In most cities and districts, the permitting process can be time-consuming, with contractors or their employees spending hours in municipal buildings awaiting confirmation. Hiring an expediter can be a cost-effective way to process a permit and free up staff for more skilled work.

Jerry Levine, president of The Levine Group, in Silver Spring, Md., works with expediters in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. “We use expediters because they are efficient. They know people and can move drawings through the process faster than us,” he says. Though he bills clients regardless of whether it’s his staff or an expediter working on the permit, he feels that his staff’s time is better spent doing other work, such as developing the design.

As a small contractor, Jim Manley of Manley Enterprise, in Bethesda, Md., says time is one of his most valuable assets — spending it in the permit office does not make sense. “I’ve taken a cell phone and reading materials to the office, but you can still only do so much. It’s very frustrating.” In New York City, says Anthony Cucciniello, owner of 4V Construction & Management Group, using an expediter is just part of doing business. “New York has a multistep process that would take a full-time staff person,” he says. The remodeler works with Rethy Associates, a firm with a full staff, including engineers to review documents. The firm pulls permits for all the necessary trade contractors as well, using the general permit number for the project.

Cucciniello’s expediter also researches the property for any open violations or existing permits that may interfere with the job — information especially valuable for commercial jobs. “This way, I can add any issues into the contract,” Cucciniello says.

Manley’s expediter is a former county employee who knows the inner workings of the permit office. He addresses any issues with the review personnel and makes changes on site. “I used him for over 15 permits, and he probably called me twice with only one delay for architect modifications,” Manley recalls.

Levine’s expediters do not make decisions at the permit office. If Levine or one of his staff were at the permit office, they could answer any questions or challenges. “The problem could be solved immediately. We give up that control,” he says.

To compensate, Levine allows more time in the process to answer questions. This concern has decreased as one of the areas he works in, the District of Columbia, has gradually been minimizing the level of interaction between contractors and review personnel. “I don’t know how much faster we could get questions answered if we were there anyway,” he says.

Manley says that the county he works in has improved its permitting process. That, combined with the slowing economy, has made it more efficient for him to apply for permits. However, when new topography and drainage requirements go into effect, he may have to hire an expediter again.

For projects in small municipalities, Cucciniello prefers to visit the permit office himself so he can interact and develop a relationship with the inspectors and personnel. He pays from $500 to a few thousand dollars for expediting services on residential jobs.

Levine lists the cost of the permit and the cost of getting the permit in his contracts. “Each project is different and takes a different amount of time, so clients are only charged for how long it takes for their project,” he explains.