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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Kelley

3 Top Reasons to Hire an Architect as Your Developer for a Successful Project

Finding the right property or site for investment can be challenging. As a savvy owner, you want to make the most of the land you plan to develop. Or, if you are buying an older building to revitalize, you’re looking for the most return on your investment. Will hiring an architect as the developer for your design and construction project maximize its potential?

Yes, and there are reasons why a professional architect is the best person to help you increase the value of your property or building. Especially if the architect has been through the process for her own investment and understands how to navigate the systems for the best ROI, then you know she’ll do the same for you to make your project successful.

Here are the top 3 reasons why hiring an architect as your developer is a smart idea:

1. Provide due diligence

Finding the right property or site takes time. You’ll want to understand your options if you are comparing multiple locations. Which one has the most potential for return on your investment? An architect as a developer does due diligence in investing and can guide you in deciding which property or building would be best for your project.

A professional architect also knows how to interact with the jurisdictions and knows the rules, regulations, and restrictions for the location you are planning to develop. Can you put commercial shops in a residential neighborhood, or will you need a special permit or zoning change? What are you allowed to develop without going through all the red tape of the county government?

Knowing how to navigate the local homeowner’s association is another specialty of a professional architect. You don’t want to find yourself dealing with resistance from the community. Angry neighbors could stop your project from moving forward or at least delay it for several months if not years. Having an expert recognize the pitfalls at the beginning of your project can help you mitigate the risks.

2. Develop the design

Once you’ve done due diligence and selected the site or building for development, it’s time for design. As a professional architect, creating a beautiful space that people love to be in is essential, as well as contributing to the area's aesthetics. Being the developer adds a level of vested interest to the project to determine the best design that will give the most ROI.

An architect with developer experience develops a proforma, a written document forecasting the financial outlook for the project, which outlines all the project costs to understand the risks and rewards. She identifies and coordinates the consultants required for the project and spearheads the contractor selection process. After all, you’ll want the best civil engineer, interior designer, or mechanical engineer with experience for your specific project type. A professional architect can help you narrow your choices by knowing what questions to ask and taking the burden off you. Identifying the general contractor at the design development phase of the process enables the team to determine the most cost-effective construction method, saving you money without compromising on the design aesthetics. This allows you to align the budget with the proforma, which is crucial in ensuring your ROI. Designs must also comply with the city zoning requirements, such as height restrictions, floor area ratios (FAR), fire access, and allotted open space. And for investment return, you’ll want to maximize the site’s potential to get the highest value out of the property.

A professional architect is a design expert, from planning the use of the space to the flow from one area to the next. Creating space efficiency is a high priority, especially with today’s high cost per square foot to build. An architect as the developer will choose construction methods and finish details that save you money and contribute to the return on your investment.

3. Administrate and oversee construction

With the construction documents and permitting phases complete, you’ll begin construction. The architect observes the general contractor’s work to ensure the project is being built per plan, handling any questions that arise during construction.

Overseeing construction and approving payment requests are all part of the architect’s responsibilities. This means making sure you pay only for work that has been completed. For example, you don’t want to be billed for 100% of the ceramic work if the tiles haven’t been grouted yet. An architect as the developer has an added level of attention to ensure that the project moves according to the schedule and budget, so you can see the return on your investment as quickly as possible.

On a personal note

Embarking on my own development projects has been part of my architectural career. The ability to design, build and reap the rewards from one’s own work is particularly rewarding. I started with major renovations to existing houses by completely transforming and selling them, then expanding to new construction and selling several custom homes. These endeavors all involved investors and my responsibility as the architect and developer were to ensure successful projects and return on investments, thus gaining experience to be able to guide you through your investment project.

In 2013, an Architect as Developer company was formed with another female architect to create beautiful, bespoke residential projects. Searching for development opportunities, we discovered Bentonville, Arkansas, and acquired an acre of land downtown. The re-development goals of the city were intriguing, adopting a revitalization program for the Southeast and Southwest sections and designating them as an Art's and Market District. Bentonville, as the home base for Walmart and home to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, was and still is experiencing a renaissance. With museums, new construction, and renovation all around, coupled with a lower cost of living found in the Ozark rolling hills and lush green spaces, the potential for investing was evident.

The purchased land was situated in the newly designated Market District. Through market research, we identified the townhome typology as a needed form of housing for the area and proceeded to design a 15-unit townhome enclave. Due to Walmart’s requirement that their vendors have a base in Bentonville, it was evident the neighborhood needed housing, providing us an excellent opportunity for development. The location was perfect for a pocket community within walking distance of all the town's amenities, making the townhomes a great place to live.

The design for the Tourmaline Urban Lofts

As a savvy investor, you want to make a profit, but you also want to consider the design for your project. Bringing your vision to life includes connecting with the neighborhood's location and vibe.

When considering the design for the townhomes, we contemplated the colors of the Ozarks, the vernacular architecture of the region, the beautiful nature of the surrounding area, and especially what Arkansas is known for: its crystal mines. Recognizing the burgeoning art scene and the significance of the museum that had been built in Bentonville, we envisioned living spaces for creatives and called them lofts. A name for this enclave that would reflect all these characteristics was tourmaline: a multicolored gemstone that artists in the Renaissance carried in their pockets for creative inspiration. This gemstone described the project perfectly, and the name Tourmaline Urban Lofts was born. The long, slender geometry of Tourmaline Urban Lofts is like a grouping of crystals. The buildings are adorned with beautiful decorative screens, whose design inspiration came from looking at the molecular structure of the tourmaline gemstone and eroding it to create interest. No two screens are the same.

Tourmaline Urban Lofts consists of five buildings with three lofts in each building. The open floor plans include three bedrooms and two and a half baths, with a high double-height ceiling in the living room and large, expansive windows. Central on the site is a landscaped common for the residents to enjoy, and each loft has its own courtyard or side yard for privacy. These spacious townhomes designed as lofts are excellent spaces for creating art and music.

Freedom to customize the spaces and make them unique to the buyer’s taste and style helped the units sell quickly.

Flexible finishing for the Tourmaline Urban Lofts

A strategy to market and sell Tourmaline Urban Lofts was to leave some of the units unfinished.

In the first phase, six units were completed and sold finished; six units were sold as "white box," completed just to the drywall. Selling the units "white box" allowed buyers the flexibility to finish them out with their own material selections. The last three units were completed based on an analysis of local styles and preferences, and then sold.

From a developer’s point of view, this saved spending money on materials and labor. It was a strategy to move the units quickly and lower out-of-pocket expenses.

Hiring an architect as a developer

When you hire an architect as the developer, you get a more comprehensive solution for your design. The architect easily communicates with the contractors and consultants to keep your project running according to schedule, knowing that the sooner it is completed, the sooner you will see the ROI. Using due diligence, the architect helps you select the site or building that meets your needs and will give you the most value for your money.

Architectural design is also primarily focused on creating aesthetically pleasing spaces and optimizing functionality and flexibility. As the developer, there’s an additional intention to understand the budget and consider the return on your investment.

Personal experience as an owner, architect, and developer brings a broader perspective over the entire development process, enabling me to serve you better as you select your site or building for your investment. If you are interested in developing and want an architect as a developer to guide you to a successful project, call 858-344-2404 or email caitlin@caitlinkelleyarchitect.c

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