Site Selection Consultation

Opportunities for Building Designers Part 3 of 20

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Last week, we discussed how the first we’ve heard about a new project is when the client picks up the phone and calls or walks in and drops it on our desk.

But did you ever think of the work, effort, and study needed before the project should reach such an advanced stage?

Today, we will investigate the first of five potential opportunities for building designers, before design begins- site selection consultation.

Have you ever had a client ask you to look at a lot and then provide your opinions before she or he buys? If so, at that moment you were a “site selection consultant,” whether you know it or not.

The work can be much more complicated. You can be asked, for instance, to analyze several different sites and come up with a report and recommendation on each.

You could spend months designing buildings to go onto each site to arrive at an accurate analysis of the problems and costs of each one. Somewhere between those two extremes lies a broad and remunerative field for building designers.

How do you get the work?

Contacts are important here. Most of the better projects come from friends you have made in your local home builders association, Kiwanis, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, etc., and that is another good reason for keeping up your membership in such groups.

If you are interested in performing advanced planning services for specific industries, let your contacts know what you do and don’t keep it a secret. If you have no such connections, don’t be afraid to “cold turkey” a prospect by going to their office and introducing yourself and your abilities.

Many firms develop a special brochure for this purpose. If you consider that every new contact you make can be a potential source of either new work or possible referral, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by spending a few afternoons calling on prospects.

When it comes to site selection, real estate professionals, or REALTOR® (a title owned by the National Association of Realtors), are one of the best groups in which to be known.

Some designers offer to pay a “finder’s fee” (how much can vary) of the design fee to the real estate professional who brings the designer and client together.

While the practice of paying finder’s fee may unpopular, the practice is more widespread than is generally known. Whether or not you offer to pay such a fee, get to know as many successful realtors as you can.

You can always offer your first service gratis: “I’ll be glad to take a look at it and give them my opinion whether they hire me or not,” and leave a couple of cards with the real estate professional while you’re at it.

They may know several other designers, but again, they may not. Some real estate professionals are only familiar with architects, and this is where your public relations skills come in handy.

Top down view of an on-site landscape analysis plan.

How to prepare for site selection?

In onsite services, the knowledge most often needed is knowledge of governing codes and regulations and an awareness of the pitfalls of “easements” across a property.

If there are any easements, know what you can do on them. Can you build, dig, and go two stories?

As for the governing regulations, where will the owner have to use fire-rated walls, fire sprinklers, pan an assessment to a parking district or storm drainage? Also, environmental conditions must also take a critical role in your evaluation; such as soil conditions, topography influences, wetlands, wildland-urban interface, sensitive marine conditions, potential chemical contamination, orientation to the sun, and more.

Any of this information that you do not already have, you can locate in short order, but you must expect to do a thorough job and make a comprehensive report.

How to handle the site selection job?

You should expect to make your report in writing (a formal letter will do). It is to your advantage to make it in writing since any question later of what your advice was is a matter of record. If you render your opinion in person or over the telephone, follow it up with a written letter.

As a professional, you probably have some legal exposure if you advise a client to buy the property and it later develops that she or he can’t use fit for the purpose in mind.

The client will want to know if their plans on this particular piece of property can be carried out, and if so, what significant problems might be faced (zoning variance, flooding, etc.).

If you’re not already, become friends with building department staff who can help you, and they may point out the existence of a problem you had not considered.

Maybe you find a reason against the purchase. Try to find solutions rather than ruin the sale for the real estate professional.

If you cannot find answers, don’t be afraid to say so (even then, check with the real estate agent beforehand, whether you were referred by them or not).

The possibilities are certainly not limited to those discussed, but this is an area where most designers have not ventured. At the same time, it is an area where professional help can get better projects started on the right foot. Professional services are needed in this area. You will do your clients and yourself a favor if you make those services available.

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