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Key Considerations for Hiring a Commercial Developer and Design Builder

In todays turbulent economy, any organization looking to start a new construction project faces certain challenges. Choosing the right commercial developer and design/builder using criteria based on individualized, industry-specific needs can make the difference between a successful project and a bona fide disaster.

February 17, 2011

7 Min Read
Key Considerations for Hiring a Commercial Developer and Design Builder

By Ryan Regina

In todays turbulent economy, any organization looking to start a new construction project faces certain challenges. Choosing the right commercial developer and design/builder using criteria based on individualized, industry-specific needs can make the difference between a successful project and a bona fide disaster.

With the glut of service providers floundering in this space and willing to cut dealsand corners in kindits imperative to take even a few fundamental considerations into account before signing on the dotted line.

A commercial construction project usually involves one overriding factor above all others: the bottom line. While certainly a critical factor in the decision-making process, budget shouldnt be the only one. When cost alone is the primary focus of a project, serious repercussions are likely to follow, including poor service, time delays, hidden costs, change orders and non-existent follow up to name just a few.

When vetting commercial developers and design/builders, its important to consider each and every aspect of the project life cycle, from the companys own vision to the post-project completion period. Here are a few key life cycle-based hiring considerations.


Understanding precisely how financial limitations will impact the related financing process at large is far easier when partnering with an organization knowledgeable about commercial-construction finance and can walk the customer through each and every step. While most developers and design/builders will simply refer their customers to a bank or other lenders for financial advice, its best to seek a higher caliber, full-service firm that provides such financial planning consultation in-house.

Service Scope

The commercial developer and design/builder industry is fragmented, and theres little service standardization. The majority of companies offer only a portion of services required in the entire project life cycle, and do not provide the comprehensive oversight that allows clients to disengage from the construction project and maintain focus on their other business development and growth initiatives. Its optimal to retain a commercial developer and design/builder with a full-solution, end-to-end approach, which offers the benefit of single contact point project control and accountability.


If the proposed project is out of reach due to image reasons, a reputable developer and design/build organization should be willing and able to help resolve the problem. This may involve the need to table the project for as long as necessary and assist the organization in corrective measures, such as an image change. Presenting lenders with the right image as a borrower can be facilitated by an experienced developer and design/builder that provides financing procurement as a service.

Additionally, appearance is everything with local and regional authorities who can also impact a project. To best ensure necessary municipal approvals are granted, hire a developer and design/builder that can position and project your image in a way thats accurate and a benefit to the community.

Industry Experience

Whether a medical office, a church, an office park or any type of commercial property, each type of business has specific needs that not all developers and design/builders are prepared to meet. Its essential to hire a company with the ability, experience and expertise necessary to plan and execute the project so it meets both the vision of the client and the realistic financial restraints.

Companies that are suited for a given project will not only have the technical expertise to build a new facility to the desired specifications, but will also have the clients best interests in mind throughout the entire process.


Organizations often attempt to serve as project developer only to learn it takes a specialized skill set and years of developer experience to do the job effectively. While development is viewed as exciting and challenging, its usually underestimated from a time and experience perspective. When developing in the commercial realm, its important to hire a firm that has a demonstrated track record of working in partnership with high-caliber architects, engineers and subcontractors with synergistic philosophies to deliver a high-quality product.

Land/Property Acquisition

The most critical step to a successful land acquisition is a properly structured agreement. While this may sound elementary, all too often organizations forego consultation and enter into a land agreement that doesnt provide them the protection they need when faced with unforeseen circumstances. This can include land that ultimately doesnt meet their needs, more time is required to complete governing approvals or, worse, the project fails all together. Ensure the developer and design/build firm you hire has direct experience formulating land-agreement documentation, and be sure to cover a variety of what if scenarios as the paperwork is being prepared.


The architecture aspect of a project can make or break the budget if clarity isnt achieved in the organizational phase. Problems arise when organizations circumvent organizational and financial assessments and go right to the architect, which can lead to multiple plan changes throughout the design phase or a floor plan that doesnt meet organizational needs. A qualified developer and design/builder will work closely with the architect, along with professional subcontractors who will be performing the work, to ensure project parameters are crystal clear and maximize the chance of the project being completed to spec, on time and on budget.


A veteran developer and design/builder will partner with an engineering firm based on three criteria. The first is an exceptional relationship with town, borough or city personnel to better ensure required township approvals are secured. The second is firm size. Usually, the bigger the firm, the higher the cost and longer the work turnaround time. While this isnt true with all large firms, it does happen. Third, an engineering firm must have an in-depth understanding of state, county and local agency requirements. A well-rounded engineer understands the black, the white and the gray of a projects interpretation.


Hiring legal help is similar to engineering with respect to relationships and understanding requirements of state, county and local agencies, including laws and ordinances. Legal counsel that knows the players within a particular township can make a project much less turbulent.

Its also important legal representatives have adequate experience in Land Use Law, as the right counsel will know when a governing body is operating outside its jurisdiction. As a course of businesses, a full-service commercial developer and design/builder will identify and manage such legal aspects of project to readily work through the red tape.


Once the design, development and other front-end aspects of a project are approved, its time to build. Having a developer and design/builder on board from the vision stage through project completion means you dont have to go through the bid process again when its time to break ground.

It goes without saying, the development and design/build firm you hire should have extensive experience serving as project manager and general contractor for commercial construction projects of similar size, scale, scope and complexityoptimally in the same industry. Be sure to take onsite tours of buildings the company has helped design, develop and buildnew and oldas youll want to ensure the buildings stand the test of time.

Client Service

Development and design/build companies operate for profit. The most desirable, however, are aware their own success hinges upon that of their clients. Be sure to assess a firm beyond photographs in a project portfolio. Look for a company that has verifiable examples of how they provided solutions when unexpected problems arose. Experienced firms will have a well-honed protocol to minimize surprises and keep a client duly informed.

Much is also said about providing outstanding client service throughout the course of a project, but what about after final payment has been rendered and a project is complete? Will the level of service change? Its important to thoroughly interview past clients of the development and design/build firm under consideration, and to specifically ask about post-project interactions. Stellar referrals in this regard will speak volumes about a companys integrity and character.

Use this project life cycle-based checklist when hiring a commercial developer and design/builder and youll be well on your way to a successful outcome that not only meets, but may very well exceed expectations.

Ryan Regina is the co-founder and owner of Big Sky Enterprises, a commercial real estate developer, design/builder and finance firm that strategizes, executes and oversees every aspect of a project development life cycle to provide clients with single, professional contact-point control. For more information, visit www.bigskyllc.com.

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