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How to Hire the Best Architect for Your Retail CRE Development Project


Hiring the right architect for your commercial real estate project is based on a multitude of factors that harmonize together to ultimately meet your design needs. You’ll want to research various architects in your project marketplace to ensure you find the right fit. Let's examine the different factors that play into finding the best architect for your project. 


Hire based on the type of project


Ground up development 


If you are looking to hire an architect for a retail development project, you’ll want to search for one who has had previous experience in either single or multi-tenant projects that are either build to suit or tenant improvements. Be very specific about the type of project and scope of work needed. Ground up development is more intensive with design requirements or public process approvals, while tenant improvements tend to have simpler design elements for existing conditions of a building. An architect who specializes in single-tenant structures may not be able to take on the complexity of a multi-tenant building, therefore, causing timeline delays and risking possible errors during construction. 


Tenant improvements & redevelopment 


If you are looking to hire an architect for an existing property, you’ll want to look into one with specific expertise in either tenant improvement or redevelopment. These types of architects can help to bring your property up to current zoning or ADA required codes or simply make cosmetic improvements by knocking down walls and moving existing doorways. Start your search for an architect by determining the type of property you are acquiring and your expected outcome. 


Conduct research & insurance checks


Referrals & credibility


Always try to get referrals from someone else who works in your field before attempting to seek out an architect on your own. A good recommendation goes a long way. You’ll want to look for credibility and determine whether an architect has a good reputation within the industry they design in. Conduct research on their previous projects, and see if you can find out what their work ethic is like. Look for an architect who may have done a project in the area you are looking to develop. When you reach out, discuss your budget and determine how different architects’ design costs might fluctuate depending on their experience. 


Change orders, add services, & insurance


Discuss how any potential change orders and add services will work. Your expectations should be clearly defined in your design contract, and you should discuss what additional services you might need from the architect beyond the proposed scope. The change order and add services will determine what rates the architect will want to charge you. Error and Omission Insurance is a requirement for an architect to have and you will want to ensure you obtain it as additionally insured for your project, especially during the construction phase. An architect who is insured understands that liability claims are common in the business and can hinder a development financially when a design mistake occurs. 


Issue a request for qualifications


Project roles


Determine the project roles the architect will take on. Some might want to be considered a job captain, where they will coordinate with a civil engineer or landscape architect with a master site plan and permit submittal process. Ask about how their team functions and the roles they will be taking on or distributing to others, as the more work they take on, the greater the cost becomes. Experienced architects will usually already have a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineer team they’ll want to work with, and this will help speed up the development process and guarantee efficiency during construction


Proposed designs & national prototypes


If your development is specific to a national brand, you will need to make sure the architect understands how to follow national prototypes and designs the tenant will require. An architect who has experience with a particular retailer’s ins and outs will be worth their weight in time and cost. Also ask the architect about their timeline expectations for completion of plans and let them know yours so you can agree on a realistic outcome. Setting this early on in the design contract signing phase is the best way to set the expectations in writing. Regular communication with an architect is also highly important.


Take a look at proposals & RFIs




Get multiple proposals from different architects so you can be sure you are choosing the best person for your project based on scope and cost. Doing so will help to keep the costs honest and measurable. Make sure to look at multiple proposals so you can make the most appropriate choice for your project. A proposal should include the full design scope needed to prevent avoidable change orders. Examine each portfolio and case studies so you know what kind of work an architect has done in the past.


RFIs & permit issuance


A request for information (RFI) received by the architect during construction with regards to their design ensures they know the details of the project and are prepared to design for construction bidding or fieldwork. The architect should have the correct information to contact the proposed general contractor to respond directly for any RFIs. This will allow for swift answers that should be taken care of in a timely manner. The architect should also be heavily involved with the city on plan review and permit issuance along with any public processes like a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) or required Design Review with their design. They are responsible for preparing all appropriate documents to send to the city for plan review and permitting so your project can move smoothly towards a construction start. 


Look into the architecture team structure


Division of responsibilities


Determine if there is a principal or senior architect, project manager or draftsman designer and who will be in charge of what during the design process. Each design team will have their own hierarchy. Ask questions about how roles and responsibilities are delegated and who is the point of contact for what. This will help you get a good idea of how productive and efficient an architecture team is and who to contact directly for a specific process or design question. Consider asking other consultants who have worked with the design team how they felt the architect handled the project and design process. 


Workflow & roadblock navigation


Determine what an architect’s workflow is like and how efficiently they are able to work. You might also want to think about asking them how they have handled delays or time crunches in the past and what they did to navigate the situation. Asking these questions will give more insight to how efficiently an architect can navigate issues and the type of experience they bring to the table. 

The bottom line is, not all architects carry out their work in the same way. They vary from person to person and will have their own routine and ways of conducting tasks. When determining the best person for your retail development, you will need to make sure the architect understands the need to focus on business to keep cost and timing in check for your project. You don’t want an architect designing the next Taj Mahal to make their mark in the community when your budget is only for a small retail box user. It’s important to analyze your options and choose an architect who will most certainly align with your project’s goals and client expectations above all else. 

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