Self Taught MBA: From Single to Multifamily Buildercomments (2) August 16th, 2012 in Blogs
The transition from single-family to small multifamily builder presents fewer challenges than from homebuilder to remodeler. You use the same designers, the same subs, and even the same mindset.
By small multifamily I mean two to four dwelling units in a building. As soon as you go to five and more dwelling units, you've stepped over a thorny line. You cross from residential to commercial code; you'll need an architect's stamp on your plans; your city may require a commercial contractor's license to build; and most banks regard five or more units as a commercial mortgage, requiring stricter underwriting, and higher interest rates and fees.
Construction-wise, the challenge when building even small multifamily comes with required fire-barrier separations between units. If you've built a house with an attached garage, you know you need 5/8-in., type-X drywall on walls and ceilings directly adjacent to any dwelling area. Fire barrier codes are little stricter when it comes to apartments, but similar to what you've already encountered.
The biggest challenge comes with finding a site. Since new subdivisions generally do not provide land zoned for small apartments, but only for detached and attached single family houses, you generally have to look for lots within the older urban district. This is called "infill" construction and poses some unique challenges in site access and construction staging, as well as utility connections to older service lines, and, in some districts, historical or neighborhood design standards. You can see this as a hassle, or an opportunity to add something of value to the community. If you rise to the challenge of meeting or even exceeding the local design codes, your buildings will be attractive to tenants and easier to sell-even when the value of your multifamily building derives from rents and not esthetics, people are still willing to pay more for something better looking.
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