For CPAs Dave and Liz Scafa it’s been a long time in coming, but their new joint office, the Scafa Professional Center in Pennington, opened in November. The Scafas have been married for 28 years, but their business partnership only began about six years ago.
The pair met at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, while both were studying accounting. Dave graduated in 1980 while Liz graduated in 1982. Dave then worked for several years as a deputy chief accountant for New York City and also began his own part-time tax and accounting practice. By 1999 the couple had two young daughters and had purchased a home in West Windsor.
Dave left his position in New York City to work at his practice full-time. He opened an office at home rather than in a commercial space because it made it easier to be available to help with his daughters and their activities during their school years.
In the meantime, Liz had begun her financial services career in banking and insurance. “I really wanted to focus on investing and moved to Morgan Stanley in 1999,” she says. After five years with the firm she was ready to move out on her own. She left Morgan Stanley in 2004 and opened an office at 43 Princeton-Hightstown Road.
It didn’t take long for the couple to see the advantages of merging their two businesses. “I focus on the investment and insurance side and Dave focuses on taxes and accounting,” Liz says. “We found that often we had the same clients and it just made sense.”
That’s when the physical logistics became complicated. Dave was still working out of the house while Liz kept her space on Princeton-Hightstown Road. “We were always juggling where we were meeting clients; your place or mine,” Liz says.
They wanted to open a joint office and started looking for a space in 2005, says Dave. Finding a spot — 54 Route 31 South in Pennington — was the easy part. But it then took close to five years to get it ready to host a business.
“It was exactly what we wanted,” Liz says. The building, a Victorian-style home, was in need of renovation and was zoned for both commercial and residential use. They immediately knew the old home would make the perfect “little country office” and put in an offer.
So why has it taken so long to move in? As with any renovation project, things happen. Going through the process has been a learning experience for the Scafas. And while they are thrilled with the final product, there are lessons they have learned.
First is to know the players. Once you decide to renovate, a number of local and state government agencies become involved, Dave says. Learn who they are and their requirements. “First there is your architect and your contractor; then the engineers — your own and the township’s. Then there is the health department, the township planning board, lawyers for the closing, and a lawyer to handle any issues with the planning board.”
Because the septic tank needed to be replaced the Mercer County Soil Conservation District had to be notified. Because the building’s use was changing from residential to commercial, the Department of Transportation was required to do a traffic study on the effects the new office space would have on traffic on Route 31.
When the Scafas first purchased the building they assumed it would take two to three years to complete the renovations and move in. But as they got further into the renovation process they found that things always take longer than originally planned. At first they were going to simply repair the plaster walls, but after realizing just how many holes would be needed to upgrade the wiring for 21st century technology, they decided it made more sense to just gut the interior walls and redo all of the plaster.
They also discovered that the front porch was rotted. Instead of making repairs, they would tear off the porch and replace it with maintenance-free materials. They also decided that, since the renovations had become more extensive, it only made sense to remodel the second floor and add four offices for potential rental income.
They estimate the project came in at about 20 percent over budget (which they did not reveal), but they both agree it was worth it. “We are very happy with the final project,” Liz says. “We’ve created a modern office that still retains the character of the original house.” They’ve kept much of the original woodwork, including 12-inch high baseboards and solid wood pocket doors.
While the new office means getting back into the habit of commuting, both Dave and Liz agree the new arrangement is energizing.
“I find I’m enjoying the travel time,” says Dave, who hasn’t commuted since 1999. “The space is more flexible here and I find it really is easier to separate work and home life. Before, it was too easy to go back into my office in the evening and do more work. Now when I’m home, I’m home.”
Liz, too, enjoys the travel time. “It’s 20 minutes of time to myself,” she says. She has already learned several alternate back ways to avoid traffic on the major roads.
The couple say that spending their days and nights together is not a problem. In fact, unless they close the sliding panel doors between their two offices they are within sight of each other while they work at their desks. They do still have time apart, separate business meetings, and lunches and commuting in two vehicles, but they enjoy working together.
There are still a few details to be completed. They still need a sign for the front of the building, and they would like some more outdoor lighting, but they are ready to celebrate their new office space.
In fact, they enjoy their new office so much they would recommend the joys of office ownership to other business owners. “We’re accountants. We hate to pay rent,” Dave says.
#b#Scafa Financial Services LLC#/b#, 54 Route 31 North, Pennington 08534; 609-750-0002; fax, 609-750-0034. Elizabeth and David Scafa, owners. Home page: www.myhdvest.com/lizscafa.