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Want to know the guts of a CRE asset? Become a gofer

May 30, 2017

gopher.jpgGetting schooled on a topic you’ve spent years trying to master is no easy thing.

In my case, having written about commercial real estate for around 15 years, you would think I’d know all the ins and outs of the industry by now. I consider myself pretty conscious of commercial real estate assets and spaces, both inside and out.

At least, I thought I was, until I started taking on jobs as a gofer.

During the construction or renovation of a commercial real estate asset, there are several subcontractors involved who work every day to prepare the property for use.

Many of these subcontractors have what are referred to as gofers on their teams. A gofer is essentially an unskilled laborer. When someone points at a tool, they grab it and deliver it. When the crew needs items moved, they move them. Gofers can also shadow the skilled workers, and learn how to do a few of their tasks on a fundamental level.

Being a freelance writer with subcontractor friends in a city that is experiencing plenty of commercial real estate construction, I have taken on gofer jobs between assignments to earn extra cash and get exercise.

Little did I know that these short gigs would also turn into learning experiences. I quickly learned how much we all take for granted when it comes to CRE spaces.

Here’s a quick peek into a few of the jobs I’ve helped with and what I’ve learned from them:

Post-construction cleaning

Did you presume that the teams working construction on a building cleaned up after themselves once the job was done? Think again.

Enter post-construction cleaning subcontractors.

Basically, when the interior of a building is completely installed with plumbing, fixtures, doors, cabinets and other basics, left in its wake is a huge mess that needs to be cleaned and detailed. For a gofer, this means meticulously scraping glue off of windows and their frames, making all countertops and shelving spotless beyond perfection, and hauling a lot of junk to a dumpster.

Most people walking into the interior of a post-construction site before the deep clean is done would likely say: “There is no way this is going to be suitable for a tenant in four days.”

Well, it happens.

The professional cleaners know what products will undo sealant smudge off of a window or frame. They know how to clean the HVAC ducts and power wash areas on a building’s exterior, making a place that was literally trashed look impeccable soon before a tenant arrives. And they do it fast.


Those trees, bushes, and flowers didn’t just plant themselves!

A landscape architect’s job is an intricate mix of balance, placement and color. They need to know what plants do well with little sunlight and those that require a lot and where to place them. Then there is the planning around where certain wiring is placed, so it isn’t severed. Beyond that, if a landscaper is new to a project, they sometimes have no idea what they are digging into. Common items include uncovered tree stumps, older former construction materials and hunks of concrete that must be removed.

The gofer usually hauls those items to a disposal container, moves around mulch, dirt and gravel, and digs holes.

The work itself is far from glamorous, but what a gofer gets to see over the course of a few days is the intricate placement of plants and trees where there were none before, or the restoration of prior old and worn foliage.

Electrical installation

Have you ever seen someone pierce through an eight-inch concrete wall with a three-and-a-half-inch drill bit? If not, you should try it sometime. Electrical contractors do way more than just installing wall sockets.

I recently worked with a team that was setting up the cooling system underneath the refrigerated section of a soon-to-be grocery store in a renovated, early twentieth century building. In the basement underneath, struts needed to be drilled into the ceiling that could hold up and support the heavy machines. Wiring needed to be fed inside and outside of the building through plastic pipe work (hence the drilling through concrete). Those pipes then needed to be heated and bent to accommodate the challenges of a cramped space to ensure that the wires could be channeled in the proper direction.

In this situation, the gofer basically grabs tools, holds piping and bars in place, and moves piles of equipment around for the primary workers.

The great thing about electrical work is that it is meant to be hidden from the tenant. But there is a lot going on inside the walls of grocery store that many would never notice or think about without having witnessed the installation process.

Go for it!

All this experience has given me a much greater appreciation for the industry I write about. Every time I go into an office building or store, I think about all the people that made it happen. Since I see the bigger picture, I have richer conversations with my contacts in the industry and a deeper fulfillment in my work.

Chances are you might know some subcontractors through a leasing or transaction. If you don’t, developers and building owners can certainly put you in touch with them. Especially in cities booming with construction, these often small firms are always looking for extra hands to get the job done. It’s flexible, and it doesn’t have to be a huge ongoing commitment.

So try out the gofer experience for a few days, and you’ll see commercial real estate from a brand new angle.

Topics: Best Practices

Ian Ritter

Written by Ian Ritter

Ian Ritter is a veteran commercial real estate writer. He worked several years as retail editor at GlobeSt.com and currently writes about the industry for several corporate clients and news organizations. He holds a Master's Degree from Columbia University's School of Journalism.

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