A little while back, we posted some thoughts about the client-designer-builder triad, with tips on building a smooth working relationship among all parties involved in a home building project (http://johngowerdesign.com/a-matter-of-trust/). A successful collaboration can only be achieved with a clear understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities. In that first post, I wrote about the role of the designer in a project. Later, we shared some thoughts from Tavis Griffith about the builder’s role (http://johngowerdesign.com/in-their-own-words-the-builders-speak/).
Last, but by no means least, I’d like to focus on the client. What should you expect as your project goes forward, and what might be expected of you?
Here are a few things to remember:
Perform due diligence. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: the success of your project begins with adequate preparation. Exercise care in selecting the professionals who will help make your vision a reality. Choose your designer and builder based on their past work, references from previous clients, and your own intuition as to whether they’re a good fit for you and your project. If you’ve found a designer whom you like and trust, he or she may be able to recommend a good builder, and vice versa. Make sure that the builder you choose is licensed and insured.
Be realistic about your budget. This will help both you and your professionals to create and execute a design that will meet your needs without placing you in financial jeopardy. Remember to add at least 10% over your expected costs for contingencies – as with many other things, the unexpected may arise after the build begins. Reliable professionals know how to deliver the best quality for your money, so trust them to suggest good choices, and try to resist the urge to sacrifice quality in order to save money in the short term.
Complete a design questionnaire if one is available. This isn’t a frivolous step; it helps the designer to gain a thorough understanding of your needs, preferences, and lifestyle so that the home you create together will be a perfect fit for you. The time and thought that you devote to this task will pay off in time and money saved, and in your satisfaction for as long as you occupy your home.
Purchase your lot carefully if you’re planning a new build. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s a good idea to have your designer look over a site prior to purchase. He or she can help to determine whether the site will fully accommodate your vision, or whether it poses extra construction or engineering costs.
Review the LOA (Letter of Agreement). This is the contract between the client and designer, or the client and builder. Again, this is not a frivolous step. For your own protection, make sure that you understand and agree to all the terms, and that they accurately reflect what you’ve discussed with your professionals. The LOA should contain all of the important information regarding the plan, fees, and the responsibilities of all parties involved. Before signing, get clarification on points that you don’t understand; but do remember to sign and return the document in a timely way so that your project can begin.
The retainer is paid upon signing the LOA. This may seem an obvious step, but it’s easy to forget in the middle of all the other details. Most contracts will stipulate that a retainer is necessary for the work to begin, and it’s an indicator of the client’s commitment to the project. In our office, the amount paid is subtracted from the first invoice amount. If you have questions about invoices, it’s important and acceptable to ask them right away. And since we’re on the subject of fees – please remember that time spent discussing your project with your designer is billable time, whether it’s in person, by phone, or via email. This shouldn’t dissuade you from bringing forward questions or concerns, but it’s best to make a list before you call in order to save time.
Include the designer in decisions that take place during construction, even if the changes proposed seem minor. Apart from the aesthetic considerations, there may be important technical reasons for a particular detail in the plan. Arbitrary changes could impact the integrity of the design, and may lead to further costs later as unforeseen problems arise. Ideally, changes to the plan should be made before the plan is finalized and the drawings printed.
Finally, trust your professionals. Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s important to remember why you’re paying your designer and builder. They bring years of training and expertise, are qualified to hear and implement your ideas – or, if needed, they can propose the right alternatives to make sure that you get the beauty and comfort that you’re looking for in a home. With the overwhelming amount of information that’s available to us now through various media, it’s easy to get distracted or confused by all the ideas out there. Your professionals will help to bring focus and perspective to your project, if you let them.
Building or renovating your home may be the biggest single investment that you ever make. Trust and mutual understanding among the client, designer and builder will go a long way to ensuring that your project goes forward smoothly, while saving you unnecessary costs and preserving your peace of mind.