Opening commercial establishments requires building permits and in this article I will cover some items you need to properly vet a building permit expediter before you handover plans.
The key logistical details you need to cover when vetting a building permit expediter are: regional expertise, how they manage rechecks, and how they cover pricing. Some folks look only at expertise and, while important, this is a mistake. Rechecks and pricing can dismantle a project’s building permits, and good building permit expediters will be able to give a good answer.
Regional expertise means knowing how different cities in the region interpret codes, how they want their plans organized, and who to speak to during planchecks. Let’s start with examples of codes a building permit expeditor should know;
- American’s with Disabilities Act, also called Disabled Access Services: what are the entryway requirements? What is the height requirements for hand rails in the bathroom?
- Racking requirements: at what height does the city require them? How much weight before a racking permit is required?
- Deferred permit requirements: can fire sprinkler permits be deferred? Can anything be deferred if we run behind?
- If you’re in California how should Title 24 be presented on the plans?
This is just a short list of items to ask, and for more information on this give my office a call. We are more than happy to provide a consultation.
Let’s talk about plan layout. Each city or municipality has their own nuanced way of preferring plans for inspection. The best way to vet a building permit expeditor on these is to first conduct your own due diligence by either calling the city or combing through their website for requirements. Here is a another short list of questions you can ask:
- How many sets of plans are required?
- Should the trades be altogether in one large package or separated out?
- Can I mail these in? Or do I need to hand carry them in?
You can see how each of these questions can branch into more questions you need the answers to.
Now, let’s talk about the most important aspect of regional expertise, relationships. This is also the trickiest aspect to vet. But, quite plainly asking them to name drop as well as asking around the industry is the best way to vet a building permit expeditor.
Unless you live in a perfect world or are working on a very tiny project your plans will need to be rechecked by the city a second time. When considering a building permit expeditor ask how they handle pre-submittals, review times, and rechecks. This ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure when you are talking about multiple projects.
Here are some questions about pre-submittal that you can pose to your building permit expeditor:
- How do you handle the initial submittal?
- Can you describe how you process plans?
- How will you notify me once you’ve submitted them?
Once again these questions can branch out into a tree of information you will need.
Here are some questions regarding the city review you can ask, and these questions should yield a good conversation for you:
- How do you manage plancheck reviews?
- Can you describe your process during the review?
- Compared to my architect how is your notification process different?
The last part is the resubmittal. This is tricky and you want to ensure you aren’t using questions to lead them. You want to get the truth of their process down.
- Can you describe your process when there are comments?
- What is the system for resubmittal?
Lastly, but certainly not leastly let’s talk about how buiding permit expeditors price their services. Most building permit expeditors charge in one of three basic ways. There is always customizations based on the project being worked on, but these basic categories: hourly, per project, and per action item.
This is pretty straightforward, any time spent on the project will charged according to the agreed upon rate. I can’t give you an average hourly rate because rates are based on: jurisdiction, project size and scope, and deadline. The stricter the jurisdiction or deadline result in higher hourly rates, and bigger more complex projects will be rated higher as well.
The building permit expeditor bases price on the project and provides one price for it. Unless there is something outstanding or something pops up this price stays constant. You will still need to track how much time is being spent on your project and a good building permit expeditor will be giving you status updates at milestones.
This is a common way for some building permit expeditors to charge for their services, and requires you to understand how they intend to price actions taken on your behalf. For example, a submittal may be charged at x while a plancheck is charged at y. At the end of the project they tally up the action items and send you the bill.
Pricing can be tricky with some building permit expeditors as they may claim to price per project but later charge by action item. Make sure you understand pricing before handing over their plans. I’ve read instances where some firms will hold onto approved plans until they are paid.