’s not being used in the right places. To paint the full picture, engage an architectural firm with a proven track record of existing building evaluations and the experience to look deeper. Given that, here’s how to avoid common evaluation oversights that could cost you.

  • Check the roof: Even if your space is on a lower floor, it’s important to access any roof mounted equipment and confirm the condition of the roof. Satellite images are far from being technically accurate.
  • Check existing utilities: Pay particular attention to the capacity of existing utilities, such as the electrical load or the sanitation line. Can they support your proposed use?
  • Check loading docks: Make sure they will accommodate your vehicle delivery needs.
  • Check for ADA: In addition to confirming compliance for things inside the walls of the tenant space, evaluate whether the development as a whole is up to current ADA standards. Are the entry paths to the building accessible? What about the parking lot? What about the sidewalks?
  • Check context: Identify any overall deficiencies or irregularities observed within the development. These can be clues to ongoing maintenance issues.

Opening the doors to success

Obtaining a professional existing building evaluation before negotiating the lease for your next venture can be the difference between a successful grand opening and a costly liability. It’s a small investment to make up-front and will pay for itself for years to come.