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Going Beyond ASTM – Property Condition Assessments

The satisfactory completion of real estate transactions relies on the satisfactory completion of due diligence. The broad definition of due diligence includes a number of non-physical issues, such as leases and contracts, property title issues, taxes and assessments, approvals and entitlements, historic and open space provisions and personal property.

The physical issues related to a property are evaluated using several defined investigative procedures. These include Property Condition Assessments (PCA), Environmental Site Assessments (ESA), ALTA property surveyszoning studiesseismic risk assessments and energy studies, which are now required in many states and cities as part of a real estate transaction.

There are two documents developed by ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) which contain the generally accepted standards in the real estate industry for PCAs (ASTM E-2018) and ESAs (ASTM E-1527). These are in general use in the industry and accepted by both investors and lenders.

Going Beyond the Standard Scope
However, there are some investors who have performance requirements that go beyond the ASTM documents. These could be pension funds, pension fund advisors, insurance companies and real estate investment trusts, who deal with large transactions and carry greater risk because their clients rely directly on the investments they make. They may have risk managers or departments whose responsibility is be sure the investments, both real estate and other types, fit the corporate risk profile.

I have spent much of my career with both sides of the table: consultants who perform the PCAs and ESAs, and clients who advise or are equity investors. During this time, I have come across many requests for additional items that expanded the PCA beyond the standard scope.

This will be the subject of two blogs: in this blog I will discuss when and how clients go beyond the standard scope for a PCA, and another blog will cover the Phase I ESA. It is important to remember that a customized scope of work can increase the cost and delivery time of a report, and should be discussed by client and consultant before their contract is finalized.

ASTM E-2018 – the standard for Property Condition Assessments
ASTM E-2018 is the Standard Guide for baseline Property Condition Assessments. The guide has a standard scope of work, but also recognizes that “…there are varying levels of property condition assessment and due diligence that can be exercised that are both more and less comprehensive than this guide, and that may be appropriate to meet the objectives of the user”. To accommodate this, ASTM E-2018 includes additional sections describing out-of-scope due diligence services that can be performed at the option of the client: Annex A1 and Section 11.

Annex A1: “Specific Property Types”
Annex A1 lists special items that are not included in the baseline, but can be selected to supplement the PCA process. Some examples my clients have requested throughout the years include:

1. Parking Counts (Annex A1 gives two options: base the count on drawings or actual field counts).
2. Multifamily Units Count (Again, the annex gives two options: count based on drawings, actual field counts).
3. Calculations of Building areas (Annex 1 gives options for gross and net usable area; measurement from drawings and field measurement. Low rise buildings had sometimes been field measured).
4. Investigation of Third Party Service companies records (While this may be helpful I have not often seen it requested).

Section 11: “Out of Scope Considerations”
Section 11 of the ASTM E-2018 lists activities and additional physical condition items that are generally excluded from the scope of the PCA, but that clients can choose to include. Costs for these would be in the consultant’s fee proposal.

“Active Exclusions” include identifying capital improvements or upgrades and testing equipment. Also excluded are engineering calculations to confirm HVAC, electrical, plumbing and structural systems have adequate capacity for the property. This is often a necessary part of a PCA on a major property, and to this end the consultant will provide one or more specialty subcontractors to assess structural, façade, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, life safety and vertical transportation systems.

“Additional Issues“ which the client may select include: Seismic, Design Conditions for Natural Disasters, Insect Rodent Infestation, ADA Requirements, FHAA Requirements, Mold, Indoor Air Quality and Security Systems.

Going Beyond: some real-life examples
I perused a number of past reports, and picked some examples of additional items that clients chose to go beyond the standard scope of the PCA:

1. Evaluate soils reports prepared at the time of preliminary site investigation.
This type of report assists the structural engineer in foundation and superstructure design. The report would include recommendations for foundation design and, if foundation drawings are available, these would be checked against the report
2. Report on the condition of underground utilities.
3. Calculate replacement costs.
4. Make a personal visit to the building/zoning/fire departments to get records.
5. Provide a copy of the original building permit. If not available, then obtain a copy of the most recent certificates of occupancy.
6. Answer the following questions – What does the zoning code consider a “Total Loss” in the event of a major disaster? In the event of a Total Loss would the property have to be built to the current zoning code (setbacks, parking and others)? If so, would there be significant changes to the property that would affect its economic viability (increased setbacks, smaller footprint, increased parking, smaller footprint, current use still allowed)? In the event of a smaller loss, could the property be rebuilt as is and be considered “legal nonconforming”?
7. Are the fire sprinklers in place manufactured by Central Sprinkler between 1989 and 2000 (and thus subject to recall)?
8. Provide information on the energy efficiency of the building and systems including, if available, the building’s Energy Star rating and LEED certification. Provide a description of improvements that have been made or are planned to be made to increase efficiency or improve the sustainability of the property.
9. Where the seismic analysis shows a Scenario Upper Loss from the Design Basis Earthquake and the proposal provided for it, prepare a recommendation for structural modifications to achieve a loss of 15% with preliminary costs.

Closing Thought
Client specific requirements should, of course, be a topic when you’re introducing your company for the first time. Pricing the work will always be difficult. It’s a business risk with possibly a larger return for a long term relationship.

Architectural Manufacturing in CA Holds Strong

As an architect and a Southern California resident, I was glad to read a story in The Architect’s Newspaper recently that manufacturing of architectural elements in SoCal is holding steady and even growing. 

Southern California has long been a center for architectural manufacturing:  curtain wall assemblies, LED lighting, perforated panels and handrail systems to name a few.  Low cost shipping, skilled labor and fast turnarounds are some of the advantages. 

Click here to read the story.

Free Seismic Risk Assessment Webinar (aka Probable Maximum Loss)

How do financial institutions manage the seismic risk of their portfolios?

The short answer is, many of them do not.  Many institutions have no formal seismic risk policy to screen out higher-risk properties, and even within those that do have a policy, Seismic Risk Assessments can be a source of confusion.

“Probable Maximum Loss” reports, also called “Seismic Risk Assessments” are an often misunderstood but very important tool in the underwriting toolkit for structured finance.  These risk assessments rate buildings for seismic risk, the goal of which is to protect your portfolio and downstream investors from a double helping of seismic risk.   The PML Report cannot completely eliminate risk from a seismic event, but the PML will screen out buildings that are at greatest risk for damage during an earthquake.   Note: lenders that don’t require PMLs might find that their portfolio suffers from adverse selection; essentially getting a double helping of seismic risk.

To use the Probable Maximum Loss Report well a lender needs consistency.   If you are going to measure anything, you want to do it by the same method every time.   Seems like common sense, but the way the seismic risk assessment standards are written (ASTM E 2026-07 and E 2557-07) allows for numerous different types of assessments, scopes of work, and ways to report the PML value.  So, lenders really need to play an active role in defining what they want in their seismic risk policy

I recently participated in a webinar panel on how lenders can better understand and use PMLs, and structure a seismic risk policy.  It is available to view on demand until January 31, click here to sign up.

FHA and Fannie Mae Announce Green Refinance Plus

On May 31, FHA and Fannie Mae announced the launch of Green Refinance Plus, a joint program to provide funding for energy and water efficiency upgrades as well as other property renovations.  US Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has teamed up with Fannie Mae to share the risk of loans made in the Green Refinance Plus, an improvement of the Fannie Mae/FHA Risk-Share program.

Under the new program, borrowers will be required a “Green Physical Needs Assessment” to identify needed renovations to the property, energy efficiency measures (EEMs) and water-efficiency improvements.  The Green Physical Needs Assessment or “Green PNA” essentially combines a standard Physical Needs Assessment and an Energy Audit.

Green Physical Needs Assessment Scope of Work and Qualified Provider

The Green PNA scope of work includes three main components: 1) a traditional PNA report that will also identify energy and water efficiency measures; 2) an Energy Audit that will analyze the cost and financial payback of recommended energy and water efficiency improvements and alternatives, and benchmark energy and water costs over the long term using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager;  and 3) an Integrated Pest Management Plan Inspection including an inspection of the current pest condition at the property and an evaluation of the current pest management plan.

The Green PNA for the refinance program must be completed by a “Qualified Provider,” which is someone who is either: certified to complete energy audits by RESNET or BPI (or their training providers); a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) or state equivalent; a registered architect; a registered professional engineer; a RESNET certified Home Energy Rater; or a BPI Certified Building Analyst.  There are additional qualifications for the provider, including the individual provider’s experience, quality of reports and timeliness.

More information on the Green PNA scope and qualified provider requirements can be found here.


Partner Engineering and Science, Inc. specializes in Energy Audits, standard PNAs and Green PNAs.  Feel free to give us a call with any questions.  800-419-4923.

Probable Maximum Loss Scope of Work for CMBS Lenders

The commercial mortgaged-backed security (CMBS) industry has been reborn in 2010.  CMBS underwriters call their new underwriting paradigm CMBS 2.0.   Providers of third party reports such as Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, Property Condition Assessments and Probable Maximum Loss reports ask: What does CMBS 2.0 mean to our trade?   

The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and the Property Condition Assessment are rather standardized and in my opinion are being provided to CMBS lenders with great reliability.   The Probable Maximum Loss report needs standardizing.   In 2007, ASTM published two new standards for Probable Maximum Loss Reports:  ASTM E2026-07 Standard Guide for Seismic Risk Assessment of Buildings, and ASTM E2557 Standard Practice for Probable Maximum Loss (PML) Evaluations for Earthquake Due-Diligence Assessments.

These new ASTM Standards improve the process, but are too flexible.  For example, the standards do NOT specify how an engineer should calculate a PML and some engineers perform calculations that are out of the mainstream or worse, do no math at all-they just call it based on their judgment.  Of course my colleagues may be very good engineers, but what the industry needs is an objective measurement of seismic risk.   The process should be transparent and peer reviewable.  

Objective reliable Probable Maximum Loss Reports are easily achievable; we just need some help from our clients.  Yes, the clients must do their part.   If clients require the following we will be more than half the way there:

  1. Only order reports from firms with registered engineers on staff;
  2. Require the engineer to show his/her math;
  3. Require that the engineer call the Scenario Expected Limit as the PML, but also report the Scenario Upper Limit.

I have participated in writing the Probable Maximum Loss Scope of Work for several lenders and my rational for my recommendations is presented more thoroughly in my RMA Journal article titled Managing Seismic.

Happy Holidays,
Joe Derhake, PE

SBA SOP 50 10 5 (C)

With the latest SOP revisions taking effect on October 1st, 2010 there are certain elements in regards to Environmental Policies and Procedures found in SOP 5010 5 (C) (pages 199 – 206 & 310 – 317) that lenders should be aware of.

An important fact for lenders to understand is that the Reliance Letter has had a revision and as of October 1, 2010 the Reliance Letter from SOP 5010 5 (B) will no longer be accepted.   It is critical for lenders to make sure their environmental firm know of the new Reliance Letter and will sign it.  We strongly suggest that lenders make sure that their Environmental Professional understands this prior to engaging them to do the work, and understand that the Reliance Letter cannot be modified in any way.

Overall, the Environmental Requirement changes in this latest SOP were minimal and below we provide the actual revisions to the Environmental  Policies for your review.

  • When you are making a loan for less than $150,000.00 and the Environmental Questionnaire comes back showing further investigation is required, you may now have a Records Search with Risk Assessment (RSRA) performed instead of having to go to a Transaction Screen Report. SBA believed that this was more with the natural progression of reporting and therefore made this change.
  • When reviewing the NAICS Codes of Environmentally Sensitive Industries the code 8123 LAUNDRY & DRY CLEANING SERVICES it now will state if dry cleaning operations have ever existed on-site. Prior to the revision it stated if dry cleaning operations on site.
  • In Section f) Mitigating Factors that SBA will rely upon to disburse before completion of remediation or monitoring, for section f) titled Escrow Account the new SOP clarifies two issues. The first being that the money put into the escrow account can’t come from funds from the SBA loan itself. The second clarification answers the question if the money in the escrow account can be used for the actual remediation itself or if it needs to stay in the escrow account until the remediation is completed. The answer is that yes, it can and should be used for the remediation costs.
  • In Section g) Groundwater Contamination Originating from Another Site, the revision to the SOP eliminates the sentence, “and lender can demonstrate that the contamination has not caused significant damage to the collateral value and marketability of the Property”. They made this change understanding the lender really couldn’t demonstrate or comply with this requirement.
  • The Reliance Letter in appendix 3 has been modified by adding the words “as it impacts the property” at the end of the last sentence in regards to a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment.
  • Special Use Facilities (Section H), when a Phase II is required for a dry cleaners in operation for more than five years the Phase II must be conducted by an independent Environmental Professional who holds a current Professional Engineer’s or Professional Geologist’s license and has the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience.
  • Appendix 5: Requirements Pertaining to Gas Station Loans, Phase I’s no longer need to be conducted by an Environmental Professional who holds a current Professional Engineer’s or Professional Geologist’s license and has the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience. It can now be conducted by an Environmental Professional meeting the requirements as outlined in Appendix 2: Definitions.
  • Appendix 5: Requirements Pertaining to Gas Station Loans, Phase II’s must be conducted by an Environmental Professional who holds a current Professional Engineer’s or Professional Geologist’s license and has the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience.

Partner Engineering and Science has a SBA Division dedicated to assisting lenders in understanding SBA’s Environmental Requirements and providing Environmental Reports nationwide for 7a and 504 loans.  We are truly the SBA Experts that lenders, CDC’s, and attorneys nationwide have come to depend on!

We’re here for you.  Give us a call and let us become your Partner too!

The changes found in SBA’s SOP 5010 5 (C) can be viewed by going to:

For further clarification or to request free laminated flowcharts of 5010 5 (C) please contact Gary Reynolds at or by calling 800-419-4923.

Comments on ASTM E2026— Standard Guide for Estimation of Building Damageability in Earthquakes

Engineers perform Probable Maximum Loss Reports (or Seismic Damageability Reports) for real estate investors, lenders, and insurance companies. The consumers of Probable Maximum Loss Reports have many different needs and there is considerable variance in methodology between providers-sometimes for client driven reasons and sometimes because of the engineer. 

ASTM E2026 Standard Guide for Estimation of Building Damageability in Earthquakes ,  is a standard that tries to meet the needs of all stakeholders. The result is that the standard is often not very prescriptive. The very flexible ASTM for PMLs allows for a plethora of different types of PML Reports and is silent on the issue of the formula for calculating the PML.  

The most significant element of the ASTM E2026 Standard is a defined set of vocabulary.   Significant elements are as follows:

First, the term Probable Maximum Loss is defined as “a term used historically to characterize building damageability in earthquakes. It has had a number of significantly different explicit and implicit definitions. It is recommended that the term not be used in the future, and that the terms probable loss (PL) and scenario loss (SL), whose definitions are precise, be used to characterize the earthquake damageability of buildings and groups of buildings.”

Second, instead of simply stating the “Probable Maximum Loss Number” for a report, the ASTM Standard recommends providing multiple numbers.  An engineer’s prediction is really not a single number (or damage ration); rather, we develop a curve of probabilities. Providing lenders a probability curve does not really work for the financial industry. Instead we have historically expressed to lenders a number associated with a given scenario. The ASTM E2026 Standard defines two important numbers on the curve:

Scenario Expected Loss (SEL)- the expected value loss in the specified ground motion of the scenario selected. Since the damage probability distribution usually is skewed, rather than symmetrical, it should not be inferred that the probability of exceeding the SEL is 50%; it can be higher or lower than this amount.

Scenario Upper Loss (SUL)-the scenario loss that has a 10% percent probability of exceedance due to the specified ground motion of the scenario considered.

The ASTM E2026 Standard also provides different levels of investigation.   The four levels of inspection defined are:

Level 0 PML –  Screening Level of Assessment

Level 1 PML –  Drawing review and Site Visit

Level 2 PML – Structural Calculations

Level 3 PML – Full Engineering Review

The ASTM E2026 Standard goes a long way to improving the consistency of the practice of Probable Maximum Loss Reports (a.k.a. Seismic Damageability Assessments), but the ASTM’s committee need to accommodate all stakeholders produced, in my opinion, an overly flexible standard.   I recommend that a lender seeking to use the PML product as a consistent underwriting tool should also consider applying the following four recommendations:

  • 1) Use Theil Zsutty as a method of calculation for the PML;
  • 2) Show the math on the calculations;
  • 3) Work should be done under the responsible charge of a registered engineer;
  • 4) Follow ASTM E2026-2007 and ASTM E2557-2007;
  • 5) Do a Level 1 Inspection-in other words, require a site visit.