(1) Know the laws (Washington State Condominium Act RCW 64.55.020)
This section of the law in a nut shell says before you start construction or rehabilitative work that changes the building enclosure or is associated with the protection against moisture intrusion one must submit stamped drawings and design documents to the appropriate municipality or agency. Granted this only applies when renovations will exceed 5% of the assessed value of the property, but truthfully, who’s going to be on the hook when things don’t go as NOT planned? Save yourself the stress, and ultimately money by having a qualified engineer or architectural firm provide you with a set of design docs you can present to a qualified group of contractors. Guess what, they’ll likely thank you in the form of a more precise, competitive bid!
(2) Choose the right engineering or architectural consultant
A good consulting firm should not only provide you with the design documents required to get your project on the right path but can also help you with solicitation of bids and other compliance issues governing multi-family remediation work. Now of course these firms idea of reasonable fees, sound designs and project management philosophy can differ greatly, so take the time to vet possible candidates so you understand all of the fees and costs involved. Some of the things you may want to take into consideration include:
How stringent are their design requirements (i.e. do they meet, exceed or go way beyond what's required)?
I suspect too often decisions regarding hiring of a consultant are based largely on design and management fees. Seldom is it considered what kind of bids are going to be received from contractors bidding the project based on drawings and specifications generated by a particular firm. More times than not over the top design requirements can have a drastic impact on the project’s overall cost. On the other hand, lack of details can leave the contractor guessing, and estimating worse case scenarios. The point is, take some time to ask about and understand the design expectations of the consulting firm before committing. Sound but reasonable design expectations combined with clear project specifications will save you money come bid time and will have this lasting impact throughout the project.
From a contractor’s prospective, what is it like to work with the consulting firm I’m considering hiring for my project?
Typically engineers and architects will have a core group of contractors they’ve worked with in the past and feel comfortable referring their clients to. Basically they know what to expect from those particular contractors, and in return the contractor knows what to expect from the consultant. By understanding each other’s methods and requirements both contractor and consultant are likely to avoid major miscommunications or mishaps over the course of renovations. What you may not realize is contractors and suppliers bidding the project may have their own formulated opinions of a particular firm based on past working experience or word of mouth. If a firm is perceived as hard to work with, or unreasonably stringent, don’t think for one minute the bids received come bid time won’t reflect that perception. Hiring a consulting firm that have reasonable expectations, precise bid documents, and good management practices will not only see that the project gets off on the right track, but will also help drive construction cost down.
(3) Thoroughly vet your contractor
Of course any reputable contractor is going to be licensed, bonded and insured, but what are they insured for? Always qualify any potential renovation contractor by making sure they are insured to work on multi-family residential properties. Be aware of coverage limitations - $1M per occurrence and $2M aggregate in most instances should be adequate, but may not be enough to make a larger community whole again if something were to go drastically wrong during renovations. It's also important to verify your contractor offers proof that completed operations coverage will be maintained even after the job is completed. This type of coverage protects against property damage or injuries that could occur to a third party once contracted operations have come to an end. Asking a contractor to post a bond for the work you are prepared to award is another step that can be taken to protect interest, but be aware, these costs in most cases will be pasts along to you the customer in one way or another.
Verify your contractor is in good standing by confirming taxes have been paid, worker compensation dues are current, and no liens or other law suits have been brought against the business. Having a troubled contractor work on your property could leave you holding the bag, making someone else’s financially responsibilities your problem. Once work is being performed minimize your exposure by asking for proof of vendor and subcontractor payment (i.e. conditional lien releases), and if necessary joint-check parties to ensure suppliers are being paid for the materials and/or labor being supplied.
Finally check out the contractors past work, ask for references and conduct interviews to determine who is best equipped to handle your specific project. If a contractor does not have the background or experience they’re much likely to be ill prepared for the demands placed on them by the association, construction manager, or third party overseeing the project.
Undergoing a multifamily renovation can be a complex and daunting task there’s no doubt about it. However, with adequate planning and the right folks working on your behalf successful results can be achieved. Take the time to understand the process and protect your investment by following this advice and I promise you won’t regret it.