Thursday, November 10th, 2016

architects save you money: advice and oversight

In a recent blog post we talked about the four ways that architects save you money. In that post we were attempting to combat the public perception that architects are a luxury, when in fact we are a necessity to any project – no matter the size or complexity. In the next series of posts we wanted to move on to more detailed explanations of each of the four ways architects save you money. First up was Design where we discussed the process of design and what it means for you, the client. Then we discussed Details in which we outlined the financial benefits of having a well coordinated set of construction documents. Next up:

Professional Advice and Experienced Oversight

This is an area of architectural service that we really can’t stress enough the importance of, yet it’s almost always the one service that is taken advantage of least often. The technical ability to draft and to create a set of construction drawings is a learned ability by virtue of higher education and, as I said in a previous post, the average person can draw a set of plans if they are sufficiently motivated. There is obviously far more that goes into the design and documentation of your average single family home, but we’ve addressed that before and isn’t the subject here today. Professional advice and experienced oversight is not something that is taught. It is not learned from books or research or Google. It is acquired little by little after years of experience being in the field, working with clients, working with contractors, and getting things built. And as we’ve done with our previous posts, we’re going to talk about how this advice and oversight during construction helps you, the client, save money.

But first lets get an understanding of what this is contractually. When you hired your architect – we have to assume you’ve already hired one if you’ve made it this far….if not, go hire one. When you hired your architect you were presented with a contract that outlined a scope of work and various services to be performed that are associated with that scope of work. These services are likely listed as Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents and, hopefully, Contract Administration. The first 3 services make up the final work product that your architect provides – a set of drawings issued for construction. The last item on that list, Contract Administration, is where we really get at the meat of how your architect will save you money. This service isn’t tangible and honestly the only time a client sees the value of this service is when they elect NOT to have it in the architect’s services. Ironic, no?

Contract Administration is invaluable to you, the client, because construction is a messy and chaotic process with hundreds of moving parts and people that all come together to create your new home. The first step to making sure this process is relatively smooth is having a good set of drawings (see previous posts). The final step in that process is having your architect on site during construction to work with the contractor to make sure your home is built according to those drawings. Remember, this is your investment. And a very large one at that. Contract administration usually adds between 10 and 15 percent to the total contract fee for your architect. At most that might be as much as a few thousand dollars. But that extra few thousand dollars can potentially save 10s of thousands. I know, you’re asking “But how can that BE!? My contractor has been building houses for 30 years, etc etc etc.” Simple – construction is messy and chaotic and I don’t care how long you’ve been doing something, no one knows everything and we can all learn to do something better. Not to mention your contractor isn’t the one who has just spent the last couple of months learning all about you and your family to design a home that fits your lifestyle. The contractor also hasn’t spent the last couple of months getting intimately familiar with the construction documents, details and specifications. Your architect has done these things. Your architect is an asset to have on site.

For example:

One of our projects is nearing completion. The client originally just needed the construction documents and did not want to spend the extra money on Contract Administration services. I did my best to describe the potential savings in both time and money on their part as a benefit of this service, but at the time they couldn’t see the justification. And so we proceeded as contracted with the construction documents – signed, sealed and delivered. Not long after the questions started coming regarding bidding: “Is this included, is that included, what does this mean, etc.” These are all questions that we would have been happy to answer and handle if contracted for CA services. Unfortunately this meant an additional fee at our hourly rate, which, again, the client couldn’t justify.

Fast forward to now and there are significant elements of the project that were left out by the contractors and would now cost 10s of thousands to come back and fix or install. Such as the portion of the concrete patio that was left out off of the dining room and sunroom. Or the coffered ceilings in 3 different rooms that were not installed because the framer failed to read the drawings and price accordingly. Or the arched openings that framed the dining room and hallway between the dining room and main living area that were left out because the coffered ceilings were left out. All of these items would have been caught either during bidding or at the very least during rough framing and could have been addressed by me, the architect, so that the client received the final design we worked so hard to create.

After all was said and done the client came to us and simply said “we really love our house, but we see that we should have kept you involved during construction. You could have saved us so much time and headache.”

Your architect’s services are not limited to just creating a set of construction documents. Nor is this the most important function of your architect. Taken individually, each level of service will provide some degree of savings overall for your project. But in order to realize the full benefit and ultimate savings it is in your best interest to solicit the full services and expertise of your architect on any and all construction projects. Good design, good details and experienced oversight together will save you time, frustration, and money. You’ll have a structure that is more functional, constructed better and is a more sound investment for your future.