A builder called to refer a potential client my way. While flattered that he regarded my work, it puzzled me that a first time custom home buyer would contact a general contractor first.
I asked the GC if this happens often and he said, “Sure, all the time.” He went on to explain that first-timers think builders have all the answers and can steer them in the right direction. We both agreed that while builders know plenty about putting buildings together, navigating local jurisdictions, local materials and workforce issues, the architect holds the key to most of the Big Picture questions:
- What should my budget be?
- How do I evaluate a potential building site?
- What are the hidden costs beyond the cost of the building itself?
- How does the style of the home influence cost and site placement?
- What consultants need to be on my team? – engineer, soil testing lab, surveyor, kitchen designer, interior designer, audio visual consultant, landscape designer, construction manager?
- Who looks after my best interest and guides me objectively through this process?
- What is my criteria to select a builder and what should I expect from that relationship?
- Who watches over the builder, monitors quality control and keeps my best interests in mind?
(The last two questions are architect-centric but ones the client should consider.)
No offense to builders , we respect them and work shoulder to shoulder with them on behalf of our clients but budget limitations and affordable planning are not generally in their wheelhouse. Of course, there are some clients with little or no budget limits, who view quality or design as the only priorities. Most E5A clients – those we actively pursue - have exact and limited budgets. Exceeding those budgets is rarely an option and can be disastrous when dealing with a project of such scale and such a personal nature.
Relevant case study: E5A recently completed a feasibility study for a young couple looking to build their first home. They are perfectly suited for needing an architect – they are creative, value-driven people who understand the importance of good design and do not want to compromise quality just to have a larger house. In Austin, where home prices have soared through the roof, it’s often advisable to build your own house to exacting standards, customized to your particular lifestyle without a square foot of wasted space. In their case, we were able to narrow the focus for purchasing a lot to several neighborhoods and then evaluate a few properties suitable for their home size, lifestyle, solar orientation, utilities, and proximity to their interests. The accompanying Site Plan shows our analysis.
We have execute Feasibility Studies regularly to help potential clients in the critical pre-planning phase of home building. (In some cases our efforts actually steer people away from purchasing a site and even steer them away from building at all on what would be a bad investment for their needs.)
Most builders do not do this. Their engagement starts later, as it should, when these issues are decided.
Some architects engage in a project after this pre-planning phase has passed, then fight challenges that often stress budgets, deadlines and the client's dream-home desires.
Architects by definition are planners. Expert planning saves money, time, headache and disappointment. Consult an architect first – measure twice, cut once.