Frequently Asked Questions

Navigating the journey of a commercial project is an exciting endeavor - but it’s common to have many questions along the way. At Letter Four, we understand that having answers before diving into discussions can sharpen the focus on what’s most important. 

Below, we answer some of the questions we most frequently encounter, giving you the information you need to confidently kick off your project.

What is a Design-Build firm and how does it differ from traditional design and construction companies?

A Design-Build firm like Letter Four handles both the design and construction phases of a project under one roof, creating a smooth, unified workflow. Traditional setups where design and construction are handled by separate companies often lead to communication gaps. But the Design-Build approach fosters seamless collaboration, ensuring that the project stays on schedule and within budget. 

This holistic, 100% in-house approach also allows for your project to be completed more quickly, reducing costs, and allowing you the ability to enjoy the simplicity of working with a single team responsible for everything. 
Learn more by reading our in-depth blog post: Design-Build vs Design-Bid-Build: What’s the Difference?

Is it possible for Letter Four to handle just Design, Construction, or Architect of Record (AOR) services?

Yes! While as a Design-Build firm, we believe our clients get the best value and experience when working with us from start to finish, we do make our architectural design and construction contracting services available separately. 

In either scenario, you can expect the same level of dedication, transparency, and professionalism that we deliver in our comprehensive Design-Build service. We’ll work alongside your architect or builder to ensure that your vision is honored right down to the last detail, and that all of your project goals are met. 

Please view our Services page to discover what service options are available.

How much will it cost to design and build my commercial space?

The budget for your commercial venture hinges on multiple factors including design complexity, material choices, and code requisites. Costs per square foot for construction alone could range from $175 to $550 or more. Engaging a Design-Builder will provide insights into both construction and soft costs.

Staying on-budget is a top priority for our team. As a part of our CLEAR 4-Step Process, we incorporate three separate pricing phases to get estimates of your costs early, and keep projections accurate as we finalize your design and construction plans.

To get a preliminary estimate, we recommend taking advantage of one of our Project Action Plans.  

What if I don’t have a space yet?

If you don’t have a space secured for your commercial project, initiating a Letter Of Intent (LOI) is a crucial step. An LOI is a formal document expressing your intention to lease a commercial space, outlining key details like lease duration, property type, rent amount, and special conditions or requirements. 

Having a Design-Build firm like Letter Four supporting you from the start can ensure you are well-prepared. We can help with negotiations and provide insight into plans for tenant improvements, thereby boosting the likelihood of securing the right space for your business.

To learn more about writing and submitting an LOI, read our blog post: What is an LOI and Why is it Important?

Do you have any design tips for the Design, Permitting, and Construction of my new Restaurant?

Building a new restaurant space is a big undertaking. Special requirements for food-service facilities will need to be complied with throughout every phase of the project, requiring the expertise of experienced consultants and a licensed architectural firm, like Letter Four. We’re able to guide you through the unique zoning, permitting, licensing, and design challenges facing your project, as well as connect you with key consultants for signage, kitchen equipment, and other important factors. Our team is also ready to assist with helping you find the right location for your restaurant and meet the City’s parking requirements. 

For an in-depth overview of considerations and our best tips, read our blog post: How To Design and Build a Successful Restaurant

Do you have any design tips for the Design, Permitting, and Construction of my new Retail Store?

Building a new retail space requires strong knowledge of consumer behavior, psychology, and needs. It also requires a design that not only compels customers to shop, but also communicates the unique personality and values of your brand. This entails a mastery of design elements like layout, lighting, and materials. An experienced Retail Architect like Letter Four can help you create a space that enhances your brand’s identity and drives sales. 

To learn some key advice for retail design, read our blog post: 5 Tips for Designing a Great Retail Space

What is the timeline I can expect for my commercial project?

Project timelines ultimately depend on several factors:

  • Project Scope: Bigger, more complex projects inevitably take longer to prepare for, especially if the scope grows through the planning phase. Interior Tenant Improvements may only take a few months to complete the construction phase, but if you’re building your own facility, the duration will be far longer. 
  • Time of year: Seasonality can affect availability of materials and labor. The busy season for construction is spring through summer, meaning your project may see some slowdown if you’re aiming to build at the same time. 
  • Site/Location Complexity: We can’t build until the site itself is ready for work, and that can take quite a bit of preparation and permitting on its own.
  • Your Decisiveness: Considering all of your options is good, but it takes time. Being able to make decisions quickly will keep your project moving forward. 
  • Required Approvals and Permitting Backlogs: It always takes some time for permitting authorities to issue approvals. Many of these departments have backlogs of projects to review, especially during the busy season. 
  • Your Readiness to Start Construction: Does your business need to pack up and move out? Do you have the funds in place? Your preparedness will determine how quickly we can break ground.

On average, earmark 6 to 10 months from the start of your project to secure permit RTI (Ready To Issue) for projects without special approval requisites. This includes time needed to perform proper Due Diligence, prepare the design and create the technical drawings and engineering, and (if you’re working with Letter Four), perform at least two pricing exercises to confirm the required budget. These steps are covered in detail by our CLEAR 4-Step Process

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the planning timeline is influenced by the clarity of your vision and budget. If you need a lot of time to nail down your design, or you request changes later in the process, you can expect that timeline to be extended by weeks or even months. 

Still not sure where all of this puts you? We’re happy to give our insight. Book a call to talk with our Principals. 

How do I navigate the red tape of approvals so I can get a permit to start construction?

The bureaucratic landscape for commercial projects is highly diverse, with additional layers of scrutiny depending on the precise location and nature of your business. Here’s a breakdown of possible approvals:

  • Business Permits and Licenses: The nature of your business dictates the types of permits and licenses needed. Restaurants and food producers, for example, may need additional approvals from local Health and Fire departments. 
  • Change of Use: If altering the property's function, new requirements may arise, such as leasing additional parking spaces for a restaurant setup.
  • Design Review Boards: Like in custom home projects, these boards can extend the approval timeline by several months.
  • Landlord Approvals: Especially in malls or shared commercial facilities, landlord approvals are crucial before proceeding with city agencies.
  • Disabled Access Compliance (similar to ADA): Ensuring accessibility for all, this compliance requires adherence to specific regulations which can vary by city.
  • Utility companies, like Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP): Necessary for electrical panel upgrades or relocations, this approval can take up to 4 months.

Obtaining approvals for commercial projects can be a long process. Anticipate at about 3 months to secure approvals for interior-only tenant improvements. If you have a larger-scale build such as a standalone facility, the timeline may be 8 to 10 months, and that’s just to start construction.

You can learn more about what to expect from the Permitting process in our Project Planning Pack

What if I'm unsure about the design of my commercial space?

Before getting started, it’s critical to have a clear plan in place. You wouldn’t go into surgery without knowing exactly what needed operating on, right? A full check-up and diagnosis is needed first. The same is true for building. A project of this magnitude requires everything to be figured out first, preparing your project to unfold smoothly and truly satisfy your goals.  

If you don’t have a clear vision for your space, it’s important that you work with a qualified professional, like Letter Four, to develop one. Having a design outline is advantageous, but our experts are also here to offer valuable advice on investments and features that enhance your business's performance and branding. We’ll work with your team to nail down your brand’s character, customer demographics, operational flows,  and all other factors that can impact what aesthetics and functionalities your space should have. 

We highly recommend using the pre-design services we offer before full project kickoff. Known as “Project Action Plans”, these early exploration and planning packages will help you determine the answers to your design questions. You may select one of 4 options, depending on your needs:

  1. Express - Our Initial Assessment Package: A quick, high level review of project goals, including scope, schedule, and budget.
  2. Lite - Our Full Due Diligence Phase: We review past permit records, coordinate surveys, and assess your lot/space to determine what’s possible for your project and what limitations you may be up against given your project scope.
  3. Essential - Our Full Due Diligence + Conceptual Design Phases: Covers everything in our Lite package plus the presentation of conceptual design options, including 3D views.
  4. Complete - Our Full Due Diligence + Conceptual Design + Preliminary Pricing Phases: The complete package of materials needed to solidify your design, including as-builts, surveys, sketches, and preliminary all-in project costs. This is the most popular package! 

If you’re not quite ready to get started on a Project Action Plan, no worries! You can do some pre-planning on your own by following the steps in our Project Planning Pack. This preparatory guide walks you through some of the top considerations that need to be made when deciding your design goals, and even provides exercises and questionnaires to figure out your real needs depending on your business type.

Need to have a quick chat to talk about your design goals? Book a call here!

How do I know I've selected the right team for my commercial project?

The stakes are high when planning a commercial space, as the design and implementation significantly impact your brand, business operations, and overall success. Moreover, the firm you choose will need to be capable of adapting to your company’s internal workflow, and collaborating effectively with all of the project’s stakeholders. That’s a tall order, but it can be filled if you take the right approach to screening candidates. Here are a few tips for evaluating whether a firm is a good match.

Consider Scope of Services Offered

We know we’re a little biased, but we recommend giving preference to a Design-Build firm, like Letter Four, which provides comprehensive architectural design, general contracting, and in-house interior design services. This approach ensures that all of the phases of your project unfold smoothly, with perfect collaboration among a single team. 

Having a single point of accountability is a major advantage when dealing with the complexity of a commercial project, which often requires highly-technical installations in spaces with unique needs.

Ask Plenty of Questions in Your Consultation Session

Treat the initial consultation as an interview where you can gauge the firm's methods, approach, and experience in your specific type of commercial project. Ask about their protocols, services, and how they facilitate collaboration with you throughout the project.

Inquire about their design process, involvement in construction, and their pre-design services. Ask how they plan to manage your project's budget, scope, and timeline. Who is the team that will be working on your project?

It’s also important to ask for examples of how they've tackled challenges in past commercial projects, specifically for businesses and facilities in your industry. An accomplished firm with clients only in food service, for instance, may not have the understanding necessary to meet the demands of retail stores. 

Be Wary of These Warning Signs

Beware of red flags like a lack of clarity in explaining the design process, miscommunication, clashing styles, or a poor approach to collaboration. These could indicate a lack of experience, professionalism, or alignment with your project's needs.

Check References and Reviews

It’s always worthwhile to learn about the experiences of other clients. Check references, reviews, and the firm's portfolio to assess their track record in executing commercial projects similar to yours.

Look for Compatible and Collaborative Communication

Ensure the firm values your input, understands your vision, and is open to effective communication and collaboration throughout the project. Does their communication style match yours? If you’re experiencing friction when communicating, they may not be the best fit. You’re going to be collaborating for a significant duration on a project that's crucial for your business - finding a team you “click” with is essential!

What steps are involved in the process, and how can I gear up for it?

Not all firms follow the same process, or even have a well-developed process for their projects. At Letter Four, we’ve honed our CLEAR 4-Step Process over the last 13+ years to deliver a highly organized, streamlined workflow throughout the entirety of your project. It proceeds as follows:

1. Action Plan: Gathering all information needed to layout your initial plans and budget. This includes Due Diligence, Conceptual Design, and Preliminary Pricing.

2. Technical Documentation: Preparation of all official documents that will need to be submitted for approvals and used during construction. This includes Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Documents. 

3. Final Touches: We submit your plans for permit approval, then work on last details like Interior Design and other specifics based upon your project’s needs and type of business. 

4. Construction: After approvals are received and all paperwork is signed, we prepare a construction schedule and carry out the build according to your plans. You’ll be updated regularly until it’s time for the final walkthrough. 

For more about our CLEAR 4-Step Process, check out our flipbook, which walks you through everything in more detail and shows samples of the project deliverables at each phase.

It’s best to prepare for this process by thinking through your design goals and establishing your needs. This can be done by following the guidance in our Project Planning Pack, or making use of one of our Action Plans. With the latter, you’ll have our help working through some of the early phases of planning and design, without requiring any commitment to move on to further work. 

Need more guidance? Book a call to get help from our experts. 

How will I be kept informed about the progress of my project?

Keeping you updated is a critical part of our workflow. We update every client every week. You’ll receive a detailed weekly email which notes work completed, upcoming work for the week ahead, schedule updates, decisions we need you to make, and general progress. This way you will always know the status of your project.

During construction, regular progress meetings are scheduled, both on-site and as Zoom calls. Comprehensive progress reports are shared, which include updates on construction, photos, budget, and schedule status. 

We also require that all stakeholders or decision-makers be present for these meetings so that no one is left out of the loop. Communicating with these standards in place allows us to manage your project with the highest level of success, guaranteeing everyone has a clear understanding of what’s happening at any time. 

Learn what steps to expect throughout planning and construction by viewing our CLEAR 4-Step Process.

Does Letter Four provide any post-completion services, like warranty or maintenance?

Even after your project is finished, Letter Four remains committed to your satisfaction. We provide the required 1 year warranty period, during which any defects or issues arising from the construction are addressed promptly. Our team is always available for any follow-up needs, ensuring your investment continues to meet your expectations long after completion.

In addition, we’ll provide you with a list of all subcontractors and their warranties and maintenance plans, as well as material warranty information. 

We don’t disappear on you when the job is done - we want to make sure that you’re completely satisfied and that we’re always available should a question or issue come up! 

Learn what more to expect from your project wrap-up in our Project Planning Pack.

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