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Construction Site

Building under construction


If you own a Miami-Dade County property or would like to by one, and would like to discuss your investment objectives, call me Maria Luisa Castellanos on my cell at 305-439-7898 or email me



Photo by Ryan Ancill from Unsplash.jpg

Photo by Ryan Ancill from Unsplash


Ground Floor and Site Plan.jpg

Site Plan and Ground Floor Plan for Montejo Commercial Building


james-kovin from-unsplash.jpg

Photo by James Kovin on Unsplash

Photo by Krakenimages on Unsplash.jpg


1.  Selection of your site

This is probably the most important decision you will make.  Remember what realtors say about investment property: location, location, location.  This realtor-architect will tell you that the next really important word is zoning, zoning, zoning. 


I had a contractor call me because he had a client who wanted me to look at a property in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Miami Beach where they wanted to build an apartment building. This building was never going to get built there.  I thought this was unconscionable for someone who was a general contractor.  He should have known at least the basics of zoning.  And if you want to get into buying or building investment property, you should know a little too.


The city of Miami code, Miami 21, is complicated.  But if you want to build a commercial building, you need at least T-4 Zoning.  You can read about this here.


Much of the areas around main streets in downtown Miami are zone T6-8.  This means that if you can get the required parking in the lot, you can build 6 to 8 stories, sometimes even more because of special amenities that are included in the project.

You can read more about site selection here.  And you can understand better the principles of Miami 21 planning here

2. Building design

You cannot go to an architect without at least knowing what you want.  This is called the “program” of the building.  The program will detail the number of rooms and more or less the sizes of the rooms.  For example, you want a 4-story apartment building with retail on the ground floor.  You want the apartments to be approximately 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms each and you want the apartments to be about 1,200 square feet each.  Let say you want the total building to be about 48,000 square feet.  You want to maximize the number of apartments.  You want the 12,000 square feet on the bottom floor to be divided into 12- 1,000 square feet spaces. 

Do you prefer a particular orientation for the units?  If not, the architect can help you determine this.  How much parking will you have to provide onsite? Again, the architect will help you determine this.

How about height of the floors?  Do you have a preference?  What about the style?  What do you like?

If you don't have a fixed idea of what you want, the architect can help you figure this out as well.

Once the architect has your program and a survey with spot elevations, he can start working on a preliminary design for your building.  You should also take him any “must haves”, photos of what you like, either from the internet or magazines.  When he has a site plan, a floor plan, and elevations of the building, you can take these drawings to a cost estimator and/or a general contractor.  With these consultants, you should be able to determine a preliminary cost estimate and the feasibility of the building.

3. Feasibility analysis

In my other article, I go into detail on the infrastructure needs of a commercial building.  Click here.

4.  My own story

When I was a very young architect and did not have much experience, a potential client called me to study a house in South Miami which she wanted to demolish and build a commercial building.  The lot was zoned properly for a commercial building.  She was asking 3 architects to do the same thing.  Since I was young and inexperienced, I agreed to study the site and come up with a potential building design for free.  I saw the house and it faced the street.  The lot was wider in this direction.  The side of the house faced the avenue, and it was shorter.  Since the house faced the street, I assumed that the front setback was on the street.  And the avenue side had the side setback.  So, I designed my entire building this way. 

The potential client loved my design.  But somewhere along the way I figured out my mistake.  In Miami-Dade County, where this house was located, the short side is always the front.  And by default, the front property line had the side setback.  I tried as hard as I could to fix my building, but no matter what I did I lost two parking spaces.  At that time that represented 600 square feet of lost building, as I could build 300 square feet of office space for each parking space I included. 

I told the potential client that we could work it out when she gave me a contract, but she was not willing.  She wanted me to continue to work on the design for free.  I told her to give it to Mr. No. 2 Architect. 

Time passed.  One day I ran into Mr. No. 2 Architect, who happened to be a friend of mine.  I found out that the project never happened.  When they did the research, they found out that the nearest sewer connection for the lot was 2 miles away.  This would have been too costly to make the project feasible and the project never moved forward.  Thirty years later, the house is still there.

This is a lesson in properly researching a property before buying it!

Again, finding out the existing infrastructure is very important to the feasibility of a project.  Water and sewer lines are very expensive to increase in size. 

5. Design Development Phase

Once it is determined that the project will fit the cost parameters established by the client, the plans should be submitted to the appropriate zoning department for review and approval.  Without this, embarking on the design development is very risky.  If the project does not meet the zoning code, it cannot be built. So, proceeding to the Construction Documents without the approval of zoning is generally not done.

Prior to starting the structural engineering, soil borings and environmental testing need to be done, if they were not executed prior to purchasing the property.

In Design Development, the plans proceed from floor plans and elevations to sections and the beginning of the finish, door, and window schedules, and details. 

6.  Construction Documents

In the Construction Documents all the plans are finalized.  These plans contain not only the architectural drawings but the structural, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and civil engineering drawings.  On a large project, the set of plans can be extensive. 

If it is a very large or a government project, written books of specifications may be written.  In this case, everything in the project is selected.  The materials are described in great detail, either by brand and number of the product or by the performance of the material.

All of the contract documents will form part of the contract for construction with the general contractor.

7. Bidding

In a commercial construction bidding process general contractors are invited to bid the project.  These companies are generally pre-qualified prior to inviting them to bid.  These contractors should be asked if they are bondable and if they are interested in the particular project.  On large commercial or government projects, the contractor will be expected to post a bid bond to hold his price and a performance bond to make sure that he finishes the project for the amount of money that he agreed to do it and to make sure that all the subcontractors and materialmen are paid.

It is customary, if there is not a great deal of deviation in the bid, to give the contract to the lowest bidder.  Some people like to throw out the low and the high bid and evaluate the ones in between.  I don’t see the point in throwing out the low bid if the contractor shows me his breakdown and I believe he can do the project for the amount of money he quoted. 

In the bid, I generally ask for a breakdown of the main subcontract amounts.

This is the way bidding is accomplished when the contractor is asked for a fixed sum. 

While the contractors are studying the plans that they will bid, the construction documents should be submitted to the county or municipality for review so that they can issue a building permit to the general contractor.

8.  Construction Manager at Risk

Another method of construction is Construction Manager at Risk.  This entails the contractor working with the architect throughout the design of a project.  At each phase, the general contractor is asked to review the plans and comments on the constructability of the project. 

At the first phase, he gives a percentage that he’s going to charge on top of the subcontractors’ bids to manage the project. 

Instead of bidding the entire project, the general contractor normally takes 3 bids from each subcontractor.  He normally takes the lowest of these bids to do the work, but the general contractor is “at risk” in that he is still responsible for all the subcontractors’ work or lack thereof.

I think this method can make for collaboration, but it can also be irritating to the architect.  Very few contractors give good evaluations of constructability at each phase.  In the end, I think it raises the prices of the projects because there is no bidding of the general contract for construction. 

9.  Design-Build

A third method of construction is Design-Build.  This is when the architect and the contractor team up to do a project together.  I don’t like this method as there is no one on the side of the owner in this case.  Since the architect and the contractor are on the same side, there is no one really to criticize or bring in line the general contractor should he be doing something wrong, such as installing cheaper materials or positioning an item incorrectly.

Again, I think this process raises the cost of the project.  This is because in executing a design-build project, the architect and contractor have to team up early in the process.  This then precludes the ability of bidding the project.

10.  Pre-construction

Once the general contractor is selected and a contract is signed with him, the contractor begins working on the shop drawings for the project.  Shop drawings are documents produced by the manufacturers and suppliers showing information on their particular products.  These could be the product specifications and layouts of the products for the particular job.  These shop drawings, also called submittals, are reviewed and signed off first by the general contractor and then by the architect. 

This is a way of making sure that what was specified are the products that are actually being used in the job.

At the same time, the permit is issued and paid by the general contractor to the city or municipality.

In Miami-Dade County, at the beginning of the project a Notice of Commencement must be filed with the court.  This is so any subcontractor or materialmen can know where to send a Notice to Owner stating that they are providing materials and/or labor to the project. 

11. The construction process

The general contractor purchases all the materials, equipment, and labor needed in the construction or contracts with subcontractors to do this.  The performance bond which is normally paid by the client is the guarantee that the project will get finished.

It is good construction practice that the client pays for services from the architect during the construction phase.  Then, throughout the construction, the architect, client, and general contractor will have periodic meetings to discuss any issues that come up, usually monthly or bi-weekly.  After these meetings, the architect will sign the invoices from the general contractor so that he can get paid.

After the first payment, partial releases of liens are requested from the general contractor from his subs and materialmen.

12. Construction and post-construction

In Miami as is true in the rest of South Florida, concrete footings will be poured after trenches are excavated and the reinforcing steel installed.  From there, the plumbing and electrical that goes underground is installed.  Then, the concrete block walls and columns will be installed.  You can read about the 6 phase of construction in one of our blog posts here:


Once the contractor is 95% complete, he calls the architect/engineer (A/E) team for them to do a “substantial completion” inspection.  At this point the A/E will issue a “punch list” on items which the team does not consider completed.  The general contractor then goes to work to finish the punch list. 

Once the county of city inspectors finish the last inspection, the general contractor can ask for a Certificate of Occupancy.  If the inspectors consider that the building has not completed everything according to the code, but there are no life-safety issues, they could issue a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy.  This means the building can be occupied and the contractor can continue to finish the work.

Before the last payment is made to the general contractor, he must produce releases of liens for all the subcontractors and materialmen who provided work or materials to the project.  Particular attention should be paid to those vendors who sent a Notice to Owner.  Lastly, the general contractor must also produce a Release of Lien for his company.

13.  Completion

It is good practice to have each subcontractor produce the maintenance manuals and schedules for any equipment, such as air-conditioning units and roofing, that need maintenance.  This will allow whoever has to maintain the building to know what they need to do and have all the documents in an organized form. 

Once the owner takes possession of the property, the general contractor is finished.  However, the GC normally has a duty to correct any items which have problems during the first year. And there may be other warranties by the manufacturers which will still be in place after the first year.


If you want to buy a site for designing and building a commercial building, or just buying an existing building, I can act as your real estate buyer's agent in Miami.  Call me Maria Luisa Castelllanos, an architect-realtor, at 305-439-7898 or Email to discuss your exciting investment or construction plans.  I can guide you from site or building selection to completion of your building. 

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