winding down the apartment project

There are a bunch of different pieces that fit into place when building anything.  A home, an office, a building. Different sizes but fundamentally the same concept.

I have probably learned more about the development of new construction than I ever cared to but regardless I have made a few observations.  Learn from someone else's mistakes. 

Architects have no idea what it takes or what it costs to build something.  Just because a room is 10 x 10 using a specific material that costs so much a square foot is not a simple calculation.  The room is like a pattern.  If the fabric ends up being wide or narrow the amount you need varies.  Perhaps it is a fabric really hard to work with so labor goes up.  All those particulars equal the cost.

This morning I had a conversation with a guy who makes cabinetry.  He says he consistently sees that clients expect a certain price for a build out based on what the architect tells them it will be and it ends up 50 pct more when the bids come in.  Starting the build out off on a bad foot is not fun.  Then there is the scramble to get the price down. Bad subs get hired sometimes because the price is lower. Then the work is shoddy and there are no checks and balances with a fresh set of smart eyes looking at the drawings and asking questions and what is built is crap.  In the end it costs money to fix it and you end up at the first price which was too high because of the way it was designed.

Everyone has a different set of skills they bring to the table.  Architects can design, that's it.  Contractors can build off of plans that are complete.  Incomplete plans cost the client more because this is where contractors create change orders because the price was never confirmed before going to contract, there was a range.  Clients rarely find out that the plans were not complete until half way into the job.  Then there is no choice but to pay the cost.  Architects tend to send plans that are only 80 percent done to bid.  Architects truly don't care if they spend more of your money.  It isn't important to them, design is.

My advice is hire someone who represents you and understands your needs such as budget, timing and "must haves".  It costs money to hire an owners rep (that is what someone like this is called) but saves you money in the long run because they understand everything that I have explained above.  Also do your diligence.  Ask to see the full set of plans before sending them to bid.  Trust your gut on price.  Know what the market is paying dollars per square foot for build-outs.  Talk to the contractors bidding on the job.  Don't let your architect run the job.

Its your money, get involved.  Even if you have done 200 projects, each project takes on a life of its own.  The key is knowing what you want, setting expectations and holding tight.  Otherwise you will find yourself writing checks for a lot more than you bargained for.  

Comments (Archived):

  1. Peter Steinberg

    As someone who did a 20-month-long 100% gut renovation on his place (took it down to 4 stone and brick walls, a dirt floor, and open to the sky) I can attest to every single thing you say.Any kind of custom work in New York is EXPENSIVE on a per square foot basis. It might not be that much if you ask for something utterly generic but if you have a specific vision or requirements, get ready to open your checkbook.The good news is that if you end up with what you want you’ll likely end up happy.Oh, and I’m happy to say that after 20 months of construction (preceded by 6 months of planning with an architect) I’d gladly have the whole experience all over again — same contractor, same architect, and most of the same subs.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Good for you!At the end of the day, the only consistent person I would use from the lastjob is the person who represented me and has done so for years on end. Ialso love the designer who we used in the end. The contractor was good somesubs good other subs not. This job we didn’t use an architect, we used adesigner which worked out great. No ego.

      1. Cookiemoo

        Hi Joanne,I’m happy to hear you added the role of the Interior Designer to this post. As a professional Interior Designer, I act as the go-between the client, the architect and the contractor. We each bring a different function to the project. Many architects are not designers (they think they are). A good Interior Designer can do space planning, as well as decorate.

        1. Gotham Gal

          A good interior designer is the key. Architects rarely think about how wide a king size bed is and two bed side tables and how they fit in the room.

  2. daryn

    Along the same lines, whenever I hear about people forgoing the GC on a construction project to save money, I cringe. Yes, it can be a large amount of cash, especially on paper, and especially before writing that first check, but it’s hard work, with a lot of balls to juggle, and having an experienced person handling this makes the whole process go so much smoother, and usually closer to budget. I suppose if you’re retired and want to spend all of your time managing construction and contractors that’s an okay way to go, but even then, who can’t find something more fun to do :)Oh, and speaking of cabinets, have you been down to Henrybuilt in Soho? Super-nice guys, beautiful work, both cabinetry and furniture. They started in Seattle and opened their Soho showroom a few years ago. We have a couple pieces of theirs which I absolutely love.

  3. Scott Porad

    Okay, first off…very small world. I’ve never been to your blog before, read one article, decide to leave a comment…and who do I see? @daryn…a friend from Seattle! Amazing!Next, you write:>> Architects have no idea what it takes or what it costs to build something.I agree with you entirely about architects. When my wife and I were going through a homebuilding project we wasted thousands of dollars on architects who drew plans way out of our budget.And then you say…>> Contractors can build off of plans that are complete.And here’s where I’ll disagree. Contractors also know what it costs to build something, and can have a lot to offer during the design process. For example, the contractor can tell the architect, “hey, if you do X like this it will cost me a lot less to build”.After we fired our first architects–great designers, but not able to design in our budget–the single smartest thing we did was invite both our new architect and our builder over to our house to work on the plans together. The three hours we spent together–all four of us–were priceless.Everybody says have your architect draw the plans, and then put them out for bid. I would recommend against that and I tell people, “hire your builder first”.The most important part of having a project be a success is the relationship you have with your builder. It requires trust. I tell everyone: find a builder who does work to a quality level you want, and who you can trust, and hire them…then get the architect going and have everyone work together. Collaboration is the key.Finally, if you’re going to check out Henry Built, then you have to check out Kerf, Personally, I like the Kerf look better, they’re great quality, and I’m pretty sure they’re much less expensive.

  4. Tracey Jackson

    Good advise GG!

  5. Kevin

    It is very challenging to get good design on budget, even when that budget is large. In fact it may be even harder on a larger budget as the architects feel even less constrained than normal. It is my opinion (and part of our business thesis) that there is far more demand for good design than is realized because of architects. I love good architecture and value it very much. Yet I think that the reason so few people end up with architect designed homes and spaces is typically because of architects. They do a very poor job of connecting the dots and, ultimately, pleasing their clients. Hiring one is a a leap of faith that many people don’t have the time nor budget for. Making good design more accessible is a challenge.

    1. Gotham Gal

      There is no doubt that making good design accessible is a challenge.Listening to your client is an even bigger one.