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The Value of a One-Stop Shop

Working with a multi-disciplinary team can deliver more accurate services, better prices, and faster turnaround times.

A Streamlined Approach

In recent years, Partner has significantly expanded its capabilities in the solutions space. In 2013 we acquired an engineering design team, bolstering our capabilities in site civil engineering, MEP, Industrial Hygiene, and several other services. This has allowed our teams to offer solutions to any environmental or engineering issues our clients may encounter. Having an assessments and a solutions practice under “one roof” streamlines the process for the consultant and the client alike, and provides great value in terms of cost, time, and accuracy.

Due diligence performed prior to a commercial real estate transaction or development project may reveal issues that can derail a deal if they are not efficiently addressed. Having a collaborative team who can identify and also address or remediate concerns will be crucial to enabling a project to proceed successfully.   

As our CEO Joe Derhake has said, it’s important to have a team that understands the fundamentals of a problem in order to offer the most effective solution. For example, if Partner finds a problem with a building’s mechanical systems during a Property Condition Assessment (PCA), we will be able to quickly put the client in touch with our MEP design professionals to quantify a solution.

Assessments and Solutions

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the value a multi-disciplinary firm can offer. For example, my first job was at multidisciplinary firm that employed architects and civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and fire protection engineers in-house, under one roof, as well as process engineers and material handling consultants (they had a big presence in the food processing and automated warehouse industry). They also had a construction group for what was then the new field of Design/Build projects.

We may encounter a scenario where a PCA done to the current ASTM standard scope of work identified a significant engineering issue such as site drainage, structural, mechanical or electrical defects or building, fire or zoning non-compliance. Also, suppose the client was planning upgrades and requests some construction cost guidance.

So when I began to manage projects the team meetings could be scheduled easily with the attendees walking down the hall or coming down the stairs. If a construction problem came in from the field, someone from the applicable department could immediately provide guidance on the issue. If a client called in with a question, the right team member would be easy to find and if a client needed guidance on a cost issue the construction company was next door.

What does this have to do with CRE due diligence? The Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) or Property Condition Assessment (PCA) and report are performed and written by an individual with proven knowledge and experience to address the large majority of concerns.  Sometimes, however, it’s prudent have a “second set of eyes”. What happens, for example, when a physical deficiency requires additional investigation? If an environmental site assessment identifies a “Recognized Environmental Condition” (REC) as defined in ASTM E1527-13 Phase I Standards for Environmental Site Assessments, additional investigation is often require. This is referred to as a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment. This frequently includes invasive work including drilling, taking soil samples and laboratory analysis for hazardous materials. If there is indication that asbestos may be present, taking and analyzing samples would be required. These are always considered as additional consultant services.

Additional work for a PCA is just like for a Phase II ESA except that it’s not one issue, hazardous materials. In a PCA a known condition or a discovered deficiency could require a host of additional services. This could include inspection and repair recommendations for site and landscaping, structural problems, HVAC problems that could include anything from system noise to cooling tower defects and electrical or life safety and fire protection systems. They could include invasive activities such as going above ceilings, opening electrical panels or walls to see inside structure or exterior walls to investigate leaks. Work to address building or zoning code compliance may require an in-depth review and interviews with municipal agencies. The normal PCA does not include any analysis of a client’s planned upgrades and they are often looking for cost opinions.  Having one consultant who can manage such issues holistically using in-house expertise at the outset of a project can save both time and money.

Improving Efficiency and Accuracy

For example, I once worked on a project at an older regional shopping center that had a central plant HVAC system (meaning it had chillers for cooling and boilers for heating located in a mechanical room instead of rooftop HVAC units distributed around the property). Because of this, an engineer in the HVAC group was included in the project team and the recommendations and cost opinion were incorporated in the final report. The cost for this work was part of the original contract. During another project, the site visit of an industrial park significant soil settlement was identified in the parking areas affecting the site drainage. An in-house civil engineer was immediately provided to make a detailed inspection and develop a solution and opinion of cost for the corrective work. The additional fee was added to the project agreement.

In short, working with a multi-disciplinary firm with in-house resources creates an advantage through better identified and managed issues, and a streamlined process which allows for more efficient project timelines and fees. When it comes to finding the right due diligence or engineering design firm, a so-called one-stop shop is likely to be your best bet!