10 Steps to a Successful Commercial Fit out

To make life easier for you, Bellfort have put together 10 steps towards achieving your ideal and successful commercial fit out.

While every commercial interior design and fit out will vary across sector, style, budget and timing, we believe these pointers will help you realise the best interior to suit your business.

Step 1. Timing

Never leave yourself short of time when it comes to a commercial fit out. Lease negotiations, legalities and the expiration of your current lease will often govern your lease commencement and move dates. Dependent on the size and complexity of your commercial fit out, the following outline time frames should be considered.

  • Initial concept design and costing – 5 to 10 days
  • Detailed design and approvals – 10 to 20 days
  • Construction – 20 to 60 days

The approval process is likely to involve both obtaining a building permit and landlord approval.

We recommend allowing more time if a development or planning application is required.

Ensure your commercial fit out team provide a project-specific programme or timeline that sets out all the major milestones.

2. Preparing a brief

This is by far one of the most important stages.

Before considering your new commercial fit out and interior design, or finding a space, you should prepare your own brief. This will establish the guidelines for the impending design and fit out. It will also allow you to ascertain the type of workspace you require and how much space you actually need. Therefore, ensuring the design of the tenancy meets your requirements. Important things to consider are listed here.

  • The look and feel you want to achieve – feature areas and first impressions
  • Current staff numbers and potential future growth/reduction
  • Allocation of offices and open work spaces among staff numbers
  • Seating and public areas, back of house areas
  • Positioning of work groups and staff communication/interaction
  • Meeting rooms, boardrooms, training rooms and
  • AV requirements
  • Printing and utility necessities including equipment and use by staff
  • Breakout and staff facilities
  • Power and data requirements for different areas
  • Storage

Bellfort can assist you with preparing and developing the brief

Step 3. Finding a suitable business workplace

Having completed the above step, you will have a good idea of the type and size of space you need. Commercial real estate websites will provide lists of available workspaces to lease or buy. The search can often be refined by selected area, property type, size and price. Working with our property partners, we can provide a shortlist of suitable properties.

Factors to consider when looking at the suitability of a workspace will include the following items.

  • Size, location and access
  • Toilets, kitchen and end-of-trip facilities
  • Condition of ceiling, wall and floor finishes
  • Condition of services such as AC and lighting
  • Lease terms and conditions

Bellfort is very happy to source, assess and advise on the suitability of any commercial space you are interested in.

Step 4. Finding a quality commercial design and fit out contractor

Like trying to find any good business, often the best way is by recommendation or thorough research. Look for companies with good reviews and feedback from previous clients. Do not be afraid to ask a company to provide a list of references. Speak to these companies and ask the following.

  • When was the fit out completed & was it on time?
  • Was it completed on budget? Did the costs that were originally quoted stay the same, or go up?
  • Were you happy with the level of service and quality of workmanship? Any surprises?
  • Did they provide an aftercare service?
  • Would you recommend them to others?

It’s also worthwhile inspecting completed projects and speaking to previous clients.

Don’t be fooled by websites that look nice.

Make the effort to see the projects that the company has completed and speak to the clients face-to-face.
Ensure the company you are thinking to employ is suitably qualified. Most commercial fit out works require a building permit. And if the work is over $20,000, you will need to employ a Western Australian licensed builder.
The Building Commission regulates the construction industry. Only a suitably qualified builder with a builder’s registration number can carry out the work.

In addition, check the credentials of the company, including if it has accreditation’s with the following.

  • Master Builders Association
  • Design Institute of Australia
  • Green Building Council of Australia
  • ISO 9001 or other similar quality assurance
  • Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
  • Property Council of Australia

Bellfort will gladly provide you with the above information at any time.

Step 5. Assessing design and fit out proposals

Once you have selected suitable commercial fit out companies, provide each one with the same brief. Set out clearly what you want to receive from them. And advise your timing for when you require a proposal to be submitted.

We recommend providing the following as part of a design and commercial fit out proposal.

  • A design that meets the brief. This might be limited to a basic floor plan. It can also include a sample of finishes and detailing that best describe how the fit out will look.
  • A detailed specification that sets out all the works required or to be considered. This should not be just a few lines. It should be a detailed description of each part of the works. If something is not clearly stated assume it will not be provided.
  • Breakdown of costs for the complete project. A single cost at the end of a brief outline of works is not sufficient for anyone to make decisions on.
  • If there are any options that could be considered. A list of these and the associated costs should be provided.
  • An outline programme or timeline that sets out all the major milestones. From signing off the design to construction and handover.
  • A specific list of any assumptions or exclusions.
  • Terms and conditions including insurances, defects liability period and payment terms. Also, actions to take place if there is a dispute, etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Does the design comply with all Australian Standards, Codes of Practice and Building Regulations?
  • Are there any risks associated with the project such as compliance of the existing space?
  • Are any items on long lead times and what will happen if these don’t arrive on time?
  • What is your current workload?
  • What happens if we want to make a change to the design? How are these changes costed?
  • What would happen if the project was cancelled or I no longer wished to work with you?
  • Who will liaise with the landlord and obtain any necessary consents?

It is important that all information is clear and transparent.

Therefore, you should never hesitate to ask for clarification whenever it’s required.

Step 6. Terms, conditions and contracts

The terms of a contract are to protect the interests of both parties and should not be one-sided. Prior to the appointment of any designer and builder, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions.

Get legal advice if you don’t understand.

On smaller projects, terms and conditions should be clear and simple and include these items.

  • Obligations of each party
  • Programme or timeline setting out start and completion dates
  • Reference to the specification or scope of works and costs
  • How variations are dealt with
  • Insurances
  • Payment
  • Snagging and retention
  • Defects liability periods
  • Disputes, default suspension or termination of contract
  • Any specific assumptions and exclusions

On larger projects you may wish to have an Australian Standard contract. Also, the Master Builders Association has a suite of contracts. Make sure the contract is applicable for the project i.e. for design and construct AS4902 is the preferred contract.

We recommend seeking professional advice if you have completed such a contract.

Step 7. Detailed design and approvals

The approval process is sometimes considered the least exciting stage of any commercial fit out. It is however, one of the most important.

Without all approvals being in place, your project will not be able to commence.

All commercial fitouts must be compliant with current building regulations and local council requirements. This includes the BCA (Building Code of Australia) and Australian Standards.

In WA, works that affect egress, alter floor area or, involve a change of use, must obtain a building permit. Additionally, works that affect how a building complies with Australian building code, requires the owner/tenant to obtain a permit. Also, any works over $20,000 need to be carried out by a licensed builder. For further information regarding this, please read through the attached document. Building Commission – Information on obtaining a builidng permit
If the use of the building is changing; is heritage listed, or external works are required, planning permission is needed. Consent from the Heritage Council may also be required.

In addition to statutory consents, it’s also likely the building’s landlord will need you to submit detailed information. This may include drawings, specifications, insurances and contractor information. Often works cannot commence without the landlord giving permission. It is also a good idea to be aware of your make-good responsibilities at the end of your lease. This can quite often affect your intended works. If you have to return the space to its original state, you may want to avoid permanent building modifications.

As part of the commercial interior design process Bellfort will deal with the above on your behalf and advise accordingly.

Step 8. Construction and progress

As mentioned in step 5, the contractor should provide a detailed programme or timeline that sets out all major milestones. It should include the number of days for detailed design and obtaining statutory approvals. Plus outline time-frames for mobilisation, strip out, construction and handover.

The level of detail will often be subject to the size and complexity of the job. It’s likely you will be paying rent while the work is being completed. Therefore you require the work to be finished as quickly as possible. The construction period can be broken down into depicting when each trade should be on site.

This can then be monitored to ensure the project will be completed on time.

Regular meetings help ensure clear communication between all parties. This is vital to achieving a positive final result. Meetings should be held onsite with topics to discuss. There should also be minutes which include the following points.

  • Progress on site
  • Issues from a design or construction perspective
  • Changes that need to be considered
  • Information that needs to be provided
  • Health and safety issues
  • Costs and payment

If changes are made to the design, ensure they are costed and approved by you prior to being carried out. Never change the design or work being completed without knowing the cost implications.

All onsite work must be completed to Australian Standards and Building Regulations.

We also recommend good practice guidelines.

If at any stage during your commercial fit out you believe obligations are not being met, voice this viewpoint. You should also seek clarification or evidence that these concerns are being addressed. This includes standard of workmanship, legal roles, payments and supply of materials and goods.

Step 9. Snagging / punch list

Definitely not of the sausage variety! Rather a process of providing you with a listing of all items that require rectification. This is carried out at practical completion or handover of the construction site.

This list of outstanding items should be agreed by you and your contractor.

This way you can ensure all items are documented and rectified.

Ideally, this list should be compiled prior to handover. This will then allow sufficient time for the work to be completed before you move in.

Step 10. Handover and aftercare services

Contractually, the day of handover is known as ‘practical completion’. It’s the day that you can start using the space to run your business. An office with no locks means your office is not secure and therefore not practically complete. Another example is if your kitchen cannot be used for cooking and customers cannot sit and eat.

Ideally, the items detailed on the snagging or punch list should be completed or agreed upon at handover.

Handover information may vary depending on the type, size and complexity of the commercial fit out. Minimal information provided by the fit out company should include:

  • As installed drawings
  • Test certificates
  • Information on what materials have been supplied and how to look after them
  • Instructions and training on any equipment
  • Statutory approvals obtained

If any issues become apparent after the fit out is completed then your commercial builder should attend to these.

It should occur within a fair and reasonable time frame. Your builder should have an obligation under your contract but you can also refer any dispute(s) to the Building Commission.

In conclusion…

Don’t let these 10 steps put you off creating a commercial interior that will allow your business to grow and flourish. Choosing the right commercial fit out contractor will take care of the above steps and guide you through the process.
You may like to read another Bellfort blog which focuses on commercial office interior design and fit out. Click here to read about the Bellfort process.

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