10 Ways Some Architects Do A Disservice To Contractors and Home Owners
If you have been a contractor any length of time you have probably had negative experiences trying to work with architects. You have probably also witnessed the frustration, disappointment and financial challenges some architects cause for home owners due to their methods of doing business and how they do design development. Keep in mind I purposely said “some architects”. Just as there are good and bad contractors, there are good and bad architects. I have personally worked with a handful of great architects.
I know I am taking a risk here and that I will definitely get some passionate comments from architects. That said, below I offer 10 ways I think many architects do a disservice to contractors and home owners. Feel free to offer additional reasons and or to dispute my list. All opinions are welcome, as long as you are respectful and appropriate when doing so.
- The architect either invites multiple contractors to bid on the project or gives the homeowner the names of 5 (or more) contractors to bid on the project, essentially setting up an auction. So 5 contractors and all their subs do free estimates for the chance to be the lowest bidder (biggest loser). Then when the home owner actually buys from a contractor they are the ones paying for all the free estimates that contractor did for the people who did not buy. I think it would be interesting to hear the reaction home owners might have if they knew they were paying for other home owners’ free estimates.
- Do you know any architects who have estimating training and or experience? Many architects say they can and will design to a budget and or quote square foot costs to their clients that are unrealistic. Then if the contractor bids come in over budget many architects will blame all the contractors for being over-priced. These same architects then even have the nerve to charge the home owner to redesign the project to get it closer to the original budget. Why do home owners put up with being treated that way?
- Many architects create multiple designs and plan sets for the same project, most of which ever get built from because they do not take into account all of the related considerations (Budget/cost, zoning, soils, incomplete plans/specifications…). When this happens often times the home owner spends so much money on the unusable designs that they have to then scale back the project budget. Unfortunately the home owner pays for it all the wasted services and contractors waste their and their sub contractors’ time doing multiple estimates, typically all for free.
- Some architects charge contractors a referral fee for introducing them to the client, but tell the contractor they don't want the client to know about it. In my opinion this is not ethical. I have no problem with the referral fee as long as the contractor is OK with it. But hiding it from the client is deceptive because now the cost of the referral is a cost of the project, and, in essence, the architect is asking the contractor to lie about it. I don’t think contractors need to volunteer the information. But, if asked about it by the client, or if it’s a cost plus contract, I think the contractor needs to be honest. For T&M contractors, letting the home owner know that their markup on costs has to help cover the cost of the architect’s referral fee could help justify the markup percentage.
- The architect provides incomplete and or conflicting plans. This one creates big challenges for the homeowner as well as the contractor. If the contractor points out the missing details he can be accused of throwing the architect under the bus and probably won’t get the job. On the other hand if the items are missed or ignored when the contractor provides a price the missed items become change orders and the home owner has to pay the additional cost.
- Many architects take the plans too far before knowing if the customer can actually afford the project and or if the project can actually be built. I think this is one of the worst things architects do to their customers. Wouldn’t it make sense to make sure the there are no zoning issues and that the project and or the scope are realistic before spending the client’s money to bring the plans from concept to ready to apply for permit?
- Some architects require the contractor sign the AIA contract. That contract essentially says once under contract the contractor has to eat any additional costs to meet building code requirements even if the plans and or the design don’t meet code. Shouldn't a licensed architect be responsible to design to code and be responsible to their clients for the additional costs of what they missed?
- Not allowing the contractor to meet the home owner before providing a bid. I’m really not sure why architects do this. Why refer a contractor to the project but then not allow both the home owner and the contractor the opportunity to meet and make sure there is a good fit and that the budget is realistic before asking the contractor to invest a lot of his and his trade partner’s time assembling an estimate? I think this may have to do with number 2 above. The architect has no idea what the project will really cost and doesn’t want to risk that the contractor will help the home owner figure that out. If contractors allow this to happen and still submit a bid, shame on them!
- They over-design the project past the agreed budget without providing realistic insight about the additional costs. Again, assuming the architect agreed to design to a budget, refer to number 2 above. If the home owner asks for things and or the architect suggests things that will blow the agreed budget, shouldn’t the architect make the true price difference clear to the home owner first and ask if they will commit to increasing their budget before expanding the design and collecting bids from contractors?
- The architect specifies products he has no experience with. This one has caused many contractors a lot of money and or lost sleep; including me! Often the products can be difficult to procure, may be new and have not yet been proven to serve their intended purpose long term, and or may be way outside the client’s budget. By doing this the architect often creates financial hardships for the contractor and the home owner, and can cause serious project failure and or warranty problems that typically fall back on the contractor, not the architect.
So, that’s my list.
I have more but I think that’s enough to get the conversation going.
By the way, if you are a contractor or a home owner reading this, there is a better way. True Design/Build Contractors use a process that can eliminate every one of the challenges listed above. Check out this article titled The Advantages of Design/Build for Remodeling Clients for more on why Design/Build might be a better way to go for many contractors, home owners and even for architects.