This go around we’re talking about cost versus value. And in this discussion we’re pitting the “DIY” generation against those who recognize the value of specialized services and are willing to pay for it. Do I even have to suggest how this might tie into the architectural profession? I didn’t think so.
Now, I’ve talked long and hard about the integrity of architects and the need for education and reaching out to a broader client base in order to push the profession forward into this new century. But, especially in economic times like we’re currently living in, there is still a large segment of people out there who see architects as a luxury expense. And this is where a discussion on cost versus value really begins.
But first, how do we define cost and value? My good friends over at Webster define them as follows:
cost: a : the amount or equivalent paid or charged for something b : the outlay or expenditure (as of effort or sacrifice) made to achieve an object
value: a: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged b: the monetary worth of something : market price c: relative worth, utility, or importance
The two key phrases here for me are sacrifice and utility. In other words how much are you willing to sacrifice upfront for the long term utility of something? This applies to almost everything in life, and least of all architects and architecture as a profession. Building a home, even a vacation home/second home/country cabin/whatever is a monumental expense. Most of us will never spend as much for anything else in life as we do for our homes. And with that in mind why would you NOT want to spend a little more in the beginning to make sure that you are getting the highest utility, the highest value for your money?
Topics like this, for me, invariably lead back to a lack of understanding and education about what exactly it is that architects bring to the table for even a small residential project like an addition or renovation. Because many still see architects as a luxury expense, we are therefore seen as a unnecessary expense. And so potential clients will ask themselves “what value would the added expense of an architect on my project bring?” And THIS is an excellent question, one that should be shared, asked out loud and talked about WITH an architect.
Architects are borne with a unique way of looking at the world. We see things that most people would never notice or care about. Like, that ceiling has a slight bow to it because the drywall contractor didn’t use furring strips under the floor joists in order to flatten out irregularities, or the contractor forgot to install corner bead on this wall so over time wear and tear is going to erode that corner and will need repairing, or the foundation crew did not properly install a waterproof membrane or drainage system for the stem wall, which means over time water will infiltrate the basement, most likely settle underneath the house causing structural instability in the home and possibly collapse. All of this, and more, is where an architect brings value to a project – any project. We are the client’s first line of defense to either preempt or correct construction errors before they become problems or even catastrophes.
Other examples can be things like, a contractor calls the client and suggests an “alternate” material that will save X-dollars, blah blah blah. The architect, if involved in the construction process, would be required to review that material and offer a clear determination to the client on whether or not that material is of similar quality as the previously specified material and offer guidance on whether the substitution is worth the savings quoted.
The bottom line is, when you factor the actual cost of an architect’s services, typically between 1 and 3% of the construction cost of a home, that upfront cost for services is far outweighed by the long term benefit in design and construction, and ultimately the safety, security and enjoyment of your family.