Businesswoman Makes Short Work Of Permit Process

June 09, 1991|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Most people don't like standing and waiting in line for something, but Michelle B. Harford doesn't mind -- especially if she's getting paid for it.

Harford, 29, is the owner and operator of Professional Permit Expediting Service Inc.

Her job is to spend time in county government office buildings obtaining building permits for contractors and corporations.

"To build anything, you need a permit, and I file for an expedite building permit through the county agencies," she explained. "I cover approximately 15 counties in four states -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey."

While the permit expediting business is not new --Harford hung out her shingle Sept. 1, 1987 -- it is unusual.

"When I first started, I got about five calls in four weeks from people saying, 'I didn't know anybody like you existed,' " she recalled. "So,as far as I know, I'm the only person in Carroll County who does this."

Strangely enough, none of her 38 clients are from Carroll County, and she figures this may be because contractors in the county know their way around the county office building.

So, who does hire someone like Harford?

For one, the Rouse and Associates Co. of Columbia, Howard County. Perhaps the largest developer in the state, Rouse is Harford's biggest customer. Other customers have included Kentucky Fried Chicken and Woolworth.

"We're very pleased with how she takes care of us," said William Rowe, a senior project manager for Rouse. "She gets the permits and gets them in on time, she knows

who to talk to in the various agencies, and if there's a problem, she brings it to us to work out."

Rowe noted that Harford costs the company less money than if they had a staff person take time to get the permits.

Harford got into the permit business by accident. As a youngster in Johnstown, Pa., she dreamed of becoming an architect and took architectural design at a vocational technical school.

"I learned to lay brick, run piping and electrical wiring -- everything," she said.

After some moving around, she settled in the Baltimore area and took a job with an engineering firm as a draftsman. Within a few months, the firm moved her to permits, about which she admitted knowing nothing.

She learned fast, eventually resigning to open her ownbusiness with some financial backing from a friend.

Through word-of-mouth, business has been growing steadily and Harford is well-known in the Baltimore metropolitan area, at least in the permits departments.

Harford covers the entire process of obtaining the necessarypermits for any kind of construction, renovation or simple new-occupancy.

"I get a copy of the site and construction plans, look them over and pick out things the COB is going to pick out and the architect makes the changes," she explained. "I fill out the permit application and the company sends me a check for the necessary fees."

After the plans are submitted, Harford tracks the progress of the application, making sure it gets to the right people, then going back to thecompany to work out any problems that may arise.

She's also a mediator for problems between the county and contractor.

"Sometimes one change will have a domino effect on the whole project, or the engineers and architects will butt heads with the permit reviewer over the interpretation of something," she noted.

Once everything is settled, Harford pays the final fees and picks up and delivers the permit. Depending on the project, the process can take anywhere from two months to six or seven months.

Although her job is technically finished at this point, if a problem comes up and the contractor needs as permit for a major change in the project, Harford may be called back to take care of that.

"Having the contractor get the permit, if hedoesn't know how the process works in a particular county, is wastedtime and money," Harford said. "That's part of my marketing strategy-- that it's cheaper to hire me and let me do it for them."

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