Realtors: How an Architect Can Help Your Clients Avoid Permitting Pitfalls

As a commercial realtor, you want your clients to succeed.  You likely spend hours learning about their goals, followed by months searching for their ideal space, triangulating factors such as location, building condition and pricing. Then comes negotiation of lease or purchase terms.  Don’t let this momentum come to a grinding halt when your client applies for an occupancy permit.

I have received many a distraught call from commercial tenants who, after attempting to obtain business and occupancy permits, wished they had consulted with an architect prior to signing a lease or purchase agreement. In some cases, the dilemma may be solved by a simple layout performed by an architect to determine occupancy load calculation to determine if there are enough plumbing fixtures for the building’s new use. Or it could range to needing full designs for an interior renovation that will require a variety of permits.

While most realtors and business owners expect some permitting with construction, particularly with tenant build outs, they often don’t realize the level of detail needed from the very beginning. Others, who want to take the space as-is, are disappointed to learn that they can not just move in and start their business.

An example would be a church purchases a piece of property, only to find that the zoning for this parcel does not allow for a religious use by right, and is now required to obtain a Special Use Permit, which takes approximately 9 to 12 months in Prince William County, and may not be approved by the Board of County Supervisors.

Another would be a tenant who applies for an occupancy permit, only to learn that they are required to submit plans of the interior layout. Upon hiring an architect, they discover that they will need to upgrade code and accessibility items that were not included in their budget.  

Additionally, contractors need architect’s drawings in order to provide construction estimates for projects requiring renovation, so bringing an architect into the process early allows for more accurate budgeting. We start by meeting with clients to thoroughly understand their needs, submitting a proposal and, if it is accepted, drawing the design. All of this happens before we can apply for any building permits.  

As these examples show, unforeseen permitting issues can cause costly delays, or even derail the project entirely if the jurisdiction will not approve the intended use. Consulting an architect early in the site selection process, prior to signing on the dotted line, can help your clients avoid these pitfalls. 

At its simplest, this consultation could involve a Joint Occupancy Evaluation, which is appropriate when the new tenant will not change the previous use of the space. Then, there are various levels of renovation to consider. Even moving a light requires an electrical permit. Without advanced planning, a business owner may find that their vision falls apart in permitting.

Prior to a client purchasing a building, architects can analyze the space for code compliance. This could include anything from parking tabulations based on new use, to zoning regulations because a second floor is needed and may not be allowed under current zoning. We also manage expectations, pointing out the discrepancies between the client’s goals and any limitations imposed by codes or the building itself. Sometimes this saves clients from committing to the wrong property.

Interested in a pre-purchase architectural consultation? Give us a call at 703.368.1600, or use the contact form below.