How to Hire a Civil Engineer Who Advocates For You

When you hire an attorney, you expect them to advocate for you. Hiring a civil engineer should be no different.

Your civil engineer is often the cornerstone of your real estate development project. They play a significant role in determining your critical path and schedule. You are entrusting them to be your brand ambassador – to represent you to municipalities, agencies, and the community.

With such an important role in your project, you should ask, “Are they doing everything they can for me?”

While civil engineers are often thought of as a commodity, a good civil engineer is far from a commodity. A good engineer provides a proactive, customized approach and distinct expertise.

Here are 5 questions you should ask when hiring your next civil engineer:

1. Do they invest in building genuine relationships?

Does your civil engineer take the time to connect with municipal officials, reviewing agencies, clients, and team members?

Connections and relationships help expedite the entitlement process. In fact, that’s typically the first question a developer will ask us, “Have you worked in the municipality?” Reviewing officials and engineers have preferences in the way they handle permits, as well as, how they prefer to communicate with consultants. Your civil engineer should make the effort to get to know the officials and technical reviewers and build trust with them. Every little bit helps! Strong relationships also make it easier to work through difficult issues as they arise.

2. Do they work hard to maintain a great reputation and provide high-quality work?

Does your civil engineer have a strong reputation for producing good work? Are they well respected by municipal officials and reviewing engineers? Do they have processes and checklists to ensure work is done right the first time?

You want to hire a civil engineer who takes the quality of their work seriously and has a reputation that precedes them. Consistent high-quality and thorough plans translate to higher reviewer confidence, ultimately resulting in the reduction of review time and revisions.

3. Do they listen?

Does your civil engineer listen to understand? While this may sound simple, listening is more than simply, “not speaking.”

An engineer’s experience with a reviewer is only helpful if they’re a good listener. If your engineer listens to understand, then they’ve learned from previous discussions and submissions. They know what’s important to the reviewers, and adjust accordingly – ultimately minimizing review comments.

A great story where this played out perfectly was the renovation of the AEGON campus in Chester County for Saint-Gobain/CertainTeed’s new North American Headquarters. The developer faced an extremely tight timeframe to complete the project, which required an NPDES permit in a High Quality Watershed. The typical timeline for this approval is close to a year. Our engineers scheduled a meeting with top DEP officials, heard their concerns, and developed a plan to meet the requirements and address concerns. After several cooperative meetings, we submitted for the NPDES permit. There were no comments and the permit was approved in 20 days!

4. Do they keep you informed and alert you to what’s ahead?

Does your civil engineer provide regular updates or do you often wonder where your project stands? Ever been caught off guard by unpleasant surprises?

The land development process is complicated with multitudes of integrated tasks. Unexpected challenges will occur. It’s the job of your civil engineer to set expectations. They should continuously keep you informed of progress, provide options, and keep you involved in critical decision-making.

With a proactive engineer, you know where your project stands. Whether it’s through weekly email updates, meetings, or phone calls, you have peace of mind that your project is moving forward. You know what challenges and issues may arise and you know how to respond to difficulties if needed.

5. Do they pick up the phone and discuss review comments with the reviewers?

Does your civil engineer work through review comments or simply agree to them?

There’s a difference between responding to review comments and working with an agency to find or identify alternative solutions. Sometimes a phone call can be the difference in a major vs. minor amendment, which could dramatically alter the timetable for the approval. We recently worked on a golf course renovation project involving minor grading within a floodplain. By municipal ordinance definition, the proposed work required a stream analysis and report. Instead, we picked up the phone and called the municipal engineer. After explaining the minimal amount of grading required, we reached an agreement that a simple narrative would suffice. Therefore, one phone call avoided costly engineering, reporting, and loss of time.

Land development is not black and white. Ordinances, technical design, and technical review letters are all subject to interpretation, with many gray areas. This is where the relationships and reputation come into play. A consistency of excellence creates a cooperative atmosphere, professional respect, and a comfort level to have a conversation that gets you to the finish line – all while protecting all parties involved and meeting regulations. As a result, your civil engineer to works with officials, fully understands their intent, and makes a case for your benefit, with the goal of reducing time, minimizing your cost, and your legal exposure. 

Your civil engineer shouldn’t submit formal permit review responses until you’re satisfied that all questions and comments are fully understood and addressed. They should review everything with you before they submit.

The path to securing land development approvals is challenging. Having a civil engineer who takes proactive steps to advocate for you will help you execute a successful real estate development project.

Ready to hire an advocate as your next civil engineer?

Over the last 30 years, Nave Newell’s culture has been based on relationship building and trust, and is proudly highlighted in our Nave Newell Way (NNW) culture, especially NNW Fundamental #1 – DO WHAT’S BEST FOR THE CLIENT.

Through the proactive steps outlined above, we do everything possible to eliminate one review letter and one round of submissions.

Contact us to talk about how we can proactively engineer your next project.

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