Who is preparing your planning & zoning reports?
Updated: Jun 24, 2018
February 25, 2018
Zoning endorsements, zoning letters, zoning reports, or some other item related to zoning seems to be an increasingly common condition related to closing commercial or multi-family real estate deals. While sometimes burdensome and time consuming, one can't argue that confirming zoning compliance is beneficial for all involved. Turning to national firms to prepare standardized planning and zoning reports, lawyers, brokers, underwriters, and surveyors have been able to better understand zoning and keep their deals on track.
While the concept seems pretty straight forward- provide zoning firm an address, a survey, and after a few weeks a planning and zoning report will be delivered- the industry as a whole has lacked consistent standards. What makes a planning and zoning report firm more capable than a law firm? Why should Firm X be chosen over Firm Y? Who exactly is preparing the zoning report? Can any Tom, Jane, or Sally prepare these reports?
The later of these questions is the most intriguing. Imagine hiring an attorney to oversee your transaction, only to find out they never passed the bar exam. Or commission a surveyor that was not licensed by their State. This sort of scenario just doesn't happen, especially when such professionals play a key role in multi-million dollar transactions. So why are zoning analysts not held to the same standard? It's likely due to the relatively young age of the industry combined with complacency. After all, countless real estate transactions have been successful involving zoning reports prepared by individuals who lack credentials. The old adage goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is a false assumption however.
One can't ignore the lack of certifications and credentials zoning report providers. This is particularly compelling when stacked up against the other parties involved in a real estate deal. Surveyors are licensed. Appraisers have certifications. Attorney's have to pass the bar. At a minimum, zoning analysts should hold a bachelors degree in a zoning related field, such as geography, architecture or urban planning and have certifications from the American Planning Association or International Code Council. This would demonstrate a strong proficiency in the field.
Next time the need for a planning and zoning report comes up, consider who is preparing it. Any firm can project the illusion that their staff is credentialed and certified, but it is unlikely that is the case since the industry lacks any mandated certifications. If the surveyor, appraiser, and lawyer all hold certifications, shouldn't the zoning analyst preparing your zoning report?