image of bureaucrat weighing a permit application

Does your construction or renovation project need an expeditor to navigate the NYC bureaucracy? An expert explains.

Sofia Zimmerman is a partner at Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design, a firm she runs with her husband, Adam Zimmerman, AIA.

Of the many consultants and contractors who work with our clients during a renovation or new construction project, the expeditor is the one profession that has people asking: “What do they do, exactly, and are they really necessary?” Our answer: A good one is worth every penny. Here’s why you should hire an expeditor, how they can help with your project, and what to look for when hiring one.

What New York Expeditors Do

The official name for expeditor is “filing representative,” which means they lead projects through the process of dealing with the Department of Buildings (DOB). This includes:

  • Scheduling meetings
  • Interpreting permit applications and drawings
  • Offering advice on what’s required for permits
  • Explaining building codes

They are also experts for instances that present unusual circumstances. When these issues arise, we often solicit their input. “When people ask what I do, I say I’m kind of like a Sherpa in the Department of Buildings,” says Favio Barrionuevo, an independent consultant we work with regularly. “I know where I’m going and I know how to avoid certain pitfalls that could delay or even derail a project.”

According to Barrionuevo, filing the wrong type of application is one of many things that can go wrong. With numerous applications and permit types, the process is cumbersome and nuanced. But with a complete project scope in hand, an expeditor knows which application is most appropriate and how to proceed.

Barrionuevo also says that forms often get revised with little notice, but because he’s well aware of what’s happening at the DOB, clients can rest assured that he’s completing the correct paperwork and avoiding costly delays.

DIY-ers, Beware

Still, one could argue that getting your hands on the right forms and DIY-ing the process shouldn’t be too difficult. There’s some truth to that, but it may not be the best use of your time. The DOB is a large organization in charge of all project filings. At times applications, paperwork and project specifics can slip through the cracks. A good expeditor will stay on top of everything to ensure approval and close out as quickly as possible.

The DOB is also a very busy place. You could literally spend an entire day at the DOB waiting for your appointment (and wishing you were in another, quieter city!), while an expeditor will go in for multiple projects at once, making the wait more efficient. Time and efficiency aside, it’s also important to remember their expertise in the building code. If you do something on your own and it’s in violation of a fire safety code or an asbestos-removal requirement, you’ll end up with a lot more work on your hands.

The Cost of Hiring an NYC Expeditor

What you can expect in terms of cost will vary depending on the job and the expeditor. Explains Favio Barrionuevo:

“Prices for the same project can vary wildly depending on who will be providing the expediting services. A solo consultant working out of a briefcase will usually cost less than the large company with a big office and large staff. The larger office will usually have someone to answer your call right away; the solo consultant will spend a portion of their day responding to calls and emails. Generally, expediting for an apartment renovation in Manhattan can run as low as several hundred dollars and as high as six or seven thousand. Buyer beware though … prices at the lower end usually nickel-and-dime every extra, whereas oftentimes the higher-priced contracts are soup-to-nuts.”

What to Look for in an Expeditor

As with all of the consultants on a job, we recommend doing your research. Typically, your design professional will have a list of his or her preferred expeditors. If not, solicit referrals from those associated with similar jobs, and check references. Also take note that expediters must be registered with Department of Buildings. You can look up and confirm any company or individual licensed or registered through DOB.

Even better, Barrionuevo says, “bad actors can be identified at this link, which is definitely worth searching to see if any of the people on your project have been disciplined by DOB for some reason or another.” In fact, the DOB website is a good place to do all sorts of other due diligence. This section for homeowners is good for reviewing general information.

Times Have Changed

One of the things I’ve heard people say is that expeditors are a bit of a racket. If you really dig back into NYC history (as in this article from 1991), you’ll read about payoffs and other unsavory practices. And as Barrionuevo reminded me, news reports from not too long ago confirm that we’re not completely in the clear.

Still, he says, “There is much more oversight on this than ever, and with all the new computerized systems already in place and more in planning stages, it’s becoming closer to impossible for briberies to occur.”

The bottom line: If you look for someone with a proven track record and impeccable references, the work will be done honestly and correctly — just as with any other person you hire.

Hey, why not like StreetEasy on Facebook and follow @streeteasy on Instagram?