At JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE, we believe it’s important to stay up to speed on issues impacting the communities in which we live and work and to step in where we see an opportunity to make a positive impact. When it comes to the built environment in Colorado, one of the most pressing issues is condominium construction.
Over the past several years, there has been a significant decline in the number of condominiums built in Colorado. According to research from Polsinelli, condominiums have historically represented about 25 percent of all building permits in the Denver metro area, but currently represent only about 3 percent.
Without going into too much detail – you can read more about it here – this was due in large part to a law that made it relatively easy for developers to be sued over construction defects on a condominium project as compared to other project types. As a result, the industry seemed to change course in its multifamily strategy to concentrate on apartment communities.
In May 2017, that changed.
After passing in the Colorado General Assembly, Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1279 into law, creating more checks and balances to pursue litigation against developers concerning construction defects. Click here for more details.
This topic was top-of-mind at the 2017 Colorado Real Estate Journal Condominium Summit. Based on the lively discussion, it became clear that condo development is once again (perhaps cautiously) on the rise in Colorado.
So, what does this mean for architects?
First off, we should be excited! This is a new era that will bring with it unique design challenges requiring strategic thinking to create lasting products that add to the vitality of the Colorado landscape. At JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE, we are currently working on Laurel Cherry Creek, a 71-condominium project in the heart of Cherry Creek North, and we are loving every second of the design process.
Secondly, in the midst of all that excitement, there should also be a dash of reality. There are undoubtedly more risks that come with working on condo projects, and each one of us should be educated about what to expect.
Over the past few weeks, multiple architects have reached out seeking advice on how to navigate this new world, and based on our experience as a firm, here are five tips for helping mitigate your risk:
1. Be Strategic with Client Selection. As with any project, you should thoroughly investigate your potential client and identify any deal-breakers for your firm. Assess the potential client’s market knowledge and familiarity with building condominiums to ensure you’re partnering with a company that is trustworthy and knows what they are doing.
2. Meticulously Review Your Contract. Make sure you are aligned with the owner of the project when negotiating your contract. Confirm that your firm’s liability insurance covers condominiums and be aware of any limits your particular policy may have. Also, seek third party independent counsel review of your contract to catch stipulations you might otherwise miss.
3. Focus on Quality Materials and Building Systems. Especially with condo projects, you should NEVER cut corners. During value engineering exercises, it’s common to quickly cut quality materials and building systems in favor of cheaper options. Before you get to that point, spend the time to educate your team on why your initially proposed materials and systems are worth the potentially higher cost. Do not sacrifice particularly on aspects of the project such as building envelope design, acoustic design and MEP systems.
4. Build Appropriate Time into Your Schedule for QA/QC. If you tackle quality assurance and quality control at pre-determined milestones throughout the project, you can catch any potential construction defect issues in real time. This provides time to adjust the design or construction method before you are too far into the project.
5. Design a Mock-Up. For condo projects, it’s important to design and construct a mock-up that incorporates the most common details of the project. Include this design in your construction documents and spend time working with the design team, owner and GC to brainstorm ideas together. Once the mock-up is constructed, it can help the entire team evaluate the quality of construction and work through any constructability issues by consensus.
While all of these tips have the potential to add time and cost to a project, incorporating them into your approach may help keep you and other partners out of litigation in the future.