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What You Should Expect When Dealing with Architects.

Updated on January 26, 2013

About Me

I have spent most of my "adult" life in the architectural profession. I thought I might share some of my experience with people who might not be familiar with some on the ins and outs of that industry. I hope this is useful and not too confusing.

Famous Architect

Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the most famous American Architect.  Don't worry, most architects don't behave like he did.  He had a knack for getting away with a lot of things.
Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the most famous American Architect. Don't worry, most architects don't behave like he did. He had a knack for getting away with a lot of things. | Source

The Article

All small business owners will be faced with the task of expanding there brick and mortar facilities.Any successful business has to grow, there is no choice in the matter.If this is your first business, you probably have not dealt with an architect before.The architect should be the first person you bring on board to your team.Any construction project is a team effort and it is not something you will be able to walk away from, unless you are fabulously wealthy.If you are a small business owner, that is highly unlikely.

Most people believe that remodeling a building is always a cheaper option than a constructing a new building. This is not always the case. Construction projects need to be researched before you make that decision.The difficulty in remodeling is due to the nature of building codes that change every year. Major projects can trigger upgrades to any number of electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. Also, if you are dealing with a historic building then there are possible restrictions beyond the city codes.

You should hire an architect familiar with the building codes in your area to do a feasibility study and preliminary design. It may turn out to be cheaper to build in a new location, if you are willing to give up your current location.It is a good idea to enlist the aid of your architect to find a contractor. Some firms bring the contractor on board during the preliminary design and other firms prefer to wait until the design is almost complete. Both ways are valid and can produce great results.

The architect will act as your agent in dealing with the city and your contractor. He will be making decisions on your behalf, which is good because he has the training and experience to do so. In most states, you will be legally required to have sealed drawings by an architect and/or engineers on file with the city. Just call your city building inspection department to get a general idea of what the requirements are before you begin. The architect will deal with the details of the permitting process, zoning, and city code compliance. You just need a general idea of what is required.

During the construction of your building, the architect is vital in your relationship with the contractor. Keep in mind that the ultimate responsibility for a construction project is yours. During the construction phase of projects, contractors are notorious for skipping the architect and trying to get approval for changes directly from the owner. If you let the contractor do this, there is no recourse when he presents you with the change order. That will be an increase in the amount of money you are paying to the contractor. Let the architect do his job. Make it clear to the contractor that he will need to go through the architect for any proposed change. The architect will evaluate the proposals and present them to you along with the consequences of making that particular change. The architect should provide some construction observation service to you, mainly to report on compliance with the blue prints. It will be limited and the architect will be observing only. This should be spelled out in your contract with the architect.

There are several points that an owners actions will influence the final cost of a construction project. The first point where you can influence your costs is with the architect at the beginning. What you have to do is simple. Make decision and stick with them.If the architect is doing his job, he will spend some time working out what you need from this project and what you desire from this project. Those are two different things. The distinction provides the frame work to adjust your construction budget. From the information you give him and his site research, he will work up a preliminary plan and a preliminary budget. At this point you, should be able adjust the projectwithout being charged extra by the architect. Most people have to adjust their expectations at this point.The usual reason for this is that the budget exceeds your ability to pay. Don’t panic too much the first time you see this. Your architect will have many options to consider. For example, you don’t have to do everything at once. You can build the project in phases in order to secure funding later. Once everything is adjusted to your satisfaction, you may give the architect permission to proceed with working drawings, depending on your contract with him.

You are now in the project development phase; and, this is the point where indecision will start to cost you money.The following are a few of the reasons:

1. The architect has now budgeted time for the project more staff.They are either employees or contractors.Either way they must be paid.Changes will increase the amount of time/money the architect has assigned to the project.

2. Construction drawings are incredibly complex and every change you introduce raises the odds that errors will occur.

3. You will increase the amount of time needed and potentially affect the construction start date you have in mind.This can affect you building loans among other things.

Discuss the cost of making changes with the project architect before you direct him to make any changes.He should bring the costs up; but, not everyone does.

Once the drawings are completed, signed by the architect, and submitted to the city, you are in the construction phase. Changes made by you during construction will generate bills from the contractor, subcontractors, suppliers, and possibly the architect and engineers. It also affects the schedule and city inspections. Major changes will have to be approved by the City you are building in. Changes have to be legally recorded as addendums to the construction documents and submitted to the City for approval. That will involve altering the construction documents. Indecision is costing everyone time and money at this point. Most architects will charge for client actions that affect the bottom line. The profit margin for architects is very small and they have to protect what they have if they want to stay in business.

Another problem with changes during the construction phase is that the contractor makes his money by delivering a building as fast as possible. Labor and material costs have been accounted for in his bid. When you introduce, or approve, a change you are in effect agreeing to pay him more money.

Be aware that he cost of remodeling may exceed the budget set for it. That is the nature of remodeling. Existing buildings often have conditions that are not visible until you start construction. Be sure to have a contingency fund set aside to cover unexpected discoveries. The architect will help you set the amount. Do not let your contractor know that it exists, or at the very least, how much is in it. It’s weird, but contractors have a way of expanding the building costs exactly by the amount of the contingency fund. The costs will sound very reasonable if you just listen to the contractor. When you are presented with a change order proposal from the contractor, it will need to be closely looked at. Again, an architect is useful for that. Just keep in mind that you are the final word in most construction contracts. If you approve any changes proposed by the contractor, there is nothing the architect can do about it later. You will owe the contractor for that change. Always have the architect review change orders and make recommendations.I know this is a repeat of information from the beginning of this article; but, not letting the architect do his job is the most common error I have seen owners make in their dealing with architects.


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    • Bldg an Architect profile image

      Bldg an Architect 5 years ago

      This is a great post! I hope owners follow your advice!

    • leroy64 profile image

      Brian L. Powell 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)


      That is a great comment.

      It is a shame when contractors do that. It's usually a budget issue for the contractor that is at the root of that behavior. Bids are not always accurate; but, a good contractor and a good architect can always work things out without short changing the owner. Working things out also preserves a positive reputation of both parties which is extremely important in the construction industry.

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      This is a very useful hub. I once saw first hand what happens when contractor's skipped involving the architect. Basically the project didn't match what was carefully planned at the outset. The architect and contractor stopped working together on various projects and I believe that contractor is now out of business.