Effective Changes for Residential Developments in Miami due to Covid-19

While we are currently living in the middle of the pandemic with record-breaking daily new cases and deaths, we must be even stronger to keep our distance and at home to avoid the spread as much as possible. 

Whether voluntary or not, the quarantine has brought us a new normal, which we've already heard and lived many times during these last couple of months. But what has this meant for the Residential developments in Miami? Or any place? How has the pandemic affected building permits, construction, planning, or even selling our projects? Let's take a look back at it, each of them.

Design and Planning Residential Developments in Miami

The program for residential developments in Miami has changed. A home Studio or Office is now part of the basic program new constructions or remodelings or at least the flexibility to transform a room into one. Common interior areas of each unit have also become more critical as we are now spending so much time inside. Not only the way we draw and document projects have changed, but also what we include in the design.

In addition to the design program, we've noticed a few other aspects in or day to day work that changed during this time:

Site visits, meetings are more limited than before, and mostly done remotely. While it's arguable better for the professionals and clients as we waste less time moving around, we do have some loss against in-person looking. 

Design collaboration is vital. While paper initial sketches are hard to kill, it's been a while since all design ends up drawn digitally, or better yet modeled digitally (BIM 3D Modeling for instance). Today not only are we building virtually, but we are also doing so collaboratively and online. 

Most in-person project presentations with multiple printout copies are now fully digital and remotely given, which means that our presentations must consider the digital format and screen sharing methods. And as a side benefit, fewer printed papers that end up trashed anyway, which is good.

Document sharing and online collaboration suites, while not new, they were - at least in the design industry - poorly used for document and report preparation. Today it has never been more important to share a folder online with tools such as Dropbox, Onedrive, or an office NAS.

How the pandemic changed Building Permitting

Building Permitting is probably the most impacted part that the pandemic has brought to Residential Developments in Miami or any project for that matter, with the implementation of Digital Plans and online submittals.

Digital plans allow reviewers from many departments to study the projects at the same time. In the traditional paper-submittals, each blueprint set arrived at a department, had for the corresponding review, and then sent to the next department until the cycle ended.

Today, many Building Departments stepped up their transition to an online/digital plan submittal and permitting. Some didn't even have them in their plans before the pandemic and made the transition anyways. 

Here are what some cities in Miami-Dade county have done:

Building the project during the pandemic

Construction work cannot be remote, we know. How can you lay bricks, mortar, or shovel remotely? But that doesn't mean it hasn't been somehow affected with the pandemic.

Any construction in Florida requires inspections during the building. These inspections always take precious time in our Gantt chart as they are as unpredictable as possible. 

When scheduling an inspection, most of the time, the inspector comes the day they say, but you never know what time, and sometimes you wait all day only to discover later that they pushed the inspection for the next day.

With the pandemic, many cities have resolved to do virtual meeting inspections with a video call. While it was a mess at the beginning, when inspectors and contractors took ahold of it, it got more comfortable than ever to pass small inspections, assuming there is enough cellphone signal at the site.

These video-call revies, start with a hard to miss, day and time schedule assigned only to the project. It doesn't matter the inspector's route, traffic, or car breakdowns anymore; contractors will get that call at the scheduled day and time. While more significant inspections still require on-site visits, this saves time for the least complicated or smaller reviews.

What about selling the project?

Virtual walkthroughs and 3D picture cameras and software such as Matterport are slowly flooding the internet and Real Estate selling process platforms. With these applications, you can look around the property and practically walk between rooms.

Credit: Matterport

The bottom line for Residential Developments in Miami

In the end, this new normal has helped residential developments, in general, to push forward the inevitable electronic and digital world we now live in. There hasn't been a new - breakthrough - technology during the pandemic, only the need and the pressure to use what we have more effectively.

Between all the pain, deaths, and economic disaster that the pandemic left us with, there is some good, and we should embrace it. Electronic plan submittals saves us up to 5 times more time than paper-only submittals. 3D walkthroughs help developers sell and reach even more potential buyers or renters. And, video call inspection wasn't even in the minds of building departments, and now a daily routine.

With these "New Normal" tools that the pandemic brought to residential developments in Miami, we don't only move faster; we move more efficiently. And the bottom line will end up reflecting it if we think out of the box and accept the changes.

"Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss."

Benjamin Button

How to obtain a Building Permit in Miami

When you think of a building permit, do you imagine bureaucratic paperwork, similar to obtaining your Driver's Licence or passport for the first time? Well, in summary, that precisely what it is, with the difference that it will allow you to build something. Although, its also much more complicated.

Here we'll guide you on how to get a building permit in Miami (or at similar locations).

When to obtain a Building Permit?

A building permit is an official approval issued by the local authorities in which your project is located, and required for safety and compliance of the building code, zoning code, fire code, and many others. 

The process will look into many aspects of your project, such as structural integrity, minimum spacings, zoning and planning conformities, water and sewer capacity and lines, safety to its inhabitants, among many others. 

In most cases, you'll need to obtain a permit. The most obvious reason is when building a new project (home, building, construction). Furthermore, anything from a kitchen or bathroom remodeling to home extensions or changing a roof, window, or exterior doors will require a building permit. Check out City of Miami Building Department page for more information.

It might be easier to say when you don't require a permit, but that too might vary from municipality to municipality, or even between communities. More on that coming up.

How to get a building permit?

Understanding that you do require a permit, the process is pretty straightforward anywhere where it's required. Submit plans and documents to the authorities. They'll review them and, assuming they don't have objections – which they almost always do; give you a permit. Yay! Sounds easy, right? Not quite. 

As mentioned before, the process looks into many aspects of your project. Depending on the type of it, it will require more o fewer reviews and reviewers.

Note: If your project involves New Construction or Extension, you should start looking for an Architect. A good Architect will hear your intentions, evaluate your site, and let you know all the requirements. In Miami-Dade and Broward, you will need an Architect to submit plans for a New Construction by code.

On the other hand, if you are looking to do a smaller project, such as remodeling, and would like to obtain a building permit yourself, here is the process:

1. Contact local authorities from community managers to building departments. 

The first step is to contact and explain your intentions to your immediate community and go up from there. For example: if you live in a building and want to change the floor, ask the building manager what you'll need from them and then contact the building department asking the same.

2. Prepare the permit application and additional material. 

After contacting your local authorities, they'll probably send you to get a Permit Application and start from there. Depending on your project, you might also need drawings of the work you intend to do. All applications ask who will be the General Contractor. If you have someone add him, on the contrary, if you don't have one yet or want to wait for more prices to come in, you can submit the application package as a Dry Run. Also, remember to notarize your application!

3. Submit the permit application. 

Some municipalities have an electronic plan submittal system; others still require the drop-off of two original physical packages.

How to obtain a Building Permit in Miami
Physical Application package ready to be submitted for Building Permit

4. Wait for Reviewers to review everything.

Have patience and follow-up. The waiting time varies significantly between Building Departement. Electronic systems reduce their time considerably. However, there may be a particular aspect of your process that takes more time than usual.

5. While waiting, track your Building Permit application for comments and approvals. 

All Building Departments have an online system where you can track and view your application comments. If you submit the application electronically, check back in a day or two to see if everything went well through the pre-application step (where they check if the files are readable). After that quick follow-up, check back between two weeks and a month for any comments.

6. Follow-up in you haven't heard back.

While most cities call or inform you when they finish the first revision cycle, sometimes you may miss the call, or the e-mail goes into the spam folder. If you haven't heard back in a while, don't be afraid to follow-up on them with a kind e-mail.

7. Answer and address comments. 

Almost always, you'll get at least one comment from a reviewer. Address them as soon as possible and resubmit. Go back to the previous three steps while waiting for their re-review.

City of Miami Approved Building Permit
City of Miami Electronic Building Permit Approval Seal

8. When everything is approved, pull the permit.

Congratulations, your Building Permit Application is approved! Remember to 'Pull the Building Permit' before beginning any construction. If you haven't already, add the applicable Contractor. Then, pay the Building Permit fees. Once you've paid, you'll be issued the Building Permit.

9. Record a Notice of Commencement. 

With the Building Permit issued, you'll have to record a Notice of Commencement (NOC). The NOC is a document that you have to fill out, sign, and record it in your local Clerk of Courts. The first inspector to visit your project will require the recorded NOC, but most importantly, this states the date the work will begin (and the Lien Law applies). The best practice is to file it before the work begins.
Pro tip: If you go in person, take an envelope with a post stamp and always ask for a certified copy to have right away.

10. If required by your community, submit all the paperwork to them. 

Your community will usually have another package list for you to fill-out and provide. Community Managers often request the Building Permit and NOC and Certificate of Insurance (COI) with an additional insured clause from your Contractors.

11. Finally, begin the construction.

That's it! Well, almost. You still have to build your project and go through the inspections while doing so.

What's next?

Your Contractor should know when to ask for inspections. Keep in mind that there are many inspections halfway into the construction. Don't allow anything to be covered without an inspection unless it isn't required.

Obtaining a Building Permit may look a tedious process, and I assure you, it is. Can you do it by yourself? Definitely. Just know what to expect and be patient. I'll always recommend hiring an architect or ask your project's Contractor to do this for you. It will save you time and probably money in the long run.