I would like to take this idea of saving clients money a step further and discuss what it means to be an "Owner's Agent".
Early in my career, I was persuaded by a contractor to partner up with him. He wanted to expand into Design/Build and needed a designer. I had seen his work, but did not know him that well, so I acted as a sub-contractor, with no further commitment than design, for the first project. The clients were the nicest people I have perhaps ever met. The husband and educated and successful pediatrician. The wife was a full time mother of eight children, ranging in ages five to twenty-five. The project was a kitchen expansion and new Master Suite Addition. The builder had already done a small addition with them, and they treated him like one of the family. I underscore that these folks were intelligent and kind.
A couple of weeks later, the builder returned, broke into the locked house to get his tools, and then hit them with a bogus lawsuit that landed them in court for five years until the judge finally dismissed it! But that wasn't the worst of it. One of the teenage sons had been struggling in school and the tension about two years into the lawsuit drove him to commit suicide.
Acting as an "Owner's Agent", (i.e. handling the construction administration) means that I oversee a builder's request for draws - money to do the work. In this case, had I been hired directly by the clients, and for construction administration, I would have received the request for payment for the windows. And I would have instructed the clients to purchase the windows direct, and only pay the contractor after the windows were installed. The builder asking for money up front either had ill motives, or bad credit, or in this case, both.
Just this past week, I was working with a client who had decided to interview a few builders on their own. I do not force trust, and I do not judge anyone willing to take the task on themselves. However, both builders had given prices that were astronomically higher than what the project should cost, and also gave seemingly good explanations of the cost as well. Fortunately, the client became frustrated and asked for suggestions.
I asked if I could bring someone to look at the project, and then contacted a builder who I knew had been working for 30 years and had a good reputation. He did not know the budget, but sure enough, he gave us estimates that were well within what I knew the project should cost. I was confirmed and the client was elated.
When I asked the client afterwards if we were okay, they informed me that both the builders they had interviewed stated that they refused to work with a Design Professional and that I was going to cost the client more money in the end, though neither had met me personally. This should be a red flag to anyone that the builder does not want accountability, whatever the reason may be.
I can recount countless stories of projects with no un-biased third party overseeing them and a host of expensive problems to be fixed after the builder was long gone. This is not to say that all builders are disreputable. Rather that your Design Professional can save you a lot of money, frustation and heartache.
If you need to skimp on design, so be it. But don't skimp on hiring a professional who can and will act on your behalf to best protect your investment. This is not to say that problems might not still arise, but at least you will have someone to turn to who can handle the situation as best as possible.
On another project, the drywallers did not show for two days straight. The clients were frustrated but did not know how to handle the problem. I put a call into another contractor to be sure he could come and do the work, then called the first contractor and said, "If you don't get someone here by the end of the day, I have another contractor ready to start." To everyone's surprise, the contractor showed up and finished the work that day - and was paid.
A Design Professional certainly should be a good designer first and foremost. But they are there to make certain the time and money you've invested into the design is being spent properly and that the construction is being done to the right standards. If your Design Professional is unable to manage your risk for you, find somebody who can or brace yourself for the worst scenario.
- An excellent communicator, both graphically and orally.
- Able to handle the many expectations and parts of your project.
- A savvy negotiator.
- Your first line of defense.
- Your greatest Ally.