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The fit-out process can be a challenging part of purchasing a commercial property. Owners and tenants are often unfamiliar with the regulations or approvals required to execute a successful fitout project.
This lack of know-how, combined with fast-changing market norms, may add to the allocated time and costs, delays. On the other hand, a well-planned fit-out done with the help of experts can provide numerous benefits to a business. Property Weekly examines the key issues and norms that are essential for any effective operation.
Unrealistic budgets and time frames are the key issues during any fit-out project. David Cook, Founder and Managing Partner of UAE-compare.com, which rates and recommends contractors, says, ''If a client has a limited budget, dishonest contractors may mislead them with a low quote initially just to win business. Clients are then faced with costs that increase throughout the project. Therefore, one must also know there are more costs to pay outside of what you give the contractor.
''Likewise, some contractors will agree to start work on tight timelines to win the business knowing it's not possible.'' At best, a fitout can take three months from contractor interviews to completion, says Cook. ''Choosing the right contractor is probably the most important factor, since a good contractor will give what you want, on time and in budget.''
Approvals are an essential part of any fit-out project, which should be acquired before commencing the actual work. The market is developing rapidly, which leads to changes in approval requirements, potentially causing delays often not taken into account while planning.
Adam Riccio, Operations Director of interior design company Under One Roof, says, ''What was approved a year ago may not get approval now. Also, each developer tends to have different guidelines, so what may get approved for one development will not necessarily get approved for another.''
Commercial approvals for shell and core fit-outs are generally more onerous than simple residential work. ''This is due to the fact that you often need to get approvals from a number of different bodies, such as civil defence, Dubai Municipality, and fire service,'' says Riccio.
''Apart from the fact that the process is there to ensure any fit-outs are undertaken properly and safely, if you do not get approvals and signoffs from the developer, you may not be able to sell your property without approvals for the work taking place.
''The application for approvals needs to be undertaken online by an accredited engineer. All reputable fitout companies employ these professionals and will undertake the approvals as part of their tender, although there will be some costs charged by the municipality and developer for processing.
''If a company is prepared to do the work without getting approvals, don't use it,'' says Riccio.
Planning is vital for the success and timely completion of projects. To achieve this, Raj Khaneja, Director of Rectangle Interior, advises ensuring that the correct as-built drawings and other documents are received from the developer. One must also ensure that all the documents are submitted as required by the developer and zoning authorities to avoid delays, he adds.
''Some business activities may not be permitted in certain types of properties, so it is important to know the fitout norms and procedures prior to renting or purchasing a property to avoid disappointment or rejections later. Finally, even with the best of planning, at times things happen beyond our control — one must budget for unexpected variations that may arise in future.''
Cook says, ''Generally you will need a letter of appointment, a copy of your trade licence, the title deed copy, a set of technical drawings and numerous no objection certificates.'' Contractors can help clients through this process to make sure that all the necessary paperwork is ready as quickly as possible to start the approval process.
If you or your contractor is unclear about the best way to proceed, Cook recommends arranging a meeting with the zoning authority in question and taking the contractor with you.
He adds that most developers would issue fit-out guidelines to help you and your contractor in creating the initial designs and scope.
''It is vital that a client researches the typical build times and costs for the building they are considering leasing or purchasing. You need to be sure there is enough time left on the current lease, and a sufficient rent-free period, if applicable, on the space. Clients should be vigilant when drafting a budget to ensure that it allows the type of build and finish they want to achieve.''
Cook adds that the general rules for office finishes are rather relaxed, outside of the fire and safety and ventilation requirements.
''With hotels and shops, a list of guidelines will need to be followed and approved by the mall/developer, which will also need to be factored in the build.''
However, if you do not have vast experience in designing and fitting out a commercial property, get advice. The best thing you could do would be to hire a fit-out consultant to help you understand everything to do with your project. It will be a small investment at the start that will save you a lot in the long run.
David Cook, Founder and Managing Partner of UAE-compare.com, offers a handy step-bystep guide:
• Speak to contractors with adequate experience handling your type of project.
• Remember to negotiate cost, payment terms and penalties.
• Provide the necessary paperwork ahead of time to help the approval process.
• Submit technical drawings to the relevant authorities for office fit-outs. The finer details — materials, colours, finishes — are usually negotiated at this time.
• Once approvals are issued, the work should start. Typically, the build process is from the ceiling down. It often begins with work on areas such as ducting, sprinklers, conduits, overhead cabling, ceiling surface, raised floor and partitions.
Source: Hina Navin, Special to Property Weekly