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10 Tips for Success in Multifamily Development Projects

When it comes to coordination, engineering, and design, a multifamily development project is often one of the more challenging types of development projects. When coordinating a multifamily development project, there are more buildings, additional building types, coordination points, plan changes, and more people involved compared to other development projects. Other factors complicating a multifamily development project include zoning issues, local regulations, and less than welcoming neighbors.

Multifamily Development Project Success Tips

Whether you are an emerging engineering leader, a developer, or an industry partner, the recommendations for multifamily development project success outlined in this article will help you optimize your development timelines and budgets. 

Stakeholders and team members involved in the design coordination of multifamily development projects should consider the following ten tips for success before starting their next multifamily development project:

Multifamily Development Tip #1: Know when to nix the projects that aren’t feasible.

Before embarking on any multifamily development project, it is imperative that you perform a complete and thorough site feasibility study. That study should include a comprehensive analysis of allowable land use and zoning. Ensure that your multifamily development project can achieve allowable setbacks, residential proximity slopes, open space requirements, density limits, and other zoning criteria. Be sure to provide this information to your site planners to ensure that every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed. 

Also, check that the available utility capability can support your multifamily development, determine impact fees, determine what off-sites might be required, and check for any drainage coming into, onto, or leaving the site. In short, leave no stone unturned in the early stages of planning so that you can discover any deal-breaking issues. The bottom line is that if the site that has been chosen for the multifamily development project is not a viable one, you need to decide to let it go early on. That will allow you and your team to focus your efforts on multifamily development projects that you can build quickly and profitably.

Multifamily Development Tip #2: Be frugal whenever possible.

Being frugal when it comes to planning and executing a multifamily development project requires being sensible and practical, particularly when fulfilling your professional obligations in the public sector. 

Multifamily development designs should be simple, efficient, and buildable. That means avoiding waste and keeping overall construction costs to a minimum. Maintaining a low construction cost always starts with good planning and design. Remember, overall construction costs can make or break a multifamily development project. 

One way to be more efficient in managing construction costs is to look for any creative grading solutions that can minimize building splits, cut down on retaining walls, and, whenever possible, balance out the site’s earthworks.

Multifamily Development Tip #3: Set your own entitlement strategy and schedule that is project-specific.

It is always wise to develop realistic expectations surrounding entitlement timing and risk. You should always prepare your own entitlement strategy and schedule rather than rely solely on the city’s agenda.

Remember that the road from point A to Z is never straightforward when planning and executing a multifamily development project. Construction documents and site plans must be produced, due diligence is required, and all approvals must be obtained to move forward.

When it comes to the entitlement process, you can be optimistic, but you should always remain realistic. Work closely with team members and keep open lines of communication to meet your entitlement strategy and scheduling goals.

Multifamily Development Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate.

Poor communication can tank a multifamily development project, but there is no harm in overcommunicating. In fact, you should strive for it. 

A successful multifamily development project relies on strict coordination with design team members from the very start. Communication should occur early and often throughout the project. While this may sound like a pretty obvious statement, the truth is that there is truly nothing that is more important when it comes to pulling off a successful multifamily development project than coordination. That means direct, open communication with the project’s architects, engineers, and sub-consultants (particularly mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers), especially throughout the multifamily development’s design phase and throughout the entire permitting process. 

One of the worst things that can happen to a multifamily development project is that you get to the construction phase of the project and suddenly realize that the project architect has made changes to the buildings or the site that require additional approvals from the city or other governing agencies. These incidents occur when there is a lack of communication, but rarely when team members are overcommunicating. In fact, when it comes to the planning and execution of a successful multifamily development project, there is really no such thing as too much communication among stakeholders, planners, consultants, or anyone else involved in its design.

Multifamily Development Tip #5: Make sure you have a buildable site plan early.

Usually, the architect will draw the initial version of your multifamily development site plan. You’ll want to engage with the architects and engineers in the early phases of the project to ensure that you are troubleshooting this initial plan. This engagement is necessary throughout the project’s due diligence phase, throughout the preliminary design phase, and while creating preliminary grading plans for the site, utility plans, etc. 

Remember that proper site grading will always be an important key to the overall success of a multifamily development project’s design. If the site’s grading is wrong, the finished project will not only look bad, but it will be difficult to maintain over time. It could also expose owners and stakeholders to maintenance issues, dissatisfied residents, and lawsuits.

To avoid grading issues, coordinate a work session between the architect, landscape designer, and engineer to address grading issues. This meeting will be the perfect opportunity to ensure that you are reserving appropriate space for easements, utilities, amenities, or any on-site water features. Addressing these items at the outset means that you will avoid having to add these features later, which can cause a ripple effect of issues down the line that can negatively impact the multifamily development project. 

You’ll also want to think through and address parking and site circulation in this early stage, adjusting plans as needed. Don’t forget to think about how loading, trash pickup, fire access, and hose lay will work. Make sure that you and your team are providing feedback early. The truth is that any issues related to site design are going to come to light at some point. When you address them early on, they can be resolved before you have gone too far down the road. When you take the time to coordinate these important elements early in the process, you have a chance to bring to life a multifamily development project that is more cost-effective and more time-effective. Having to address these issues later in the project schedule will undoubtedly cost you time and money. That is a fact.

Multifamily Development Tip #6: Build a good rapport with local jurisdictions and governing bodies.

The best way to earn a good reputation and develop strong relationships with the outside entities you’ll be working with is to understand the rules and follow them thoroughly. If your multifamily development project requires a variance or an exception, be sure that the request is reasonable, warranted, clearly communicated, submitted to the governing body in a timely fashion, and that it has been well prepared. That approach will not only help your chance for success, but it will help you and your team to develop a solid reputation that can ultimately help you in any exception or variance requests. 

The key to building a good rapport with city, county, government officials, and even less than welcoming neighbors is to do your best to work with them rather than against them. Sometimes, all it takes to make that happen is a little extra effort from you and your project’s team members, consistent transparency, and good preparation. As the old saying goes, you get more flies with honey, and that approach is always the best solution for planning and executing a successful multifamily development project.

Multifamily Development Tip #7: Communicate the project’s processes and deliverable expectations.

Your entire team should understand what is expected at each deliverable stage of the multifamily development project and can produce deliverables that are as clear and concise as possible. In doing so, bidders will be able to better understand what it is that you expect and will be able to provide you and your team with the most reliable pricing. 

Hiring a good consultant can certainly make this job easier for everyone involved.

Multifamily Development Tip #8: Ask probing questions with respect to any required off-site improvements and be sure to ask them as soon as possible.

Did you know that required off-site improvements often have more potential to undermine and kill a multifamily development project than most on-site improvements?

That’s because you and your team ultimately have less control over off-site improvements, and, often,  they can vary wildly depending on the site and the project. 

Ask the probing questions, like, “what off-site improvements are needed for electric, gas, or other utilities?”, “Who is in charge of investigating issues related to off-site improvements?”, What off-site easements, if any, are required?”, “Who is responsible for seeking out and obtaining those easements?”, “What is the backup plan if those easements are unobtainable?”, “Are there credits available for any off-site improvements made?”, “Are other funding sources available to help with construction of off-site improvements?”

If any off-site improvement requirements related to the job can kill the multifamily development project, make sure you have someone on your team that can vigorously pursue a reasonable solution. As mentioned earlier, hiring a professional consultant can be incredibly helpful in making sure that these important questions are asked and that the right answers are obtained. Addressing these off-site improvement issues early will help to meet your project goals.

Multifamily Development Tip #9: Stay on top of any building or site changes.

Site plans and building plans tend to change frequently throughout the process. That is especially true when it comes to multifamily development projects. Often, the earliest versions of construction blueprints and site plans are submitted for approval. Ultimately, they are updated, sometimes quite frequently, throughout the typical approval process. That is why it is important for you to be proactive when requesting changes from the architect. As noted above, early, open, regular communication is key. 

You also want to be sure that you and key stakeholders understand the true limits of the buildings in relation to the site development. For example, will your proposed stone or brick façade impact the overall dimensions of the buildings? How about setbacks? You may also want to consider where each building’s doors are located and what the site elevations are in relation to those door locations. 

You see, without having a thorough understanding of the buildings from the very start, you will have difficulty making the site work to complement them.

Multifamily Development Tip #10: Design everything outside of the buildings.

In most cases, any shortfalls in the design coordination of multifamily development will happen around the edges. Typically, this occurs when aspects of the design and development projects are handled piecemeal by different consultants and managers. You probably know the old saying about having too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Hiring a single firm to handle the design of everything outside of the buildings can typically make these shortfalls disappear. You are more likely to execute a creative, buildable, and coordinated overall multifamily development design when you have a single firm handling civil design, landscape architecture, and the MEP.

Multifamily Development Project Success Takeaways

Hopefully, these ten tips for achieving success in your next multifamily development project were helpful to you. If there are reoccurring themes to take away from all ten of these expert strategies, solid, consistent, open communication and coordination of all aspects of a project early are keys to multifamily development success.

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