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Much has been written about how far in advance of a current expiration one should start looking for a new office space in order to ensure sufficient time to relocate.  This timeline is dictated in large part by how long it takes to build new offices and that is heavily dependent on the city in which the office is to be located.

Often when I am working with a client who is looking for a new office location, one of my first responsibilities is to establish reasonable expectations as to how long the build out process really takes. I spoke with Birmingham architect, Stephen Allen with Williams Blackstock, local furniture representative, Richie Hamer with Business Interiors, and my colleague, property manager Kathy Huckabay to get a better understanding of the different components of a build out and how much time each takes.


The first step in any buildout is design.  Architects complete a process called “programming” with the client to understand how a client’s office works, and ultimately to determine how many offices, conference rooms, workstations, etc. the client requires and whether there are any adjacency requirements.  The architects then take the program they have developed and design a layout and select finishes.  Once a client has reviewed and tweaked these documents to their liking, the architect must develop construction drawings that will be sent for permit and will guide the contractor building the space.  The design process timeline typically breaks down like this:

  1. Programming – a minimum of 3 weeks (time mostly needed for review/discussion)
  2. Design and Construction Documents – 2-3 months

While the design process can be condensed, it is usually at the cost of the design itself.  If you are making the effort and spending the money to relocate, it is worthwhile to budget sufficient time to get the design right.


If new space is being designed, the client often will elect not to bring its existing furniture to the new space either for aesthetic or fit reasons.  If this is the case, a furniture vendor should be brought in during the design phase.  As stated by Hamer, “all furniture has integrated technology built in these days … and that furniture relies on the building’s power source along with data access to be in very specific locations.”

Cooperation between the architect and the furniture vendor ensures that the furniture fits the space and that power and tele-data cabling extend to each seat in the office.  This also reduces the likelihood of expensive and delaying change orders on the back end.  Upon completion of the design, the furniture order is placed to ensure delivery concurrent with completion of construction.  Furniture delivery can take between two and five months depending on a specific line’s availability.


After construction documents are completed, they are sent concurrently for pricing by general contractors and permitting by the municipality.  While this timeline varies significantly based on the municipality in which it is being done, four to six weeks is a good base assumption.


Once permits are pulled and a general contractor is selected, construction begins.  Depending on the size and complexity of the job, it can take as little as two months (for a small vanilla office of ~5,000 square feet) to four months (for a more detailed 15,000 square foot project) to six plus months for a complex multi-floor build-out with unique finishes.


Finally, when construction is completed, most tenants require 2-3 weeks for fixturization, i.e. the installation of all furniture and cabling in the space.


Adding all of these time periods together, from commencement of design to completion of furniture install should take between six months for a simple and small space to twelve months for a large complex project.  Allotting sufficient time for design and construction will ensure that you get the impact and functionality out of your investment in new space.  My message to my clients is to error on the side of slack in your schedule, and to make sure you incorporate the design and construction schedule in your lease.





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