A preliminary site analysis is worth your time and money.

March 28, 2022
Jared Petitjean
Principal Architect

Whether you are ready to build, are in the earlier planning stages of wanting to build, or real estate agent who has a client looking to build, getting a site analysis done by an architect can help you and/or your client decide which piece of property will be suitable. Generally, when and individual or developer wants to build, they first seek out the services of a real estate agent that can help sift through the many listing to find a piece of property that may fit their needs and budget. There may be the added layer of a market analysis performed by an agency to see if a specific piece of property is suitable for the proposed business to be sustainable. However, there is one analysis that is typically gets overlooked that can help inform whether a piece of property is suitable or not, a site analysis. Let us dive into how this exercise can help inform your decision making and how it can help you plan for the next phases of a project.

What is a site analysis and when is it done?

At the beginning stages of a project, we perform a site analysis to understand the different aspects that will impact the overall design of a project. Typically, this will be done during the preliminary phase of a project, well after the property has been purchased and prior to any ink hitting the drawing paper. A site analysis covers areas like the zoning of the property, allowed building use in that specific zoning, the building and landscape setbacks from the property lines, landscape requirements, parking requirements, etc. This list is thorough and helps uncover a lot of information for planning purposes in a short amount of time.

Like I said before, this is typically performed during preliminary design phase after the property is purchased. Ideally, I recommend that this be done during the search for property rather than after the purchase. There have been some occasions in the past where I have seen a client come with a piece of property they purchased and want to build on, only to find out that their type of building use is not allowed in the current zoning, or a zoning requirement makes it prohibitive to build on the property. If an analysis was done on the site prior to purchasing, the client could have avoided being in this situation.

How does a site analysis help during the searching phase?

With any piece of property, there are multiple zoning requirements that must be met. Adding this analysis to your due diligence process is advisable when looking at property. Going back to example of the client that bought a piece of property in the hopes of building their next building, only to find out that site doesn't work out like they hoped. It may have fit their needs perfectly in terms of budget, geography, and market. But after further investigation, it doesn't or can't fit their needs physically due to zoning requirements. It could be that the property doesn't allow the proposed building use. You can go through a re-zoning process, but there is no guarantee that a zoning of the property will be granted. There is the possibility that the setbacks eat up a significant amount of square footage and now the building program can't fit, or you can't meet the parking requirements. You could request a variance on the requirements that are problematic, but that is not always guaranteed to be granted either. Variance and re-zoning processes cost both time and money. In the end you may have spent a lot of time and money and not get the changes you needed to make the site work. Maybe the building program can fit on the site but instead of one story, it must be two stories. Going vertical can add more to the overall scope of the project and may increase the cost of building that exceeds the initial budget. A client may have the ability to add more capital to the project to cover the increase in the cost, but that may not always be the case.

Doing a preliminary site analysis on a piece of property may save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run. You pay a small fee to uncover this type of information early before investing a significant amount of capital.

Our recommendations for an effective site analysis

To use a service like this effectively, we recommended a few things listed below

  • Find a realtor that you trust that can help you sift through potential candidates.
  • Compile a group of the potential sites that fit your needs.
  • Find an architect that you can work with that provides site analysis services.
  • Bring the architect the group of sites you are looking at and ask them to do an analysis on all the provided sites.

Depending on the firm, you may pay a lump sum or hourly fee. Always discuss terms and fees upfront prior to working with a firm. They may be some firms that if they are offered the project should it go forward after doing the site analysis, will prorate the professional fees because they have all the site information already done.

Done right, this can be an effective tool to use when deciding on what property you should buy that will fit your project goals. Your time and money are valuable, and building is a huge investment. Having the right information in hand and up-front can help ease the stress of knowing if a certain piece of property is the right one that can help move your project forward and serve well for years to come.

Photo by Valeria Fursa on Unsplash

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