5 Architects 5 Questions

Working with Clients and Contractors.

With a goal of finding ways to improve the building experience for Clients, Design Associates, and General Contractors we gathered a list of questions and hit the streets.  Since the Architect is often the first point of contact for the Client we started by interviewing some local players to get their feedback. To keep content brief we have provided their responses in a shorthand format.

A special thanks to the selected Architects for their participation:

Colleen Mahoney of www.mahoney-architects.com, Mill Valley, Ca.
Michael Heckmann of www.heckmannarchitects.com, Tiburon, Ca.
Jared Polsky of www.polskyarchitects.com, Larkspur, Ca.
Patrick Lepelch of www.lepelcharchitect.com,, Mill Valley, Ca.
Elizabeth Suzuki of www.suttonsuzukiarchitects.com, Mill Valley, Ca.

1. In your experience what leads to the most successful construction projects?

Mahoney: Trust, trusting the team, I feel the most trusting Client gets the best job.

Heckmann: The Client staying engaged through the entirety with a total commitment to make the project the best it can be.

Polsky: Listening, meeting people’s expectations, good communication, and an experienced site superintendent.

Lepelch: Weekly meetings with the team, a tight set of project documents, and being vigilant in pre qualifying the right Contractor.

Suzuki: The Architect and the Contractor managing the Clients expectations with budget as well as the scope of the project in mind.

2. What are 3 challenges you experience working with Contractors?

Mahoney: Not insisting the Architect be engaged in construction, setting the Client up for change orders, and not anticipating problems in advance to enable Architect to come up with solutions.

Heckmann: Not keeping Architect involved, Contractor altering the design intent, and lack of experience and communication.

Polsky: Lack of communication, change orders in an untimely fashion, and needing answers too quickly.

Lepelch: Lack of experienced foreman, not communicating in a timely manner, missing details in the specifications, and unrealistic schedules.

Suzuki: Doing what you say your going to do, letting people know when things aren’t going as planned, and a lack of communication about issues.

3. What are 3 challenges you experience working with Clients?

Mahoney: Husband and wife not engaged throughout project, leaving decisions to Architect and Builder, not doing the work to make decisions in advance.

Heckmann: Expect design solutions too quickly, don’t make decisions fast enough during construction, phase out Architect involvement through the course of the project.

Polsky: Lack of timely decision-making, an unwillingness to understand things happen, and unrealistic to budget.

Lepelch: No added contingency to the budget, second guessing decision-making, a lack of trust in the Architect and his/her ability to make decisions based on past experience.

Suzuki: A lot stems from the Clients uncertainty, or difficulty with making decisions.
Lack of decisive, committed decisions…each decision lays ground work for the future.

4. What are some of the advantages to a negotiated contract?

Mahoney: Familiarity with the builder, better understanding of complexity, Client informed and involved, need less detailed plans.

Heckmann: Client is an integral part of the team that usually provides end result balancing quality, scope, value, cost. When Client brings Architect and contractor into discussion…they control areas of project where pricing is not right….takes more time and engagement by the Client…better result in the end.

Polsky: Team atmosphere, subcontractors weigh in on process, technically avoid change orders, superintendent understands the project.

Lepelch: Cost estimating with builder to come in on budget, Client negotiates with Contractor upfront and gets competitive numbers through subcontractors, build trust early on during trial period and learn how the relationship will work.

Suzuki: Client involved in selecting team members and plays active role. Working through pre-construction the contractor knows the project and Client gets to build the know, like, and trust factor….the Contractor needs to be right for the project.

5. What are some disadvantages to the competitive bidding process?

Mahoney: Builders are forced to consider the job based on low price vs what is best for the Client and the original design intent.

Heckmann: Going with low bid can lead to more inexperienced team…usually happens when Client solicits proposals from under qualified builder.

Polsky: It is an inefficient process. Must be diligent to get apples to apples comparisons.

Lepelch: Need a complete set of bid documents to ensure proper pricing and comparisons.

Suzuki: Contractor chooses team based on price. Need a complete set of drawings to make sure bids are comparable and to minimize surprises down the road.

Anyone who has gone through a construction project, whether it be a simple bathroom remodel or full house makeover knows the important decisions are made very early in the process.  Some big questions are:  Who can I trust?  Who should I work with? How much will it (really) cost vs. how much can I afford? How do I know I’m getting a good value?

Most people start by talking to friends who have gone through a similar project to learn about the process and what worked vs. what did not. Unfortunately this is not always the best route considering the influence it will have on decision-making as well as the pre-construction format.

The project is designed to meet a proposed budget but often fails due to lack of realistic pricing and evaluation.  Hiring a Contractor for pre-construction services is an invaluable tool but often met by the Clients unwillingness to invest early.  Next is the all too common “competitive bid scenario”.  The problem is not so much the bidding but the way in which the process is implemented.  Hopefully the Client has invested in detailed bid documents and will let the Architect select and manage the bidding process. Often in a rush to get construction started the Client does not spend the necessary time to secure (final) design and product specifications which leads to inaccurate pricing.  General Contractors (often varying in caliber and level of service) prepare estimates that will (supposedly) be good for comparison and a final team selection.  At this point not only has the Owners expectations been compromised due to budget shock but the collaborative process forfeited as well.

Lessons Learned

Don’t underestimate the importance of a qualified team and doing your due diligence in the pre qualification, pre-construction process. The more time, money, and effort vested in the planning stages will determine the overall success of a project. Have faith in yourself, your decisions, and more importantly your team. Try not to entertain your neighbors view and how his approach failed and find industry leaders with proven track records who enjoy going the extra mile for Clients who trust them.

Thank you for your interest on this topic.  To receive your monthly post remember to subscribe to The Triangle.

About Peter Kasten

General Building Contractor serving the San Francisco Bay Area.
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