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How to Remodel a Commercial Building

by Jill Harness ; Updated November 28, 2018
Architecture plan

Commercial building renovations can vary from minor interior redesigns to major changes to both the exterior and interior of the structure. Even a small business building renovation can still be a major ordeal though, and it is important to have an idea of the full scope of the process before diving into a renovation project.

Business Renovation Needs and Logistics

The first step in a commercial property renovation is to recognize why a building needs to be renovated. Some common reasons include a change in tenancy, modernizing the appearance of the space, amenity upgrades and increasing energy efficiency. At this step, the building owner and sometimes a tenant are the only parties involved.

Before moving to the next stage, it is critical to look at the certificate of occupancy, property violations, zoning laws, the current state of the property, the neighborhood and other factors. Some of these factors may completely prohibit certain kinds of renovations; others may drastically increase the budget and others may just affect what needs to be done before the work is completed. For example, if you are hoping to turn office space into retail space, the certificate of occupancy may state that the building can only be used for offices. Changing your certificate of occupancy can be a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process. And if the property is not zoned for what you'd like to do, changing the zoning may be entirely impossible. Similarly, if you are in a historic district, you may not legally be able to change the exterior of your building even if you can do anything you want to the building's interior.

Another problem that may arise will be if you want to change a retail clothing space into a car dealership. You would need to check the status of the building to see if it is structurally sound enough to support the weight of vehicles.

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You should also take this time to evaluate the overall status of the building. If you're going to be making major changes to make the building look better and your HVAC system could afford a repair, you might as well make those changes at the same time.

Find Contractors and Designers

After looking at what you need to get done, you should be able to identify what types of professionals you need to involve in your project. If you're just working on energy upgrades, an HVAC professional and electrician could be enough. If you're renovating the front of a property, you might want an architect and contractor. Do research and look for personal recommendations if possible to ensure you have someone that is easy to work with, charges a fair rate and delivers results on schedule.

If you are performing multiple types of renovations at a time, you might want to hire a general contractor or a project manager to oversee all of the projects and make sure they all stay on schedule. This project manager can also handle material deliveries and any disputes that arise with sub-contractors.

Make a Budget

Because it can be hard to budget for commercial building remodeling without first getting estimates, this is a good time to start a budget. You probably had some idea of what you wanted to spend on the project before, but now that you have talked to professionals, you should have a better idea of what you can expect to spend. Allow up to 30 percent for a contingency budget in addition to what was quoted by your team to give yourself some wiggle room if unexpected problems arise during the construction process. You may need to create a preliminary budget now and revise it after making specific plans with the designers.

Design Your Renovation

Unless you're making unseen improvements like energy upgrades, you'll want to work with an architect, interior designer or another design professional to figure out what you want the space to look like when you are done. Even if you're doing behind-the-scenes work, you'll still likely need to create new blueprints to document the changes. This will also allow you to fully understand how much work you'll be doing to get to that stage.

If you are working with a designer/architect and they do not bring a contractor with them, this can be a good time to get estimates from prospective contractors on the total cost of the job since contractors can't give you an accurate estimate without knowing the full scope of the work. On the other hand, it can be useful to involve a general contractor in the design process as they can offer input that can help make your plans more realistic and affordable based on their hands-on experience.

Be sure to finalize your budget only after getting a final, official estimate from the contractor. This is also a good time to develop a reasonable schedule with the help of your team.

Obtain Your Permits

Before starting a business renovation, you will likely need to obtain permits for the work. If you're working with a contractor or architect, they will likely take care of the permits, otherwise, you may need to head to city hall. Different cities may have different departments to handle these types of permits, but it will often be the Department of Building Inspection, the Planning Department or Development Services.

Depending on your location and the extent of your renovation, you may need to submit certain surveys before obtaining permits. If you are in a sensitive environmental area, you may need to do an environmental impact study, for example. If you are demolishing part of the structure, you may be required to do a hazardous material survey to test for lead, mercury, asbestos and other dangerous materials in the building.

Doing the Remodeling

Once you have taken care of all the design, planning and permits, you should be ready to start construction. In most cases, you probably won't be very involved in this stage of the commercial building renovation process unless you are doing part of the work yourself. If any problems arise and the contractor needs to charge more, he will send you an addendum to the existing project.

Performing Necessary Inspections

As the building owner, you may want to check on the property while it is being remodeled to make sure your expectations are being met and that the project is on time. You might not be the only inspector looking over the work though; a government building inspector may stop in during or after the construction to ensure building codes are met. While meeting these codes is usually the responsibility of the contractor or designer, you could be on the hook if the building is not up to code after completion of the construction, so this is something that may benefit you in the long run.

If you had to make a change to the certificate of occupancy to change the use of the building, the coding official would inspect the renovations before issuing you a new certificate of occupancy.

Once all the renovations are made, and the inspections are complete, you can move your company or your new tenants into the remodeled building.

About the Author

Jill Harness is a blogger with experience researching and writing on all types of subjects including business topics. She specializes in writing SEO content for private clients, particularly attorneys. You can find out more about Jill's experience and learn how to contact her through her website, www.jillharness.com.

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