This article was originally written for the Congregational Loan Committee of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church and has been slightly modified for a general audience.
In order to understand what to expect from a property consultant, it is important to understand what a property consultant is and what they do. A property consultant is a professional who guides their client as they make decisions about their facilities. A property consultant is a valuable supplement to your staff and the volunteers who make up committees and boards, because they possess the expertise to evaluate facilities and make professional recommendations about the best way to maintain and operate your campus. Usually a property consultant is an architect or engineer, a construction manager, or sometimes even a contractor (although we frequently see that contractors are more interested in selling repair work than in being a neutral evaluator).
Retaining a property consultant is something most non-profits have not done before, so we recommend looking for certain key qualifications:
1) What is the property consultant’s background? Do they posses any education, credentials, licenses, or special training that gives them the ability to evaluate your facilities and make recommendations?
2) Are they experienced in working with existing facilities? Lots of architects and contractors say they understand existing facilities, but the reality is that understanding maintenance issues and making informed judgments about how to proactively maintain and plan for future maintenance and capital expenses is very different then working with new construction or even renovation work.
3) Does the consultant understand your organization? Property consultants have been around in the ‘for profit’ world for a long time. Unfortunately, many property consultants who work in the ‘for profit’ world fail to understand that non-profit organization’s budgets, especially for facilities, are never as large as in commercial properties. It is also important that your consultant have an understanding of how your organization works, because non-profit campuses function differently than commercial buildings.
4) Can the property consultant explain things to you in a way that makes sense? A large part of what you are hiring the consultant to do is to make recommendations. If the consultant can not explain issues in clear, simple language then you may be impressed with their technical knowledge, but you are missing a key component of what a consultant can provide you – education.
The expectations for any property consultant that your organization considers hiring should be simple: You want to retain the services of a professional who is experienced in working with non-profits and who can help you make good stewardship decisions about your most important asset, your buildings and grounds. The property consultant should be able to quickly and clearly explain both what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and options for accomplishing the required tasks.
At the end of the day, your most basic expectation of a property consultant should be that they help your leadership understand, manage, and utilize your facilities so your property continues to support the organization.
Matthew C. Boomhower is the founder and president of Southern Cross Property Consultants; a construction management, architecture, and facilities management consulting firm. He is licensed as both an Architect and an Attorney. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858-395-8657.