Earlier in the fall, I packed a bag and loaded the Harley. The weather was amazing, and I had picked a gorgeous path, The Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke, VA, to wherever I decided to stop…My kind of day. I rode two hours north, stopped just before the Parkway, filled up with gas, and grabbed a few bottles of water for the relaxing trip. Five miles later, I exited onto the Parkway to find that the gates were closed. It was closed in both directions. I mumbled a few ugly words and turned around. For a while, I tried to create a different path, but enough day had been spent that I just headed back home. The adventure would have to start another day.
After arriving home and unpacking, I Googled for news in the area and found that the Parkway was closed for good reason. Landslides in the area had compromised the road making its passage unsafe. So, I mumbled a few more ugly words, but this time at the right target…me. I should have checked first. No one likes surprises like that, but let’s be honest here, the bike ride is just playtime.
What is not playtime is that Construction Project you need to do, and the last thing you need is to get packed, invested, and strategized to lead your team to a closed gate.
As a Commercial Design-Builder with over 30 years of experience, I want to give you four essential tips to protect you from surprises. If there is a gate out there, let’s find it now, so we can change directions before we leave.
Here are my Big Four Tips for Avoiding Surprises
“Don’t pick up a snake until you know what kind he is.” Wise advice on snakes, but what does it have to do with buildings? Just this. Not all land is equal. Not all buildings are the same. Not all counties view construction the same way. Not all projects are easy. In fact, most are not.
Ideally, before you even close on your land, have some research done.
- Do a Feasibility Study of the site.
- Find out early what is required to build on this site. There are always unforeseen costs here. In fact, most site work improvement packages surprise the owner. The cost can be mind-blowing. You want to find out these things early so that it is included in your budget. Discovering these costs later can be devastating to your project.
- Once this data is collected and budgeted, test the site. What may be beautiful on top of the ground could be ugly underneath. Test the areas where buildings and parking will go. See if there is any rock, water, or unsuitable soils under there.
Today is the time to know this before much Engineering is done. It could be as simple as moving something around on the plan. That is much easier to do in the early days of design. Of course, it could be more complex, maybe even to the extent of not buying that piece of land. Either way, today is the day to find out.
Second, Count the Cost
- The most reliable way to have an accurate cost is to get it from the same folks who will eventually build your space.
- Consider choosing your Contractor first. Have him or her bring their best Subcontractors and even Designers to your Team. Let them work on your budget. Take control of the cost this way and eliminate unwanted surprises.
Third, Count Again
Now you have your ducks in a row…or do you? Yes, you know what to expect on the site and building but is that it? Is that all? I doubt it. Most projects have what is known as “Soft Costs”. These are costs that are not part of construction but are other expenses that you certainly will incur. Without budgeting for these costs upfront, they become surprises, and there is nothing soft about them then.
Soft costs may include:
- Closing Costs
- Appraisal Fees
- Utility Tap Fees
- Environmental Impact Studies
- Interest on Construction Loans
- Property Tax
- Permits and Fees
- Moving Costs
By not accounting for these things initially, you can pretty much look forward to some sleepless nights. For me, a rule of thumb is that Soft Cost usually lands between 7 to 10% of total project cost.
Finally, Use a Team
The most efficient way to avoid unwanted surprises on your project is to assemble a great team in the beginning and approach the project that way. With everyone working together towards a common goal and budget, peaceful success is much more easily achieved.
“The more, the merrier” is a good strategy. Invite the Builder, Designers, Sub-Contractors, and Vendors to work together, starting with the planning and continuing through the move-in. With teammates involved from the start, communication is more straightforward, time frames are more reliable, and the budget is more realistic. All of that leads to success and limits the chance of an unwanted surprise stealing your peace greatly.
In my opinion, the best way to assemble such a team is to choose a good Design-Builder that you trust. A great Design-Builder with a proven track record is used to assembling such a team and will know how to create a team that custom fits your project and goals.
Planning a short motorcycle trip is a small thing compared to planning a Building Project, but here is something to ponder; most things you encounter are not as complicated as that Building Project. If you have done it before, then you know this is true. If you have not done it before, I hope this helps you. Find people you trust and form a team. There is safety in that. Trust me, you will sleep better knowing that we are looking for the surprises, not waiting for them to appear, or potentially even creating them for you.