Photo credit: CBC, LLC – All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland
Multi-family, office, and mixed-use properties need a walk-through inspection performed by a commercial real estate inspector annually. Even churches and schools need regular inspections. The American Society for Testing and Materials publishes its guidelines for a Property Condition Assessment (PCA) at ASTM.org. A walk-through PCA assesses the conditions of a commercial building and site. The latest ASTM guideline (E2018-15) outlines a PCA’s four main components in section 5.2 on its website. A few examples of what to expect follow:
I. DOCUMENTATION REVIEW AND INTERVIEWS
Government records and publicly available documents a building inspector may review: Certificates of Occupancy, building code violations, fire code violations, etc. A pre-survey questionnaire for the owner or property management company is advantageous. Drawings, if available, assist inspectors onsite. Interviews with on site personnel and others familiar with the property also provide valuable information.
II. WALK-THROUGH SURVEY
A thorough walk-through to document the condition of all building systems, site particulars, exterior and interior, is essential. The ASTM.org website specifies more than fifteen areas, that inspectors should focus upon during a survey. For real life details from an Orlando building inspection team’s walk-through surveys, including plenty of photos from previously performed Property Condition Assessments, in Miami, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Denver, and San Francisco, check out: http://www.commercialbuildingconsultants.com/projects/
III. PREPARATION OF OPINIONS OF COSTS TO REMEDY PHYSICAL DEFICIENCIES
Below is an example chart from a draft Property Condition Report showing the estimated costs for a Florida multi-family property’s recommended renovations and enhancements.
Photo Credit: Commercial Building Consultants, LLC
IV. PROPERTY CONDITION REPORT
Digital photographs, like the one below, document current on-site conditions needing immediate corrective action. The report includes narrative details of the entire walk-through, including building interior, exterior, mechanical systems, site topography, parking lots, storm water drainage, etc. Two common occurrences are water intrusion and exposed wiring in buildings. Both are hazardous to human health and safety, with increasing potential to harm materials and property the longer these issues go undetected. Often, building and fire code violations exist in commercial buildings. I will address water intrusion and its effects in another article. Exposed wiring is common in Property Condition Reports I have read.
~~HOW FIRE HAZARDS GO UNDETECTED~~
Below is a sample photo of a fire hazard (exposed electrical wires) in the attic of a Florida multi-family property. Without an inspection, a few sparks could create a fire.
Photo and caption credit: Draft Property Condition Report prepared by Commercial Building Consultants, LLC.
AND THEN, MOTHER NATURE STRIKES~
With over 1.4 million lightning strikes each year, the Sunshine State is “the lightning capital of the U.S.” (2/3/16 FPL correspondence with citation: www.weather.com/safety/thunderstorms/news/top-5-lightning-prone-states). Florida’s year-round storms pose a threat, creating power surges that cost building owners thousands (www.surgeshield.com). This is a major reason to know the details of all commercial buildings in Florida, inside and out. I have seen photos of old building materials stacked inside buildings and on the roof tops of buildings, creating fire hazards, roofing problems, etc. The owners were completely unaware of the presence of these building materials until they read about it and saw the photographs depicted in the Property Condition Report.
WHY BUILDINGS NEED WORKING SMOKE DETECTORS
In July 2015, eight apartment buildings were evacuated near the University of Central Florida. At the time, the fire department could not determine the cause of the fire that began in Orlando, Florida, where 75 college students were displaced during the middle of the semester (wftv.com). No one was injured in the Florida fire, but a teenager who once lived in Chicago, Illinois wasn’t so lucky last fall when she and a few other teens were in the attic of a two-story building.
The massive blaze killed one. Smoking materials lit old clothing stored in the attic, causing the fire that killed the seventh grader, a 12-year-old girl. Her family is now suing the building owners, because there were no working smoke alarms at the time (chicago.suntimes.com).
Regular building inspections expose problem areas, systems needing maintenance or repair, and often hidden issues. Certainly, the lawyer for the family will ask about the smoke detectors. Then, the lawyer will probably ask the building owner:
“Were you aware of the flammable materials stored in the attic of your building?”
* * * * * *
What’s in your attic? Anything flammable?
Don’t wait for a property transfer to have a commercial property inspected. As mentioned earlier, these property condition assessments have standards. To review the ASTM’s guidelines for baseline PCAs, go to: http://www.astm.org.
I regularly highlight the discoveries of a team of building inspectors, who dig deep during walk-through surveys. To learn more about commercial building consulting services and previously published articles, including one strange discovery deep in a dungeon of darkness in downtown Orlando, Florida, read more blog posts at: http://www.commercialbuildingconsultants.com/commercial-building-news/.