Client Empathy Blog #6- Construction Administration Services

The saying that “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” has deep roots in the construction industry.

Why you need your architect to see you through the project all the way to the end.

….there are 35 drawings in the set for our addition. While we choose not to crowd the sheets with information and instead created another sheet to keep it readable, there is still a lot of information and still there are questions.

We highly recommend Construction Administration/Full Service to all of our clients. That is, that we stay involved until the end of construction. We recommend this for several reasons:

  1. Far less stress on the home owners.
  2. We created the documentation/authored the drawings and specifications. 
    1. We know what the drawings say.
    2. We worked through the options with you already, we know the intent.
  3. Protection for the investment and integrity of your project. 
  4. And the biggest surprise…contrary to every owner’s budget worries and ideas about how they will save money…Clients that invest in the full service realized savings that exceed the professional fees paid and they end up with a better project and with a higher return on their investment.

So, how does this play out when you are the professional? Who is looking out for me in all this?

Let me tell you about it.

Yesterday the contractor came by the office to tell me the electrician was on his way to do a walk through with us at my own house. Marvin was in the city, so I met with the Contractor and Electrician and walked the site.  

After a quick introduction, the Electrician launched into questions after a quick glance at the drawings. Casual questions like, “you want to put a light here too?” or “you should really put another ___ here,”  all seem like good ideas from someone experienced in wiring homes.  

And yet, knowing that

  1. Changes to the electrical can be costly.
  2. Changes to the electrical after sheet rock are REALLY costly.

I became anxious and overwhelmed. 

I took a deep breath and asked that we please pause and look at the drawings and walk room by room and if anything needs changed, we will discuss and note it on drawings the way I would for a client. I asked if he had the specifications for the appliances and the mechanical equipment and promised to get him any that were missing.

Both the contractor and the electrician were very nice and said certainly, and then launched into a discussion about the heating and air conditioning requirements that were being revisited with the addition of the attic space followed by a discussion debating the placement of the electrical receptacles in the baseboard vs. the wall and I pointed to the detail that is clearly noted on the drawings. 

The electrician, like most contractors we work with, has years of experience and lots of confidence and a bit of bravado. While I had never met this electrician, he has worked on other jobs with our firm and was one of the usual sub-contractors that our contractor partners with.  As we began to go room by room, as I requested, the electrician began pummeling me with typical questions as we walked the job. Then he would drop into his native tongue with the contractor followed by a little chuckle. This always makes me a little uneasy as well….and I finally asked that unless there is:

  1. a reason that the existing plans no longer meet code, or
  2. they think we are making a serious mistake and you can explain to me the advantage of making the change, and any associated costs/savings, or
  3. if there is an unforeseen condition, 

then I would prefer to stick with what is on the drawings.

While I am a believer in learning about the possibilities, beware the contractor that: 

  1.  tells you, "he has the plans he can take it from here."
  2. shrugs and says "it’s nothing," when you request or accept an alternative to the plans and ask how much more that will be.

“Nothing?” At what point is it “something?”  Trust me on this.

This is where it is critical to have meeting minutes, updated drawings and confirmation that there is no additional cost or rebate based on the conversation.  

As you are all aware by now, I do this for a living. I have been doing this a long time, and yet the emotions and the stress of being displaced coupled with the peppering of questions just may result in a change order that you will not hear about for a while. 

Our contractor has worked with us enough to know our expectations and he ended up helping me articulate what he knew Marvin would care about. If our contractor was not such a trusted colleague, familiar with our standards, I am not sure how that meeting would have ended. At the end of the electrician's work, I can see there there are only two things that need fixed:

1. Light over the sink needs changed to be a surface mounted box

1. Light over the sink needs changed to be a surface mounted box

2. Needs a recessed fixture...wire in but no light yet.

2. Needs a recessed fixture...wire in but no light yet.

Many times when clients opt for limited involvement by us, we see that different materials, often of lesser quality, are substituted by the contractor. We wonder if there was a savings attached to that or if the client knows they did not get what was in the construction documents. It is painful to for us to watch.

So, do yourselves a favor, like the 7 architects specializing in big beautiful skyscrapers and such who are our clients, as well as the award-winning engineers and contractors who have enlisted us for professional, level-headed guidance that helped them define the scope and details and see their projects through to the end.

We encourage clients not to skimp with limited service coupled with calling us on an as-needed basis. That does not yield the best projects. You may not know you needed us until it is too late and it costs more to fix. Please consider that in the end those that keep us on for full service reap the benefits. They have realized a savings that far exceeds our fees for being there. From negotiating with the building department on your behalf when all of a sudden they seem to think you need something that is not required to catching a framing issue before you find out that the washer and dryer are not going to fit.

Weekly one-hour meetings with all the stakeholders and follow-up meeting minutes, will save you money and stress and result in a beautiful project like the ones you liked on our social media pages.

Light for my powder room...will need rewired when it arrives...

Light for my powder room...will need rewired when it arrives...

So what am I going to do now?  I made a list of questions and concerns based on my meeting yesterday and talked to Marvin about being at the house on Monday morning when the electrician is ready to start so we can clarify some concerns I have since had that meeting—and as I recommend to my client—all stakeholders will be present in all meetings going forward. It is almost always a waste of time to meet independently. Someone will have more questions. 

Moving forward, I have heard that there is some interest in what my finishes and fixture selections are. I will share that in my search for the perfect fixtures and finishes, I found this there was a quick drive up the hill for this last minute change...

I will share more as we move along on this journey of what might be akin to operating on yourself.