value added….architecture? #LetsBlogOff

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.

14 thoughts on “value added….architecture? #LetsBlogOff

  1. The bulk of the work I’ve done on my home did not require anything in the way of structural changes, but I do have a friend who is a general contractor and who I sometimes pay to work on my home because of his expertise. He does not come cheap, but I also know that the mistakes I might make without him on site are surely more expensive than the cost of his services.

    • Thanks for the comments, Joe. And yes, I agree that not all projects require the involvement of an architect, but then again, one never knows. In my opinion it’s always at least a good idea to talk to one, or as you mentioned a contractor – someone knowledgeable about building. Even if you have to pay a consultation fee. That piece of mind knowing that someone knowledgeable at least weighed in on the project to offer some guidance is worth any nominal fee.

      • I came very close to vaulting the ceiling over the main living area of my tri-level house… simply to open it up a bit. And I was going to do it against the opinion of nearly everyone around me. Some nearly begged me to drop the idea. There is no way I would have been able to recover the cost to do it on the back end, either. Very costly, and it would have compromised the integrity of the roof. I finally decided I’d better take the experts’ advice and let it go.

      • Scott, thanks for your comments. I’d love to hear more about that story. What exactly was the reason for “everyone” convincing you not to move forward with the project? While I can imagine some situations where it simply isn’t feasible, I’m curious as to what your situation was.
        Thanks again.

  2. I appreciate your comments. I have been a kitchen and bath designer for over 28 years, I have seen a trend lately to people devaluing design services. It seems that just because they watch HGTV everyone thinks they are a designer! What they don’t understand is the long term livability that designers and architects bring to the table. They don’t buy into the sustainable value that we offer – not “green” but sustainability in “long life”. We take into consideration how you and your family are going to live in your home, not just today but 20 years from now. I am constantly amazed by the “short term” decisions clients make by going “cheaper” now and hiring unexperienced designers – or – better yet – doing it themselves.

    Thank you for your blog.

    • Thanks for your comments, Robin. I love that sentence: “just because they watch HGTV everyone thinks they are a designer!” Hilarious! And so true! 😉 I’ll even admit that I’ve fallen into the “oh yeah I could do that” trap more than a time or two, but I always know when I’m over my head and need expert assistance.
      Thanks again. Cheers!

  3. appreciate this post. when I saw the topic for today, my first thought went to how valuable an Architect and Designer is–and then even within, there is a hierarchy in value via licensing, accreditation, experience, etc. My husband is the Architect (and Artist) and Revit Specialist; my sister-in-law is in Interior Design, and my mother-in-law is a recently retired teacher: oh the stories told! I’ve ever been in Customer Service, and I write–but then, anyone can do those things, right? 🙂

  4. I agree of course. Let’s face it – architect designed spaces command a higher resale value. There is a reason why everyone wants an I-phone – DESIGN, something that is commonly misunderstood by those who don’t practice it.

    • Exactly right. And the iPhone, for most people, is an “affordable” electronic device. Especially considering it’s capabilities. Architect designed homes are no different. The thought that goes in to not just making it look good, but ultimate function and even multi-function are well worth the time and money spent. And, as you point out, the added monetary value of a home designed by a trained architectural professional helps to make up for that initial expenditure.
      Winning! 😉

  5. Never underestimate proper planning – and a decent set of directions. People will complain as they assemble toys this holiday with poor directions, yet they don’t value the need for a proper set of directions to build a much more complex system. “Just make it look like the picture.”

    • The all-time worst thing you ever want to hear from a client – “I want my house to look like this *holds up magazine clipping* but with this floor plan *holds up stock plan that in no way shape or form could work with previous picture*. That should only take a few days right?”

      • Several of my clients and I have an on going joke about “just pressing a button”. I design commercial interiors to the tune of a million square feet in 9 years so, as you may know, even the most simple of changes can still result in days or weeks worth or modification work to a set of construction documents. We all just groan, finish our glass of wine, and continue our day. Luckily I have some clients who get it.

        But then again, occasionally we do end up with the client who sees this imaginary world of push button design as being the reality, never understanding that his desire to move a single sink in a food service facility could necessitate an entire redesign of the workings of the project (especially if we’ve already permitted the old way) and that yes, we do plan on charging for that redesign. I wish it weren’t so but then again… who hasn’t made a little extra Christmas money off of those redesigns.

      • Brandon,
        Thanks for your comments and stopping by my little blog here. I appreciate it. I feel your pain completely. It’s always so very frustrating to hear the comments like you’ve mentioned. The “that should only take a few minutes”, or “you can just make that quick change, right?” Very frustrating. The worst, though, are commercial projects where the client says “well, this is basically just like the other one so you don’t really have to do any drawing. Just modify the last project, right?” Cause that would just be so easy…..or something… :-\
        This is why I spend so much time and energy trying to talk about what it is exactly that we as architects and designers DO. It’s up to us to educate and inform our clients. Otherwise the cycle continues and we’ll always be fighting against our clients’ clock/expectations.
        Thanks again! Cheers.

  6. Pingback: Can you afford the true cost? | HomeCentrl

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