When Should I Hire an Architect for My Tenant Improvement? – Board & Vellum

Ask an Architect, Commercial Office, Retail

When Should I Hire an Architect for My Tenant Improvement?

By Sandy Wolf
April 25, 2019

Why bringing on your team early to a tenant improvement project may save you in the long run.

So, you’re ready to find a real brick-and-mortar location for your office, retail store, restaurant, coffee shop, or whatever other business you’re ready to launch. You have reached out to a real estate broker, and you are looking at potential locations. You know you need an architect (maybe because you’ve realized that you need help with that all-important building permit), but you’re not sure exactly when you should reach out to one.

Often times, our commercial clients think that they need to have a fully-signed lease before any architect will be interested in working with them, but we’re here to tell you that the exact opposite is true. Actually, before you sign a lease is the best time to start building your design team. An architect can help you identify items that may present challenges to your project budget, project schedule, or just general feasibility.

For example, we recently worked with a commercial client interested in leasing a ground-floor commercial space in a brand-new apartment building. He was still negotiating with the landlord when he brought Board & Vellum on, and we walked through the space with him. We noticed that the two doors into the space from the street were about a foot different in elevation. While this may seem like a minor detail, his retail business needed to maintain both doors in order to meet exiting requirements in the building code, and to accommodate the change in elevation and make the space wheelchair accessible, we would need a 12’ long ramp between the two doors.

We created some quick sketches of how this could work, and these led the owner to realize the ramp would simply take up too much space to allow for the rest of the elements he needed. Thankfully, because he had not yet signed a lease, he was able to back out of the space and find a new location, this time with no ramps necessary.

That is just one example of when having an architect on board early kept a client from signing a lease without knowing what they were getting into. There are countless other examples.

In the past, we have identified discrepancies between the size of the space listed in the lease and the actual square footage. We have helped business owners realize that the occupancy of the previous tenant could actually lead to a longer permit process. We have helped clients understand that being the first tenant in a brand-new building may stretch their budget farther than it can reach. In all of these cases, clients were able to back out of leases on spaces that likely would not have worked for their business.

So, when it comes time to start searching for a new space, don’t hesitate to reach out to an architect early in the process. You don’t need to have the perfect space selected before you talk to a designer. Instead, allow your designer to join your team and help you find that perfect space for your business.

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