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Commercial property inspection guide

When buying commercial properties, due diligence is even more important than it is with residential properties. That's simply because there's so much more money at stake.

In the worst case, unexpected repairs and expenses can empty your pockets in the blink of an eye. At the other end of the scale, it can create a long-term and slow-motion drain on your bank account that ends up with the same result-money gone and a clunker property on your hands.

I'm sure you can see my point-never, ever acquire a commercial property without closely checking its condition first. By doing that, you'll end up with an investment which can produce considerable profit and appreciation over the long-term. In this article, I'll outline the basic due diligence required for the physical inspection of commercial buildings.

Who Should Inspect Commercial Buildings

If you're new to commercial investments, then definitely hire a professional to inspect the building you're considering. The building structure and the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems are much more complicated than those found in residential properties and require specialist inspectors.

Therefore, it's wise to hire an experienced contractor, architect, or other expert to do the jobs for you. Verify references and contact other investors to see what kind of job the specialists have done for them so you can hire the best.

When you work with specialists that do a great job at reasonable prices, treat them well and fairly. Remember, your reputation is everything, especially in the commercial or industrial market, so you want to guard it at all costs. Getting a bad reputation in the commercial market is a particularly deadly sin since it can dry up funding sources in a hurry, not to mention the fact that "movers and shakers" will not want to work with you.

Maintenance Types

There are two types of maintenance in commercial and industrial investments. One is deferred maintenance. This refers to any major or minor defects in a building.

Naturally, you want these defects exposed before you invest any money in a building. For example, one of the first things to have checked is the condition of the roof. The damage caused by water leaks to electronics and wiring can create some very expensive repair bills.

The other type of maintenance is routine. Just what it sounds like, this is such regular activity as cleaning, painting, servicing of HVAC, escalators, elevators, fire safety systems, etc.

Since laws require regular maintenance, check all the building logs to make sure routine checkups have been completed, but don't take the log entries for granted! Always talk to the companies doing the maintenance to ensure the work was really done.

If you've already found that equipment hasn't been kept in great shape, hire a different company to do inspections to make sure that you're getting objective opinions.

Talk to the tenants as well to get their opinions of the maintenance. This is not only a chance to get a realistic picture of the building, but it's also a chance to build good relationships with them should you decide to purchase the property.

Routine Items You Can Check Yourself

Quite often, defects are obvious and don't need the trained eye of a professional inspector. During a walk-through, you can check for the following items:

Ceilings-look for evidence of stains or broken tiles that indicate leaks from the roof. *

Walls-check for significant cracks caused by uneven settlement of the foundation.

Floors-warping or cracks can indicate problems with the way they were laid or with the foundation.

Rest rooms-check out the condition of the plumbing to make sure it's not leaking, rusted, or otherwise not performing property.

Security components-these should all be functioning properly; e.g. doors lock as they should, exit signs are illuminated, stairways are in good shape, etc.

Lighting-interior and exterior. All lights should be working.

Door hardware-by this, I mean automatic and/or hydraulic door openers and closers should be functioning well.

Paint-at points like common areas, check to see if the paint is in good shape and doesn't show peeling, "alligatoring," and the like.

Tenant spaces-check their condition very carefully. After all, if they're not in great shape, the tenants will want you to fix them up once you take ownership of the building. Make a list of maintenance/repair items and get bids from contractors to see what the costs will be.

Grounds-check to see what kind of shape they're in. This not only includes landscaping, but the condition of parking lots, curbs and the like.

Red Flags

Never put your money into any property with one or more of the following problems: Asbestos Dry rot Duct contamination Hazardous waste pollution Lead contamination Mold, etc.

If you find these problems, cancel the escrow and look elsewhere! You want to buy a profitable property, not a money pit.

Purchase Agreement Recommendations

Always write a condition into the agreement that requires the seller to do one of two things before the close of escrow: Correct all problems, or Lower the price so you can do the repairs. The advantage of this strategy is that you can hire your own contractor to do the repairs, and you'll know they'll get done correctly.

What To Do Once You've Purchased the Commercial Building

Once you've bought the building, you want to keep it in the best shape possible at the lowest cost possible. For office buildings, your "foot soldiers" in the maintenance war are the maintenance staff. Make sure they understand their duties clearly and carry them out on a regular, scheduled basis.

If you have an industrial property, shopping center or similar property, then your manager should oversee the maintenance staff.

Source: Jack Sternberg

Dy Associates is an Oakland Real Estate company specializing in commercial, home and investment property in the Oakland and East Bay Area. We provide real estate services including buyer agent, seller agent, short sales, commercial and investment acquisitions, loan facilitation, hard money lending, financing assistance property management. Articles are provided as information only. We do not provide legal or general investment advice.

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