Most people living in a co-op or condominium building don’t have much experience with managing major construction projects. They may have skills that can be very helpful to their board—such as financial acumen, to name just one—but not construction experience. If the building is lucky, there may be one person on the board who has some familiarity with the process of working with contractors and others on a major renovation. Sometimes there is actually a contractor or an architect on the board, but that’s fairly rare.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked by boards at my co-op and condo seminars is, “What should we do first?” when it comes to managing major construction projects. I am going to discuss that in this article, as well as what comes second and third.
The Key is Planning
The very first thing a co-op or condominium board should do when contemplating a major renovation or capital improvement project is reach out to their managing agent to start the process of contacting architects and engineers about the work they “think” they will need to have done.
I put “think” in quotes because while building administrators may have some general idea of what needs to be done (the roof is leaking, or the parapet walls have deteriorated), a survey really must be done by a professional to give a true picture of the necessary work. This report is not only critical for purposes of assessing the scope of work, but it forms a “foundation” for all the other things that will follow. In other words, if the foundation is solid, the other areas will be solid. If the foundation is shaky and the report is not detailed or thorough enough, everything else will be “off.”
When boards that have not worked with me come to me for advice towards the end of a project and tell me that their costs have doubled from the original projected budget, I always ask to see the initial report. While there may be unforeseen deterioration hidden in the walls, there may also not have been a thorough enough assessment so that the board could plan better for the cost of the project.