Renovating Your Business's Location

Consultants and Contractors

It takes many people to put it all together, starting with the consultants who collect information and design and ending with the tradespeople who do the physical work. Each specialized professional has a specific function in any project. You will get to know them if you are going to remodel your building.


The consultants who gather information and design the buildings are engineers, architects, planners and designers.

  • Engineers. The engineering professionals are broken down into the following categories: civil, structural, mechanical and electrical.

  • Civil engineers. Civil engineers are concerned with land development and utilities. Part of that function involves gathering information; that specialty is surveying. This profession has become very sophisticated since the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which allows more accuracy and speed in producing surveys and topographic maps (topos). Another specialty of civil and structural engineering is soil analysis and compaction design. A soils engineer tests the ground and makes recommendations for soil compaction and engineering for the structural engineer. Once the data is gathered, the civil engineer prepares a grading plan, a parking plan, a soil preparation plan, and a utility plan based on the desired location and proposed elevation of the new building. This plan is then forwarded to the structural engineer.

  • Structural engineers. The structural engineer takes from the architect/designer the building's floor plan, size, shape and location and combines it with the civil engineer's grading plan and soils report and produces the foundation plan and the structural design.

  • Architects and designers. Buildings are designed by architects and engineers. The architect prepares the detailed building plans and sends them to the mechanical engineers to add the required utilities.

  • Planners. A cross between the architect and the civil engineer called a land planner has evolved into a specialty for large projects. Rather than taking the strictly numerical approach of the civil engineer, the land planner strives to design the site so that it maximizes not only the building but also the aesthetics and sales appeal. Personally, I like to start with a land planner and then move on to the architect and engineer; I find that I get better projects by doing it this way.

  • Mechanical engineers. These engineers handle water plumbing, waste lines, elevators and people movers, and HVAC design. They take the architectural drawings and the civil drawings and distribute the required services throughout the project. Often, they advise the architect and the structural and civil engineers of special requirements, such as floor loads and stress counteraction requirements necessary for these building components. It is common that, in home design, the licensed subcontractors get involved in this process, as their day-to-day familiarity with the installation and operation of these components make them a logical choice for a design-build option.

  • Electrical engineers. The electrical engineer ensures the supply and distribution of electricity to all other building systems as well as the tenants. He or she must gather all the requirements of the other professionals to make sure that the power supply is both adequate and efficient.

Contractors and Builders

Within each category, there are two types of contractors-general contractors and subcontractors. In general, commercial contractors are union. Whether residential or commercial, union or non-union, all contractors are required to be licensed.

  • General contractors. The general contractor is licensed to oversee the construction of the projects. He or she may or may not provide labor for one or more of the subtrades. Typically, the general contractor provides a construction superintendent or foreman and hires specialty subcontractors to do the specific work. The licensing procedure is the same for union and non-union companies. Each company must have a qualifying party to have a license for the company's use. That party must take a test and meet the practical experience requirements to become licensed.

  • Subcontractors. These companies represent many specialties, such as earth moving, underground, gas, steam fitting, plumbing, electrical, drywall, structural steel, framing, roofers, glazers, and equipment operators. All companies must have a qualifying party in order to be licensed.

Licensed vs. unlicensed, laws and liens.

The licensed contractor must post a bond to be placed into a recovery fund for the customers so that shoddy work or substandard materials can be replaced. There is a limit to what the recovery fund can pay on a single claim, so it is vital that you choose contractors, general and subcontractors alike, who are financially solvent, experienced and clearly qualified to do the work.

A licensed contractor with a signed contract can enforce payment for completed work through the lien process. If the contractor has not been paid in a timely fashion, he or she is allowed to record a mechanic's and materialman's lien on the property. This class of lien provides for people working on the property or supplying materials to the project. To perfect a lien, several things must happen.

First, the contractor must have a contract directly with the owner of the project or the contractor or supplier must send a pre-lien notice to the owner prior to starting the work stating that he or she is providing labor or materials to the project under a subcontract with the general contractor. Then, if the contractor or supplier is not paid on time, he or she may file the lien and, with the two notices, the lien is deemed "perfected." Just because the lien has been filed and perfected does not mean that payment is automatically owed or will be paid. The owner may dispute the lien in court and, if successful, the lien may be voided. This lien must be paid before the property can be sold with a clean title.

As you can see, the building and remodeling of a commercial location can be a complex venture. But with the right know-how and resources, you can make your business location exactly what you need it to be.

Stuart Leland Rider is a commercial real estate developer, commercial general contractor, lecturer and author. Over the past 30 years, he has successfully developed 785,000 square feet of commercial office space and 625,000 square feet of retail shopping center space, and currently has active projects totaling 350,000 square feet of retail space. He's the author of From Dirt to Dollars, an Entrepreneur's Guide to Commercial Real Estate Development, currently in use as a textbook for seminars in real estate development; The Complete Idiot's Guide to Investing in Real Estate; and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Investing in Fixer Uppers.

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