Your guide to finding a commercial real estate contractor in Virginia

Let’s say you’re looking to build a new commercial storefront space or update a condo complex you own. In either case, you’ll need to hire a contractor to help you with the project. The right commercial real estate contractor in Virginia ensures everything happens on time and on budget while the wrong one turns the project into a nightmare.

To help all Virginia-based businesses find the right contractor for their project, we’ve created this guide to finding a commercial real estate contractor in Virginia. Continue reading to discover what type of contractor you need, red and green flags in contractors, and a foolproof way to choose the right commercial real estate contractor in Virginia.

What is a Commercial Real Estate?

Commercial real estate refers to real estate properties that house multiple different individuals, families, or businesses. These entities pay rent to the commercial property owner, who is in the business of making money off the property they own.

This is different than a business that owns the space they work in or a residential single-family home owned by an individual or couple.

Commercial properties include rentals, such as condo complexes, office buildings, industrial units, hospitality complexes like malls and shopping centers, standalone retail locations, and healthcare facilities. There can be commercial buildings that don’t fall into these categories and some types don’t fall under commercial real estate in every scenario.

For example, if you owned an office building, but didn’t rent it out to anyone else, it wouldn’t be a traditional “commercial real estate” property with a property manager and tenant. However, if you owned an office building, operated your business from it, and had other businesses rent part of the space, it would be a commercial real estate property.

This distinction is important because multiple tenants means there are more stakeholders, more people who could complain, and many moving parts to the project. As a result, it’s even more important to find a capable commercial contractor for these buildings than for ones with one stakeholder.

Finding Commercial Real Estate Contractor in Virginia

The type of contractor you hire for a commercial project matters. You always want to hire a commercial contractor, not a residential one, as they have experience and expertise in dealing with commercial builds.

Ideally, you also want to find a commercial real estate contractor in Virginia who has worked on projects like yours in the past. If you’re looking to renovate an assisted living facility, finding a contractor with experience and case studies of similar projects is a great move.

If you own a condo complex or other multi-family unit, you may think a residential contractor is the right hire. After all, the units you rent out are residential and need to feel like a home, not an office or storefront. However, hiring a residential contractor for a multi-family property will not work. Under Virginia Law, you need a contractor with a commercial contracting license if you have more than three units.

Green Flags for Commercial Real Estate Projects

When looking at contractors, there are some green flags to consider. Ideally, the commercial real estate contractor in Virginia that you hire will:

  • Be a good communicator
  • Ask about how construction will impact ongoing business
  • Have a track record of on-time and on-budget projects similar to yours
  • Present an easy-to-read contract before starting on the work
  • Understand small renovations and modifications that lead to a big ROI for your business
  • Hire the right subcontractors and have a team skilled in project management

You also want to consider the type of commercial real estate project you’re completing. Is it a new build, renovation, or build-out? Most contractors specialize in a few types. Carlton Building Services, for example, completes renovations, remodelings, and build-outs, but we wouldn’t be the right contractor for a new build.

To ensure someone is the right contractor, ask for references, past project experience, and a timeline for your project. You should also reflect on if they’re identifying critical points in your project and your vision for your business’ future before working with them.

Red Flags in Contractors

When looking for a commercial real estate contractor in Virginia, knowing which contractors to avoid working with is as important (if not more important) than understanding contractor green flags. If you hire a bad or inexperienced contractor, they most likely will leave the project incomplete, do a poor job, or go over budget.

Worst case scenario, they’ll do a poor, incomplete job that’s over budget and requires you to hire another contractor to fix their work.

To avoid this scenario, watch out for these red flags:

  • Their budget estimate is way below other contractors’ estimates for the project
  • A lack of experience with your type of project
  • They aren’t skilled communicators during the proposal process
  • The subcontractors they use aren’t the best
  • Their team isn’t well coordinated and managed
  • You ask for references from past clients and they either have none or the past clients are upset with the work done
  • Anything about their proposal seems too good to be true.

New Build vs Remodel

As we’ve discussed, you want to hire a different commercial real estate contractor in Virginia for a new build and a remodel, renovation, or build-out. If you’re altering a previously existing space, it’s also important to know about the different project types and find a contractor who specializes in all, or the type you need.

  • Renovations
  • Remodeling
  • Build-outs
  • Repairs and maintenance

For new build types, it’s also less important if a contractor practices the art of minimal disruption (aka when they have processes and tools to make the construction work quieter and less intrusive for current residents). That same art form can be a lifesaver when renovating a building with residents or businesses operating as construction occurs.

Finding Commercial Contractors Near You

Before deciding on a commercial real estate contractor in Virginia, you should create a shortlist of two to five great candidates. It’s important to consider your options, not choose one contractor and go with them no matter what.

The shortlist of contractors should check off all the green flags we discussed earlier and shouldn’t display any of the red flags. They should also be local to your area – not just to your state. Construction laws and regulations are determined by local, not state governments, so a contractor based in Vienna, Virginia may not understand the regulations of Virginia Beach.

Pro tip: if you live in Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, or Suffolk, consider a local commercial contractor, like Carlton Building Services.

To determine a construction company’s eligibility to be on the shortlist, ask for work samples in your local area that are similar to your construction project. When a condo complex or real estate development in the Virginia Beach or Hampton Roads area comes to Carlton Building Services, we would provide them with our work at Commonwealth Senior Living or First Colonial Inn, since both projects are local and involve residential units.

Choosing the best commercial real estate contractor in Virginia

Once you have a shortlist of candidates, ask each for a project proposal. There are a few factors to evaluate each proposal and choose the commercial real estate contractor in Virginia who is right for your project:

  • Price: as we’ve mentioned, a quote that is much higher or lower than the other proposed budgets is a red flag. If you receive one, make sure to ask why and assess how realistic the contractor’s price is compared to other quotes.
  • Presentation: is it easy to understand the proposal or are you more confused about the project after reading it? Clarity is key to construction.
  • Past projects: a skilled commercial real estate contractor in Virginia will be able to display past successful projects they completed that are similar to your current project.
  • Project management: consider how well they can manage the moving pieces of your project and the people who will be working on your project. You want a contractor with an efficient management style and the right team for your project. If a project is a renovation, remodeling, or build-out, you also want to assess their familiarity with the art of minimal disruption.
  • Process: consider their process and proposed timeline. Does the schedule make sense for the project?

After looking at these five factors you should be able to make an informed decision about your commercial real estate contractor in Virginia.

JP Carlton

J.P. Carlton

J.P. Carlton is the founder of Carlton Building Services, a Hampton Roads-based construction company.