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Minimizing disruption to tenants during construction remodeling

Tenant improvement remodeling projects can pose a number of issues for property management firms. Whether it is the build out of a single suite or the renovation of an entire building, property managers must be concerned about safety issues, indoor air pollution, traffic patterns, aesthetic appearance and general disruption to tenants' businesses.

"Maintaining communication with tenants is the single most important thing a property manager can do before and during construction remodeling," said Jackie Jennings, president of Johnson & Jennings General Contracting. "Tenants want to know that you have considered how a project might affect them, and that you are taking steps to minimize any disruption to their daily operations."

Jennings points out there are a number of ways that a general contractor can work with a property management company to mitigate tenant concerns before they become problematic. The following outlines a few suggestions:

* Send out an advisory letter. Two to three weeks prior to commencement of construction, send a letter to tenants advising them of the upcoming remodeling project. Explain the project goal, time line, construction phases and end benefit to tenants. Advise them if they must temporarily change their normal routines or traffic patterns, and when the situation will return to normal.

* Issue periodic updates. Particularly when the construction stage is lengthy, it's good to issue updates on progress, with a timetable for completion. Apprise tenants of anticipated construction delays or changes to the original plans.

* Keep the message upbeat. When it's a lobby remodeling or an entire building facelift, give tenants something to look forward to by stressing the features and benefits. Help them get enthusiastic about the end result.

* Address safety issues. During construction, ensure that your contractor has erected adequate signage and barricades where needed. Let tenants know you have taken measures to ensure their safety.

* Consider signage and murals. If barriers are used in high-traffic areas, you may want to use them as a canvas for large, graphically-pleasing signs that paint a picture of what's to come. You may even consider inviting schoolchildren to paint a large mural.

* Address environmental concerns. With so much publicity on indoor air quality in recent years, it's common for property managers to hear complaints from tenants about toxic fumes from paint, adhesives, carpet and other building materials. It's prudent to address their concerns by explaining what precautions are being taken to lower the danger of toxins; for instance, the project subcontractors might be utilizing latex- or water-based paints and low VOC-emitting carpet, or the general contractor might be providing additional ventilation and sealing off certain construction areas.

* Don't begin construction until you're ready. Often, certain items involved in a remodeling project are not readily available and require considerable lead time for delivery. Tenants are more likely to tolerate a delay in beginning a construction project than a torn-up area that sits idle while awaiting lead items.

* Consider restroom accessibility. When a construction project involves remodeling of a building's restrooms, it should be approached in phases; in a high-rise building, it's best to start with every other floor so tenants don't have to go too far out of their way.

* Create excitement about new tenants. For tenant improvement remodeling projects, let tenants know who will be moving into their building. Existing tenants are also likely to be more tolerant of construction activity if they're made to feel in good company with prestigious new tenants.

* Involve the architect/space planner and contractor early on. The building owner and property manager are well-served to involve the architect, space planner and general contractor early in the planning phase of construction. This way, all parties involved have a clear understanding of the project goals and the client's expectations, which ultimately will help minimize field change orders and construction delays.

"For a property management firm, good public relations with their building's tenants makes good business sense," said Jennings. "When remodeling, it's best to have a well-thought out program in place to keep tenants informed and excited about the construction outcome."

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