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Why Pro Draft?
In truth, this is a relatively small outfit. Some people, they like the double glass doors and the fancy building and the fancy office and whatnot and so they’ll literally go hire somebody else. Not always but in many cases, ironically that same project will end up on my desk because we’re doing the heavy lifting for the firm that they did hire. This firm, even though it’s small and relatively humble in nature, is actually very high tech. We employ all kinds of tools in our firm that most do not. A good example of that is customer relations management software. We have a very high-tech centralized system that allows us to keep track of all customer accounts, all communications, all meetings, everything in a central place. When a customer calls us on the phone, it actually pops up on our screen who they are, when they last called us, if they owe us any money, the whole thing. This system allows us to do an incredible volume of business and keep track of every little thing.
We also do this thing that almost nobody else does, where we do these 3D renderings in what we call a 3D model. We include this in our services because not all customers know how to read plans. These models are really slick. In the old days, you had to sit in front of your draftman’s table, instead of a firm’s computer, to see a 3D rendering. The 3D renders that we provide can be viewed on any device, phones, tablets, computers, and the customer gets to control it. With these high tech computers, the centralized management software, the VoIP phone systems allows us all to be networked, all the people that we work with, as if we’re sitting right across from each other.
When we talk about volume, it brings us to our speed. In my industry, even here in Hawaii, we’ve seen our competitors give proposals that are roughly close to what we might propose in terms of budget but they’ll ask for six or more months to complete the plans. Well, we have a specialized proprietary method that allows us to do that same process in a fraction of the amount of time. Typically speaking, when I start a project, two days later the customer’s looking at floor plans and elevations in 3D modeling. We can complete a set of plans in a week or two, not months, weeks. That means we’re what we call a production drafting house. That is what we are producing a huge volume of plans, which is why you’ll see on the walls of our office – we get this specific business news calling us, “One of the state’s largest architectural firms…”. I always laugh when I see that because, again, we’re a small firm and humble in nature and in size but highly productive.
About Our Services
The very first thing we do for new projects is what we call project assessment. I will ask them what’s the address of the property, or if it doesn’t have an address, what’s the tax map key number and we look it up. Then we find out what the zoning is and then we find out what the setbacks are and the allowable uses because this is a big deal. How many houses are you allowed to have on the property. Typically, properties allowed to have a main house, Ohana, or cottage as it’s known more commonly, but here in Hawaii we call them Ohanas. Ohanas are highly regulated in terms of their size, how big they can be, how much of a covered lanai can they have or a deck or these things, or the number of them that’s allowed on the property. We will do all of that assessment from the very first conversation.
Then we also try to get a very good idea about what the customer wants. We will get all of that information absolutely free so that we incorporate it into our proposals for them. Usually, we give them so much information they just think about it for a while and then they come back to us when they’ve made up their mind. We like to get information. If you’re a new customer, if you have a site plan of the property or survey or anything, we basically want a copy of it. If there are existing buildings on the property and you have plans for them, we want copies of those too. We really want to get as much as we can that’s available for any particular job. The more we get hold of, the less we have to do, the more the customer saves money.
Honesty Before Income
I’m not the cheapest guy around but I am also freely recommending other people’s services. When people are doing jobs that are just so small they don’t need a fancy set of plans, I’m the first one to tell them, look, you can save money by going here or going there. I’m very honest about these things and I’m always looking out for the customer to save money, even if that means we don’t do the job. A lot of people criticize me for that. They say, you should get that work. I’m like, I grew up in a very small town, on a homestead, and even though phones were very scarce and whatnot, my mom knew the mischief I’d got into that day before I made it home. I learned at a very young age that accountability and doing the right thing was always the right thing to do, and I’ve definitely integrated that into the way I do business.
What that means is that even if a customer comes and sees me and hires somebody else that was less expensive, and then they go through the process with the other service provider, so many times when they go to do their second house, they come back to me and they hire me. The amount of service that we provide in helping them through all the stages and the quality of our work and the speed at which we get that work done, the customer very quickly realizes that it was worth the additional cost. We see a lot of that. Once people find us and use us, we find that we have so much repeat business and referral business.
I’m a what you’d call a lifer. I started out, I’ve uncles who are contractors. I was a little kid banging on scrap wood when I was four years old. When I got out of high school, worked on what we call seismic retrofitting, which is putting earthquake restrainers on bridges and high-rise buildings. Then naturally segued into architecture, when I came to Maui some 30 years ago.
This is a really fascinating industry because we’re basically taking an idea and bringing it to life. Then of course, we have to negotiate with all the different influences: budget, customer desires, the functionality. Then of course, limitations: again budget and structural requirements, building code limitations and allowable uses. Really bringing all of that together to a functional design that fits all of the requirements. It’s really working with people that I get most energized about.
Making the Most of Your Budget
As with all constructions, budget is a really big influence. Making the most of your construction budget is something that excites me a lot. Getting a lot of bang for your buck. Knowing where to spend money and where to save money. How to fit into the neighborhood that you’re building in and not do too much or too little, according to that neighborhood. Keep things on a very efficient and practical place for the general valuation of the project over time and the ability to get your money out, should you decide to sell it.
New Customer Walkthrough
The very first thing we do for new projects is what we call project assessment. I will ask them what’s the address of the property, or if it doesn’t have an address, what’s the tax map key number and we look it up. Then we find out what the zoning is and then we find out what the setbacks are and the allowable uses because this is a big deal. How many houses are you allowed to have on the property. Typically, properties are allowed to have a main house and an Ohana, or cottage as it’s known more commonly, but here in Hawaii we call them Ohanas. Ohanas are highly regulated in terms of their size, how big they can be, how much of a covered lanai can they have or a deck or these things, or the number of them that’s allowed on the property. We will do all of that assessment from the very first conversation.
Then we also try to get a very good idea about what the customer wants. We will get all of that information absolutely free so that we incorporate it into our proposals for them. Usually, we give them so much information they just think about it for a while and then they come back to us when they’ve made up their mind. We like to get information. If you’re a new customer, if you have a site plan of the property or survey or anything, we basically want a copy of it. If there are existing buildings on the property and you have plans for them, we want copies of those too. We really want to get as much as we can that’s available for any particular job because the more we get hold of, the less we have to do, the more the customer saves money.
No Markup Philosophy
There’s a whole bunch of things actually that we don’t charge money for. We have absolutely no markups whatsoever for permit expediting expenses. We actually write checks on behalf of our clients for building permit fees and printing fees and all kinds of other things and we pass that on at absolutely no markup to all of our customers. There’s a lot of things that we do that keep overheads low, but the systems that we employ are all things that we have to pay for and we certainly absorb those costs.
It’s well worthwhile because it makes our lives so much easier when we can see the information that we collect. Our record-keeping is just amazing. Literally, down to a fraction of a second of time that we spend on any given project is recorded in our systems. This makes really accurate proposals and estimates and all kinds of other things, where we can see what we propose and what it actually took to do. Collecting and using all that information is an invaluable tool.
Living in Harmony
When it comes to the islands, in my opinion every square inch is sacred and every area deserves the reference. In fact, I was speaking with a local developer recently and he has a number of properties and was considering doing various developments. My input to him was, wait a second! Just because you can do this by the current code, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Why don’t we give the space right here as an open space for the general public? It was near a bus stop. Paia is very small in nature, and I was like, why not be a little generous here. We’ve had other developers that literally built right up to the edge of the property and crowd the sidewalk. The sidewalk actually has to get smaller. I’m like, why do that? We have a limited amount of space. Do it in a way that’s in harmony and promotes openness and flow and function, rather than gobbling up every square foot that’s available to you.
Green building’s an interesting subject. Right now, it’s all the rave. Yes, I’m a member of the USGBC, the United States Green Building Council, and I very much like doing lead projects and whatnot. Ironically, though, in essence green building is not necessarily new. A good example of this is there was a time, believe it or not, before air conditioning. People built houses in a different way because air conditioning wasn’t available. One of the most common examples of this is a wraparound porch. In a lot of the older homes, you’d see these wraparound porches and covered, what in Hawaii we call, covered lanais. This was a way to keep the sun off the side of the house and keep the house cooler in general. This is literally a very simple thing to employ that had a really significant effect on the performance of the building.
Nowadays, we call this green building. Green building is, essentially, how do we do things energy efficient. How do we make them last a long time? In other words, do things that will actually have 100-year lifespan instead of a 10, 15, 20-year lifespan. While green building’s a hot issue and I love doing it and we do a lot of it, the reality is that it’s also an old method and it’s also practically based. We’ve done a number of things.
We’ve got an article in the Maui News about green building techniques, where we’re taking cool air that is under the house and we’re allowing it to flow through the house. This is natural air conditioning. It’s called a plenum and we draw the cool air from the bottom of the house and it keeps the house cool. As a matter of fact, on this building we’re in right now, I’m in the process of putting this energy efficient roof system on there. We have an additional layer of plywood with an air gap to allow airflow, with a radiant barrier to keep that heat from the sun from penetrating the building, allowing it to vent off, which keeps it dramatically cooler.
I’m really excited about these issues and love to employ them whenever we can. I also want to remind people that this is not a new thing and it’s something that anyone can do, with any budget.
One of the biggest problems people have in Hawaii is that they’ll go to an architect and have a design made and they’ll get a little carried away, we could have this, let’s do this, let’s do that. Then they go in for permits and then they start getting contractor bids and only then discover that they can’t afford to build the house that they had plans for. I’m a little bit of a mother hen and a big brother-type; I try to take care of them from a very straightforward point of view. Give them literal cost estimates as we go through, or encourage them to be in communication with their contractor during the design phase, so that they can get preliminary estimates on what they’re planning to build. We really try to make sure that the plan that we finish for them is one that they can afford to build, that suits their needs, and fits their budget and gets the most out of that budget that they possibly can.
We’re a production drafting house that services many different professionals and in different types of projects. We produce five different types and three of those can be applied to residential projects, which are the most common for customers who might be viewing this video. Those three could be called a permit set, a construction set, and an architectural set. A permit set is still, in our case, a very beautiful plan set that has basically everything you need to build it. It’s a little bit deluxe for a permit set.
A permit set is defined by – it gives you all the information it needs to get a permit for that project. Now, a construction set is one step up from that. A construction set has a little more detail and definition in terms of the construction method. Now, if the customer has a budget to work with that’s got some breathing room and they want to bid the project out over many different contractors, construction sets are very helpful for that. That way, there’s not a lot of assumption about the building method and everybody’s bid can be more closely comparing apples to apples instead of apples to oranges.
Now, an architectural set – we actually do quite a few of these – is the most deluxe set of residential planning construction. We’re able to do some really remarkable things with our CAD software. We can actually put the view you have from your particular house outside on the models that we create. When you’re looking at a 3D model and you’re looking out the window, you see the actual view that your property has. We can even do all the interior designing, all the cabinets and window treatments and furniture and finishes and faucets and everything. That’s where architectural plan sets come into play. We’re really defining things to a much higher level.
We don’t actually recommend that people spend more on their plans than they need. Again, someone who wants to save our customers money at every turn. We’ll always start you out with the least expensive option.
The permits in Hawaii are a little bit lengthy. It can take a long time to get a permit approved in the County of Maui so we provide permit expediting services. We provide these services at cost; there’s no profit involved here. We try to cover our expenses and taxes but we basically pass these services off to customers at cost. There’s two parts to a typical permit expediting. There’s the submittal of the plans and permits for a permit application; we call that permit submittal. Then there’s expediting. After it’s been submitted and reviewed, sometimes it’s helpful to have someone go down there and say, is there anything you need? Can we help you get this done sooner? We call that expediting.
Now the big thing here to remember is that there’s a lot of people that’ll expedite your permit. Sometimes, a contractor will do it for you. Sometimes, a third party will expedite your permit for you. We find that a lot of people will charge between $3,000 or $4,000 and up to $5,000 and $6,000 as a flat rate to expedite your permit. Again, being a firm that tries to save people money, we don’t actually do it like that. We find that there’s a great difference in the amount of time it takes to expedite a permit. Most cases, we submit it, it gets approved and that’s the end of it.
We just do a permit submittal fee, which is currently about $500 per permit application. If you’re in a flood zone, that’s one permit. If you’re in a special management area, that’s another permit. Then you have a building permit. In some places, that’ll be three permits that we submit, it’ll cost you 1500 bucks. In many cases, there’s just one, just a building permit because there’s no other special issues with that particular property and we charge $500 for that. Then we pay our expediters $65 an hour thereafter, if required. This is dramatically cheaper than paying $3,000 to $5,000 or $6,000 for a permit expediting or permit approval process.
Now, while that’s really advantageous in terms of saving money, it does have one downside and that is that we’ll charge you the initial permit submittal fee and the cost for the application and the cost for printing and we send you an invoice for that. Now, in some cases, unbeknownst to everyone involved, there was some unpermitted work done on the property that the owners didn’t know about, that we didn’t know about and the county bust us on. There’ll be some work required to address those issues in the permit approval process and we’ll bill you for that as we go. The disadvantage is you pay when we submit and then you’ll get some bills trickling in thereafter, as required.
Some people, they don’t like that. They just want to pay one number and be done with it and know that they don’t have any more costs, and we actually will do that for some customers. Of course, we do charge thousands of dollars for that because we have to anticipate a worst cast scenario. I don’t recommend it but it is available for customers.
One of the things I should cover is after-the-fact permitting. This is a big deal in Hawaii because lots of people do work and don’t get a permit for it and then sell the property and it doesn’t really come to light. Then the owners will either get caught doing something that they knew they shouldn’t do or will be caught unawares for something that they had no idea was illegal because it was that way when they bought it. That’s one of the common lines. I probably have this conversation on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week, when people come to me and say, I need to get after-the-fact plans and permits.
The truth is that I actually discourage people from getting after-the-fact permits whenever possible. A good example of this is if the work that was done was minor in nature, then the cost and fines for an after-the-fact permit will outweigh the value of what it is that’s permitting. In the old days, that valuation was around $40,000 and currently, it’s more like $60,000 to $75,000. In other words, if the things that we’re talking about have more than between $40,000 and $75,000 of value, then it’s worth it to get an after-the-fact permit. If it’s less valuable than that, then I’ll often tell people, look, just remove the unpermitted works and avoid the whole process.
That’s harsh and people are emotionally connected to their buildings and to the work that they’ve done and so they’re not inclined to take such advice but I give it, nonetheless. This process, an after-the-fact permit, can take 6 to 9, sometimes 12 months to get approved by the County of Maui. There’s up to $2,000 fines just for the application, the building, plumbing and electrical. There’s another set of fines if you’re in an SMA zone of 10% of the construction value – this is expensive – on top of the cost of plans, architectural services, permit applications, all the standard fees.
My advice: avoid at all costs!
Designing for Microclimates
The climate is unique, even in different parts of the island. We call that microclimate. Right here where we are today in Paia, it’s a really fantastic climate. We have the moisture and the winds off the ocean but we’re right here in this transition zone between wet and rainy and hot and dry, like it is in Kahului. Here in Paia, we have really the best of both worlds. It rains almost every night and it’s hot and sunny almost every day. If you travel, literally, just a couple of miles in any direction, you have a different climate, especially as you go up in elevation. It gets cooler. The view corridors are different. The weather’s different. The trade wind directions actually vary, depending on where you are on the island.
It’s really quite fascinating to build on an island like this because when you become familiar with the various microclimates, we literally design homes to best fit those environments. I do often advise people that if they buy a property and they’re from somewhere else, just build a cottage to start with and move on to the property and live there for a year or more before you design your main house. You really have a number of influences that you just won’t find anywhere else in the country.
We’ve literally done thousands of projects. We also do work all over the country, from Alaska to Florida, from New York to California. Sometimes, we will go to job sites on larger projects to do consulting, but for the most part, it’s all done electronically with emails and file transfers. Other larger firms will come to us and say they need us to do the heavy lifting on projects. Sometimes, customers contact us directly. We do all kinds of things from large resorts to small homes, tiny houses and everything in between. We also do a lot of commercial. We’ve done everything from executive lounges at the Honolulu International Airport, aircraft hangers, stores and shopping malls, buildings for commercial, all kinds of things.
Things to Know Before You Build
Budget, building code, allowable uses. Are they on a flood zone? Are they in a coastal area? If you’re building on anything shoreline, there’s a whole bunch of extra set of requirements. There’s also things like historical buildings, if you’re trying to tear something down. There’s what we call archaeological In some areas, the island has archaeological remains that might be in that area so you have to go through a special process to get those projects built. It’s really nice to have that information, ideally before you buy the property. I highly recommend people contact us for what we call project assessments, when they’re thinking about buying the property and certainly before they build or do plans, so that they’re aware of, again, those costs that come. We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars of additional costs to get those things accommodated.
The thing that pains me the most is that people will use other service providers and get into trouble. They’ll design a plan they can’t afford to build. Some of the other designers will forget essential building code requirements; typically, height is a big one here on Maui. Then they’ll get into the permit process and then they’ll be very slow to address the issues for the county to approve the permit and then it stretches on for months or years. I’ve also had customers use very fancy well-known architectural firms and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes up to $0.5 million, on a set of plants and four years later, they still don’t have anything done.
Then they hear about us. They come to us; we take care of them. On larger projects, obviously is takes a little more than one or two weeks. That does pain me a little bit. The residential clients or inexperienced commercial clients, they just don’t know any of the pitfalls. When these people find me, they’re always very grateful. I’ll be giving them information from the very first phone call about what they can do, what they can’t do, what they’re limited by. If they’re in a flood zone, what are the restrictions, what are the additional construction costs. It really allows them to make good decisions.
There are, of course, some very good people in my industry and I don’t mean to say anything bad about them. When people are trying to save money and they call and say, okay, this guy will do a set of plans for this amount, this guy will do a set of plans for this amount, what the customer doesn’t know is the quality of those plans. Some of the plans that we get, even from licensed architects, are so sparse in nature that I’m actually surprised. Even our cheapest set of plans all come with great schedules for doors and windows and cabinets and all kinds of things and we supply a ton of information. When you’re going to build that, you really have a beautiful set of plans to work with. This is something the customers can’t know. All they know is the dollar amount.
Full Service Firm
All of the things are actually done under one roof. Even when we’re designing a house, we’re running structural calculations for beam loads and lateral sheer loads and all kind of things, to make sure that the design will accommodate the necessary structural requirements. This is also something that is becoming less and less common in my industry. I recently have taken on some structural work for a very large and well-known firm here on the island. They recently told a customer, “No, we just do the architectural and then we send it off to a structural engineering to have that done by them.” I’m like, really? My word!
When you break up those two parts, first of all it’s more expensive and it takes a lot longer. Secondly, every time you go to a different firm for a different part, there’s a potential for error, so we do it all in one place. All of the engineers and various professionals that we work with are able to access our systems, as if they were sitting at my desk, to see the designs, to see it. We all use the same software, whether it’s architectural or structural or whatever it is. When you centralize stuff, it’s just a much smoother process that is a reduced amount of errors.
Another thing that we do a lot of is what we call CPRs or condominium property regimes. This is basically a condominiumization of a property. We’ve all heard of condos, well here in Hawaii and in many other places too, you can actually buy a property and condominiumize it into numerous other lots. For instance, if you have a lot that’s able to have a main house and two Ohanas on it, you can buy that property and either build or use the existing dwellings and break it up into two or three pieces and then sell them off individually with individual title. We call that condominiumization. We do a lot of this work. There’s a handful of attorneys that do the legal work.
A typical condominiumization has three parts to it. You have an attorney who does the legal documents. You have a land surveyor that does the site plan and the allocation of various elements. Then you have, if there’s structures on the property, or will be soon, then you have us. These are the three parts for any condominiumization. I have some customers that do nothing but condominiumizations. They buy properties, they break them up, the sell them. Buy, break up, sell. They do dozens of these every year. This is a highly profitable thing to do with your property.
It’s also a great instrument if you’re buying a property and are thinking about having long-term financing. This is a way for you to buy a property and sell off part of it so that you don’t have a mortgage; so that it pays for the other bit. This is a really helpful thing for customers to know and it’s something that we do a lot of. Again, being a big brother, mother hen-type, I’m happy to consult with people who are thinking about doing it, letting them know the costs and the time frames for it to get done and what the pros and cons of such a process are. This is probably a big thing that most people don’t know about.