Pre-Lease Resources Enhance Return

14 01 2011

Are you giving yourself, your company and your clients the best opportunity to succeed with a particular real estate/construction transaction? Perennial, top-performing deal-makers tend to surround themselves with top-tier alliances that consistently deliver best-in-class services, information and resources, giving that deal maker the confidence to pull the trigger on critical decisions that will affect the level of success and the return on investment of both time and capital.

Enhancing ROI through professional pre-lease guidance and preconstruction services is a process that involves trust, commitment and focus. Gone are the days that a tenant rep broker can walk his or her client through a variety of available locations, issue an RFP for lease consideration, negotiate the terms, sign the lease and move to the next transaction. The same holds true for any third-party project manager or A&E firm guiding their respective clients. A thorough understanding of the potential constuctability issues; scheduling implications; latent defects, long lead items; MEP design build benefits or detriments; long-term benefits of sustainable design and construction; cost-segregation opportunities, etc, will lead to greater confidence and a consistent economic result.

Further, in markets where landlords are delivering turnkey space to their tenants, the parties representing the landlord have a fiduciary duty to maximize the deal value for the landlord/building owner. Attention should be paid to minimize downtime and improvement costs via lean construction practices, while contemplating the use of sustainable design and materials for long-term function.

Financially qualifying the general contractor will be important to avoid potential mechanics lien issues, project delays caused by poor financial management of the project, costly insurance premiums for poor safety records, and, in some cases the capacity to procure the materials and complete the project. Engaging general contractors with a long history of exemplary safety records and high bonding capacity will greatly reduce the risk associated with the project.

Early planning and engagement of the project team allows for proactive design, consultation and overall project management rather than a reactive approach, which tends to be more costly for a similar, if not inferior product. In most instances, the real estate advisor’s fiduciary role is to identify product alternatives, educate the client for optimum decision-making capacity, negotiate terms based on market conditions, and manage their client’s expectations.  The best way to serve that client, is to consistently deliver reliable information and guidance from credible resources/vendors. If the vendor values relationships and repeat business, care will be taken to deliver with integrity, such that there are no surprises as the project nears completion. 

Utilize expert resources to maximize success! Are you partnered for success?





The Value of Negotiating With Your General Contractor

22 04 2010

Tired of re-bidding, re-designing, or managing excessive change orders typical within the design/bid/build project delivery process?

Hiring a general contractor with negotiated general conditions, profit and overhead (“GC & Fee“) may be a delivery solution for you. However, it’s a process that requires trust and dedication from all parties involved. Although the competitive environment of the low-bid process is diminished slightly, the beneficial gain is realized through the team striving to achieve mutually accepted project goals in which all parties have contributed value input. Projects performed under these terms are often times more collaborative, resulting in greater overall satisfaction with the value and quality of the end product. Much of the project’s success stems from the early involvement of the entire team; providing preconstruction budgeting and scheduling in order to determine project feasibility, to establish economic parameters, and to gain preliminary “buy-in” from ancillary departments. The process of negotiating terms typically reduces the overall project schedule from concept to completion, in large part by avoiding the re-design, value engineering, and re-bid phases common to the design/bid/build delivery process.  For instance, the level of finish is agreed upon early in the design phase, and the pricing impact is provided by the Contractor on the spot, thereby avoiding the eventual sticker shock that might occur once the design documents are bid out in a design/bid/build scenario. The Owner obtains a higher level of confidence of maintaining the project goals by virtue of the team being committed with valuable input throughout the process.

The circle of trust required between the contract owner or its representatives, such as the project manager or construction manager (the “Owner”), the architect, design and engineering team (the “Architect”), and the general contractor (the “Contractor”) is a circle in which all parties will rely up the others to deliver with integrity in accordance with the negotiated terms and contract language.  For instance, the Architect will design the vision that is conveyed by the Owner, and the Contractor will act on behalf of the Owner to build the vision of the Owner in collaboration with the Architect, while achieving the best value possible as the Owner’s advocate; and, the Owner will pay for all services in accordance with the negotiated terms. If all parties play nicely together, the process leads to repeat business and extended relationships.

When the Owner does not have preexisting relationships with companies that have a proven ability to perform, it will qualify a list of architects and contractors via a request for qualifications (RFQ) process; followed by a request for proposal (RFP) to those that best qualify. As the proposals are short-listed, a selected subset of candidates are typically interviewed by the Owner to determine which company understands the project, has the chemistry to collaborate with the team, is able to display competency throughout the proposed team, and offers the best solutions and strategy. The chosen Architect and Contractor will enter into a contract with the Owner based upon negotiated terms.

The Owner should view the GC & Fee proposals with a critical eye, understanding that having a team with maximum focus, responsiveness and overall understanding of the project, the budget and the schedule, may be more important than the initial “lowest” fee. When evaluating the Contractor’s proposed financial terms, it’s important to understand if the contractor is truly able to manage and deliver the project in accordance with the proposed general conditions. The general conditions are the contractor’s direct costs associated with managing the project (including preconstruction expenses). If the contractor is afforded the opportunity to cover its true costs of AIA accepted general conditions, to receive a fee for overhead and profit to manage and warrant the craftsmanship throughout the process; then, the contractor should excercise its fiduciary role as the Owner’s advocate in maximizing project value and return on investment. It’s not uncommon for Owners to eliminate the low and the high numbers, acknowledging that projects that are under priced most often end up under resourced. Experience shows that it’s usually the candidates in the middle of the pack that best understand the project, yet are still hungry enough to be competitive.

This summary is just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding the overall costs of general conditions for any given project. I’m happy to be more specific with answers to any comments.

Subscribe to this blog to receive future posts discussing, among other things, The Value of Pre-Lease Services for Brokers & Project Managers; The Growing Demand and Implementation of LED Lighting; Engaging Project/Construction Managers; Integrated Process Delivery (IPD); Typical Tenant Improvement Schedule & Process; and much more.





Design Build for Tenant Improvements?

5 04 2010

David Klein of Cassidy Turley BT Commercial posted a great  question recently.  I initially planned for his question to be one of my scheduled blog topics. So, David, thank you for teeing me up…  Paraphrasing the question, “Does design/build have a place in office tenant improvements; what are the pro’s and con’s; and, does it save money?”

Project Delivery Methods

There are a few acceptable project delivery methods for commercial construction projects, including the traditional Design/Bid/Build process; the more collaborative Design/Build process;  the emerging Integrated Process Delivery (IPD) method; the  Construction Manager at Risk; and the Job Order Contracting method. Each of these delivery methods have their place; therefore, each will have its own time for discussion. Our focus today is on the design/build process for tenant improvements per Mr. Klein’s inquiry.

The design/bid/build method is a linear process with the owner, architect and contractor each playing their own roles, of which the owner (any reference herein to “owner” shall mean the owner of the contract) controls the design, materials selection and features through the architect prior to the selection of a contractor. The best suited projects for this manner are those with a defined scope of work, are not schedule sensitive or subject to change after bidding. The least suited are those projects with sequence or scheduling sensitivity and/or are subject to change after bidding.This process normally results in a longer delivery schedule, late stage pricing, and has generated widespread frustration of many owners, leading to the implementation of the design/build process, in which the owner, architect and contractor work in a collaborative manner from the inception of the project. Advantages include open, aggressive bidding, and that it is an established and familiar method.

Notable Disadvantages of the Design/Bid/Build Method:

  • contractors take advantage of the “competitive process” – translation: bidding construction documents without identifying potential unforeseen conditions and/or cost implications; reliant on quality of design and engineering details
  • no design phase assistance – the design suffers from lack of input from contractors and specialized trades
  • firm price not established until after the bid process, often leading to re-design and/or re-bid
  • change orders are common, of which the owner has full exposure
  • delay claims and disputes are common
  • minimal control over contractor selection and quality

An increasingly accepted, and recently adopted as the preferred delivery method by many public or quasi-public agencies, is the design/build method of delivery. Design and construction services are through one entity, either a joint venture between the designer/architect and contractor, or through a single entity that has both capabilities. According to Sascha Wagner of Huntsman Architectural Group,  “A design-build approach usually leads to a high degree of collaboration among the team – the design is happening with constant input from the contractor, which can lead to more cost-effective and buildable solutions.” He adds that one of the primary benefits is that the owner has a single point of contact and contractual responsibility. This reduces the tendency of finger-pointing over contentious issues. Larger, complex projects with schedule sensitivity are the best suited for this method of delivery.

Notable Advantages of Design/Build Method:

  • potentially the fastest delivery method
  • enables construction to begin before design is complete
  • provides integrated project team
  • design phase builder assistance/expertise
  • single point of liability for design and construction
  • early construction cost commitment
  • reduces likelihood of design related change orders and construction delays

Some of the things that are lost in the design/build process include: checks and balance between architect/engineering and contractor, and it can be more difficult to rely on contract clauses to get the job done, as this process requires more of a partnering attitude in which relationships and trust play a large role.

Does design/build work for tenant improvements?

The tenant improvement sector tends to be very dynamic, in that schedules are compressed due largely to late engagement of brokerage, design and construction services; and, terms change frequently with all parties dependent on reliable budgets and schedules in order for their targeted returns to be achieved. Office leasing and construction management professionals often rely upon the pre-construction services of the general contractor in order to forge the economics of the lease transaction; and therefore, they look for early commitments by the owner to engage the design and construction teams.  In this sector, the design/build method is frequently supplanted with a hybrid version in which the owner, sometimes via a third party construction manager, will qualify the design team and the construction team through a separate process, hiring both under separate contract to collaborate and deliver the owner’s project in a fashion similar to the formal design/build process, often referred to as a “negotiated contract”. Typically, the owner will dictate which party will be the lead from inception through completion, and often it’s the design firm or a third party construction manager, due in large part to the construction administration responsibilities that are best managed through the design process or the construction manager (not to be confused with CM at Risk, to be discussed at a later point).

As summarized by designer, Sascha Wagner, “Clearly, there are pros and cons to this type of project delivery. Quality projects can certainly be delivered on a design-build basis, led by either Architects or General Contractors. As with traditional project delivery methods, the quality of the delivery is usually directly correlated to the quality of the participants. That being said, having an independent Architect provides a level of checks and balances on the contractor’s performance and protects the owner’s interest in terms of quality assurance on the project…”

Leasing and construction management professionals rely on pre-construction services

Sophisticated tenant rep brokers often realize the value of pre-lease and pre-construction services through early engagement of the design/build team such that they are informed with reliable information, allowing them to maximize the leverage in their negotiations. Equally important, as the tenants arrive at the table fully armed with pertinent information, landlords leasing agents or owners reps, owe their client the same fiduciary responsibility, and also lean on the design build team for accurate and timely information. As Karen Wells of Jones Lang LaSalle states, “Time Kills Deals”. When representing landlords, she wants to know what her tenant improvement cost exposure is as early as possible in her effort to lock in the economic terms for securing tenants.

To answer Mr. Klein’s question, yes, design/build does have a place in the tenant improvement sector; however, the hybrid version in which the contractor’s fees and general conditions are negotiated for early engagement, may provide the owner with the comfort of checks and balances between the architect and contractor, yet still realize the collaborative benefits of a unified team. Cost savings are generally realized by virtue of the shorter delivery schedule, and the prospect of less potential for unforeseen circumstances affecting the budget and / or the schedule.





Cinderella & Me – Looking for a Prom Date

21 03 2010

How’s your NCAA bracket? Not surprisingly, mine’s doing great! I failed to submit one  this year, so Murphy says I’m going to do the best ever! Growing up in Ithaca, NY, and having family nearby in Syracuse, I had to go with Cornell and Syracuse. Living in the East Bay and following Omar Samhan and the Gaels of Saint Mary’s, I’m riding their win streak as well; and, being a fan of the Pac 10, I gave both Cal and Washington one win a piece.  Those were the sentimental picks that have provided me more wins than I had ever expected. I only wish I had a relative in Northern Iowa… Oh well, who would have picked them to knock of Kansas? Many potential Cinderella’s remaining however. Who’s going to the big dance?.

As the Cinderella story unfolds in the tournament, my dance card is also looking to be filled. A significant shareholder of Teamwrkx Construction, I have recently come to the conclusion with my business partner to close and dissolve the San Francisco entity, consolidating the existing staff and projects into the San Jose office. I have elected to continue my focus on serving the Greater San Francisco region, rather than working from San Jose. With the regional competition as strong as it is, I feel the only viable option to serve San Francisco’s sophisticated market place is to serve it from within. Hence, my search for the best option to apply my skill set and lessons learned over these past two and a half years.

Although I’m optimistic about the prospective opportunities, I am further energized about the potential direction of the construction industry as evidenced by the requirement for design and engineering professionals in the various executive search websites. For instance, just to mention a few, I have noticed Gensler San Francisco actively looking for a project architect and urban designer. SmithGroup is looking to add architectural designers with health care and industrial experience. Hooks ASD may be looking for junior design assistance when some of the active projects begin to move forward.

So, as the velocity of the office leasing market is showing signs of life compared to this time in 2009; and, the architectural, design and engineering communities are looking to add personnel; there’s a very cautious sense that the construction of commercial interiors should see increased activity by end of 2010.

Much like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the local construction industry is loaded with talent; some of which companies are blue chip prospects, while others are certainly the underdogs by virtue of experience and volume. However, in this day and age where service and value matter most, it’s not always the size of the dog in the fight, but more often, the size of the fight in the dog that determines who will earn the business, and who will make the best partner for your.  Future posts will include criteria for selecting the best general contractor for your project. Responsible business practices are key to survival and value enhancement.








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