Before Buying that Building

We are often asked by clients to help convert  their newly purchased residential property for use as their business’ facility. In almost every instance, we have wished the client called us before buying that building.

These projects have been small; the buildings are typically under 3,000 square feet, and the property under an acre. As a residential structure, the existing building had the typical rooms: kitchen, living, dining, bedrooms, bathrooms. In some cases, the client bought the property simply for the land, intending to tear down the house. In other cases, the client hoped to convert the home into a suitable commercial building.

Residences have the usual problems that come to light during a conversion: wrong room sizes, code deficiencies; energy inefficiency. These issues exist when a residential client considers buying a residential property, too. However, the questions are much simpler: Is this the number of bedrooms my family needs? What do I think about the back yard? With commercial property, the question is more involved. Real thinking and analysis needs to take place. When that thinking does not occur, we and the client both ask the same question: is this just the wrong property for what I want to do?

This question is not hard to answer. In fact, larger commercial owners and developers always ask this question, too. The difference is, they ask before they buy the property. Asking the question and paying for the answer is called “due diligence.” It is the reasonable care one should exercise as a future property owner to ensure the property is suitable for the new use.

In terms of architecture, due diligence will ask how difficult (costly) will it be to convert this existing building to the new use? Is there enough room for the new use and required infrastructure, such as parking and stormwater features? How onerous will accessibility improvements be? These questions should be asked, and answered, before buying that building. Owners may be hesitant to spend money on consulting services to investigate a property they do not even own. Suffice it to say sophisticated owners do this as a matter of course. It is advantageous over the alternative of asking if the property you just bought is the right one or not.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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