Your First Stop Should Be with Your Builder
Years ago I worked as a Project Manager for one of the big three remodelers in Houston. The owner, Lee, was a hard-edged remodeling veteran. His background was similar to mine in that he had vast experience as an artisan. He founded his company on the belief that the client’s best resource is his builder. I agreed, to a large extent, with most of what he espoused. I was to learn one more truism upon which I now run my own company.
One day we visited a prospective client’s home. She met us at the door, then led us through a beautifully laid out three story town home into a dining room, where a young man in slacks and shirt sleeves stood to shake our hands. She introduced him as her architect. An intricately drawn set of blue prints was strewn across the large dining table. We all sat, and over coffee, the owner and her architect shared their vision with us. I loved the new design and relished the challenge of so vast a project.
In the company, I was the PM who got the advanced projects due to my hefty experience as a builder. In my capacity with ‘special projects’, as we called them, I was familiar with the budgeting and logistics of complex builds. This one was a doosie. Lee asked the owner the salient question every designer should ask any client-to-be: “What is your budget for this project?” Before I go any further, allow me to explain why this question is important to the builder and disliked by the prospective client. Every initial sales visit in which I have ever been involved, has been met with the expectation that I was a salesman trying to sell a job. Ultimately this is a reasonable and true expectation. If I were a tin man selling replacement windows or a Hardi siding job, it would be the only reason I was visiting. As a design-build contractor, however, the sales part of my job does not begin until the designer portion is complete. This small definitive piece defines the importance of your design-builder from an architect.
Should You Ever Tell a Salesman Your Budget?
Suppose you want to redesign your kitchen space. You have a good idea what you would like but you have no ability to create the design yourself. You have a choice to make. Should you jump in with both feet and talk to a remodeler or two, or should you do your due diligence and enlist the services of an architect? The answer will surprise you. Lee asked the owner for her budget because he had to know what she was willing to invest in her renovation. In the kitchen example above, if you decide to do what would appear to be the responsible and reasonable thing and hire an architect, you have put yourself into a position where the design determines your budget. Architects, by in large, have no building experience. They have no more than a rough per square foot idea what his design may cost to build. He is a master of creating a design which meets his high standards or aesthetics, with as much wow factor as is expected in the trade publications he reads. The builder who is a true design-build remodeler (read Tips to Hire a Reliable Home Remodeling Contractor) creates the design based upon a budget limit.
The owner told Lee that she wanted to stay around $175,000.00. As I mentioned, Lee has an edge to him. He said flatly, “This design is at least $295,000.00.” He indicated the architect and said, “I’m sure he is a great architect, but he didn’t draw anything close to what your budget requires.” Lee could clear a room, no doubt. I would never speak that way to a client or even an architect. However, what he said was gospel.
Hire a Builder not a Salesman
In my daily interaction with homeowners wanting my help, I always ask a budget then share with them why it is critical that I know what their budget limit is. I always let them know that we are at the design phase of our time together. I don’t consider myself a salesman, but it is part of what I do as a business owner. The sales portion comes after we have created a design the client loves and that I can build easily within their budget.
Clearly, we are not an architectural firm. Every project we build has a drawing attached (read Design Drawings: Exhibit A). Simple renovations are drawn in house and, if required, are passed to our associate engineering firms for refinement and a seal. More complex projects go to our architect partners as a general drawing. They consult with us as they create. They are accustomed to our involvement on the client’s behalf to ensure we stay on budget with their project. A typical architect charges as little as a flat rate $1500.00 to $3500.00 and as much as a few dollars per square foot. Once you have invested in his design at that dollar level, how likely are you to scrap his work and start over? A true design-build remodeling firm will apply to your project the most important piece: budget compliance. Once you know what you can buy with your budget number, an architect can safely apply his or her vast skill set and give you what you want aesthetically and practically.