Steve Bentley is a high net-worth individual living in Los Angeles, CA. He has been making a good living for years running the family business that he inherited from his parents. Although, Steve considers himself to be a savvy investor, putting his earnings away in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and the like, he feels that he needs to diversify his portfolio a little bit more. When the market went south in 2008, Steve’s returns on his investments did as well. After researching alternative investments, he has decided to get his feet wet in real estate. He knows a couple of people in the business and is aware of the potential returns of a successful development. He identified a parcel of vacant land near his home that he believes would be ideal to build a multi-family project on. Without really looking at any other properties or running any detailed financial projections on the development, he acquires the property.
Once the property acquisition is complete, Steve hires an Architect to design his vision. You see, Steve is under the impression that all he needs to complete this undertaking is an Architect and a General Contractor. The Architect is quick to alert him that there is much more needed for a project of this magnitude. Not only will he need his Architectural Services to design this 42-unit stick-frame condo structure over podium parking, but he will also need a Planning Consultant to get the project entitled through the governmental authorities; a Structural Engineer to design and engineer the structure; a Civil Engineer to design all of the site utilities and earthwork since his parking has to run subterranean; a Geotechnical Engineer to perform tests on the soil which the building foundation will sit; an MEP Engineer to design and engineer the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; an Interior Designer to design the finishes of the residential units and common areas so they are saleable; a Landscape Architect to design the outdoor hardscape and landscape; an Acoustical Consultant to make sure the sound transmissions coming into the condominiums are code compliant; a Waterproofing/Roofing Consultant to make sure the building design does not allow any water infiltration that could potentially lead to future lawsuits; an Elevator Consultant to design the elevator system; a Building Insurance Inspection Consultant because the insurance provider requires them for condominium work; and since this project is in a neighborhood that is trying to lobby for lower density, he even needs a Political / Community Outreach Consultant to deal with opposition of the local Not in My Backyard (“NIMBY”) contingent.
Steve knows that he is not certified to do any of this work on his own and does not want to get sued for a construction defect in 10 years. As such he decides to hire all of these entities but doesn’t know how he can possibly manage all of them. Steve has no experience in construction, let alone design and engineering. Additionally, he has blown through his budget for soft costs, which were essentially busted to begin with. As such, he decides to try and manage all of them on his own. Several months into hiring all of the consultants, as well as a General Contractor, things start to fall apart. The consultants are not producing their deliverables by the deadlines promised, the drawings reflect conflicting information, and Steve cannot even manage to get an appointment to submit the drawings into plan check with the city. The contractor forgot to submit his insurance certificate before mobilizing onsite and one of their workers was injured when performing structural excavation, city inspectors have already written several correction notices due to unsafe conditions, the contractor’s hard costs are getting carried away, not to mention they are submitting numerous change orders because there were so many holes in Steve’s contract with them. Everything is a huge mess and Steve needs help fast. It is now apparent that he needs an outside consultant to rectify these issues and manage the project on his behalf. In hindsight, he should have brought someone on board, possibly even before he submitted his offer on the property.
Introducing the Owner’s Rep
Herein lies the need for the Owner’s Representative in the real estate / construction industry. The Owner’s Representative, also referred to as the Owner’s Rep, OR, or simply Project Manager, is sometimes an overlooked asset that can be included in any project undertaking. The Owner’s Rep bridges the gap between ownership and all other entities involved with the project. They control the design and construction process, making sure that every decision is made in the Owner’s best interest. A true Owner’s Rep is well versed in development as well, managing the entire development process and not just design and construction. More often than not, an Owner’s Rep has a background in development themselves, so they know what it takes to pull off a successful development project and maximize their client’s Internal Rate of Return (“IRR”). In turn, the Owner’s Rep can use their ownership experiences to solve problems and offer creative solutions that directly affect the bottom line.
As one can see from the litany of tasks mentioned earlier in Steve’s case, there are a myriad of moving parts to a development project, many of which may geotechnical engineering company be a daunting undertaking for most small property owners to handle on their own. If the Owner chooses, the Owner’s Rep can manage every aspect of the project, ranging from approvals to lease-up, something that individual Contractors or Consultants don’t have experience handling either. Hiring an Owner’s Rep is crucial and will allow the Owner to focus their time and resources on more important issues.
A very experienced Owner’s Rep can even be brought on before the acquisition of the property, to help the Owner with things like property selection, acquisition analysis, economic studies and due diligence. They may also provide financial support, assisting in the identification of various forms of traditional and non-traditional financing sources and then help evaluate and analyze each of the options. The compilation of feasibility reports may also be necessary for decision making and reporting to various partners such as equity, banks, and appraisers, which include market research, detailed financial analysis, entitlement summaries, and justification for “go/no go” decisions. The Owner’s Rep may also put together and update the project pro forma and even lead the project through the typically complex entitlement process, providing coordination with the city officials, land-use attorneys, and Architects involved.
When it comes time to start the design process, the Owner’s Rep will assist in selecting the design team, typically at a minimum consisting of all of the players mentioned in Steve’s project above. They may create and issue a formal Request for Proposal (“RFP”) to go out to several different firms, or they may rely on past relationships to select a firm that best suits the particular project. Once the project team is formed, the Owner’s Rep can lead the effective collaboration towards a common goal. Again, the Owner’s Rep is typically involved in every aspect of the process and spearheads the flow of information among Architects, Designers, Engineers, Planners, Consultants, Contractors, Vendors, Property Managers, Sales Staff, Lenders, Governmental Authorities and of course, the client. Due to the number of players involved in the process, the Owner’s Rep should have a commanding influence to lead this synchronized effort to crystallize the design concept so that it can be built in the field. This point in the project is the ideal time to start exploring/visiting the value engineering possibilities. Value engineering is a technique in which the value of a system’s outputs is optimized by crafting a mix of performance and costs. In most cases this practice identifies and removes unnecessary expenditures, thereby reducing the cost. The Owner’s Rep should work with the consultants to remove these unnecessary costs and put the money in places where it should be spent.