The Value of a false Economy?

  • Building Design Expert
  • 9 years ago

The majority of domestic clients often require just the bear minimum in terms of an architectural design service. Whilst they recognise that a design drawing is actually necessary, not many understand that larger scale construction details, and a written bespoke specification that explain the design in full could actually save them money by the end of the project. Instead they look no further than the apparent extraordinary cost of the ‘professional fee’.

Extraordinary indeed! Architectural design fees may of course range from many hundreds for a small and straight forward porch extension, up to many thousands, or tens of thousands for who knows what? What does the client get for their money? Indeed, what are they looking for?

Answer? – As with most purchases, all the buyer really wants is value, and the final arbiter of that – is that buyer.

The professional often has an ‘uphill’ journey on this, as their appointment can very often be a one off by the client. They have conceded that construction regulation is a minefield, but how head slapping is it that having paid a professional to hold their hand part way into the field, they are then happy to let go, and find their way to the other side unaided, and blissfully unaware that there others laying down new ordnance with trip wires every other step.

I was sat with a client recently. I had won a fee bid on a refurbishment project for his company some years back, so he consequently sought me out when he wanted to alter and extend his own house. We were sat chewing on the various options for floor finishes, forms of heating…….. Their entire wish list to have the job exactly as they wanted it.

Not, after sitting down with their contractor having decided on an oak balustrade, the contractor couldn’t get oak within the price he had quoted so he took it upon himself to buy it in white softwood along with a can of dark oak wood stain, hoping nobody would know the difference. – This has happened.

The ‘entry level’ service provided by an architectural consultant may be to obtain planning permission, and, or approval under the Building Regulations. Of course the key advantage of an appointment beyond this is that the client, through the consultant, is able to effectively provide not only a job specific list of requirements, but also a considered detail design which integrates the entire wish list. The consultant is able to identify a form of construction that will lead to a finished product that is exactly what he envisaged, and more importantly, exactly what the client wanted. The list is almost endless as to what this form of appointment can achieve.

One of the key considerations is on tendering of the project each contractor is pricing exactly the same information, almost to the last nail. A full professional appointment like this is the only way to edit out any potential for ‘interpretation’ by the contractor. After all, faced with a canvass that merely comprises planning and building regulations drawings; most contractors immediately get out their broad brush and price the job building it their way. There’s an ‘allowance’ for finishes and certain types of materials, and the client soon learns to rue the day they ever thought about changing their minds about a detail or a finish they thought they would like, but then saw it and realised “Oh no”. “But that’s what you asked me to price for for” rightfully says the contractor. “I’ll see how much it will cost to change it”

Aside from the detail drawings that consider all the potential problems that could arise, and resolve them before the contractor lifts a shovel. Aside from the precise specification document that identifies the complete client wish list for finishes, materials and installations. The client benefits from the complete database of experienced knowledge filed away in the consultant’s head. Priceless information accumulated over 10, 20, 30+ years delving into a variety of industry facets and sub-consciously logging away experiences from when things went right, and experiences from when things went wrong; merging them together ultimately knowing what is likely to go wrong, and putting in place safeguards in anticipation. The client effectively rents this database of knowledge and experience for the duration of the project.

If this extended service is so good, why doesn’t everyone use it? – Even when it’s laid in front of them, it’s my experience that the majority of clients do not understand that their commitment to the ‘extraordinary fee’ to be paid to a good professional consultant is a down payment on piece of mind and confidence. Likely as not that fee is recoverable through the course of the contract as money saved against what might have been paid to the contractor (and more) to cover ‘extras and unforseen’ costs.

This where all doubting Thomas’s rise to the surface: No professional can prove, or guarantee that their fee will be recoverable / saved on a building project. So all clients who are looking to to appoint based upon the premise that it will be free, step down now. Anecdotally however, the likely hood of the project running more smoothly and costs being kept under tighter control is statistically greater.

From the professional stand point restriction of the appointment to an ‘entry level’ service is an undoubted false economy. The client will argue that their budget does not allow for the apparent extravagance of a full service, and is therefore willing to adopt what has euphemistically become known as the ‘Grand Designs’ approach to project management; where the client, who barely knows one end of a brick from the other, having no construction industry experience whatsoever, puts on the project managers hat to oversee what is potentially the second biggest spend they will ever make. If you have ever watched this iconic television programme you will be aware of the high percentage of projects that go significantly over budget. Some of the time it is due to the budget being wildly inadequate to start with. Much of the time it is a consequence of a combination of inadequate information to the contractor coupled with the deadly inexperience of the client. That is the Value of a false economy.