Pencil Points – Negotiating Design Services for your Project

Posted by  //  August 21, 2012  //  Articles, Pencil Points

Pencil Points are tips for residential design and planning issues often encountered by homeowners, builders and developers.  This information is provided by Applied Design Research Associates as general interest based on current NYS Building Codes and is not intended as professional guidance for any specific project.  For answers to specific design questions feel free to contact ADRA at (607) 844-4601 or consult the yellow pages under Architects for the name of other registered design professionals in your area.  You can also write or email ADRA with additional questions of interest to be researched and published in subsequent issues of this paper.

ADR Associates- P.O. Box 306, Freeville, NY 13068

Negotiating Design Services for your Project

The process of defining and negotiating the appropriate scope of professional design services for almost any project, including the design of a home or addition, can be a challenging undertaking for the typical residential client. Unlike the purchase of an existing home, a vehicle, new furniture, or any mass-produced product, a new home or addition doesn’t exist at the time design services are determined. Several options for establishing the value of design services may be available to the client including:

  • Hourly Charge Rate(s) plus standard expenses for actual time incurred on any phase of the project for which the Architect’s services have been requested,
  • Fixed Sum for all work performed through issuance of the Building Permit (thereafter, the Client might assume control of construction period services and call in the Architect when needed at the Architect’s standard hourly rate plus expenses. [The Fixed Fee is a guaranteed sum agreed upon by all parties in advance of the project being designed],
  • Fixed Sum including Construction Services for all work performed by the Architect from initial design consultation through project closeout,
  • Not-to-Exceed Fee as a percentage of the actual construction cost through issuance of the Building Permit (thereafter, the Client might assume control of construction period services and call in the Architect as needed at the Architect’s standard hourly rate plus expenses. [The Not-to-Exceed Fee is a guaranteed maximum sum based on well defined project program elements against which the design professional bills at his hourly rate(s). Should the project go forward without delay or substantial re-design, the client could save money when the final design bill is less than the NTE Fee limit].
  • Not-to-Exceed Fee as a percentage of the actual construction cost for all work performed by the Architect from initial design consultation through construction services and project closeout,

So, why do design professionals offer so many service fee options? First, service fees and the anticipated time to complete all requested design tasks can be difficult to predict where a client’s initial design program may lack sufficient detail or the menu of services to be performed is lengthy. A client could also want to consider two or more building sites that the Architect must evaluate for best house placement, views, availability/cost of utilities, extent and cost of general site work, etc, before making a final decision to purchase the preferred lot. To save money, a client might also wish to manage construction period services on his own as long as he/she has the time, expertise and objectivity to do so effectively.

In a perfect world, the Architect meets with the prospective Client, the Client presents the Architect with the detailed design/space program, then the Architect develops the design in conjunction with the applicable building code and local land use requirements that pertain to the chosen site. Once Client has approved the design concept, the Architect then prepares the required construction drawings and specifications; a suitable contractor is selected; the building permit is acquired; the home is constructed and the family moves in on time with no setbacks… wishful thinking! Fact is, we don’t exist in a perfect world. The real world can be messy:

  • The Client may not understand how to develop a detailed program statement that describes the accurate size, number and interrelationship between spaces other than sketching some preconceived ideas on a sheet of graph paper or offering a file full of cut sheets from various home design magazines, or the Client partners may be conflicted on how to prioritize elements and/or the $$$ budget on the project, so the design professional will need to assist the Client in building the design program and making critical choices,
  • The selected building lot may have substantial site challenges, utility easements, and setback requirements that dictate where the home can be located or how the foundation and basement must be constructed (example- clients often desire a walkout basement that can be used for future recreation rooms or bedrooms, yet seldom realize that a walkout basement is best achieved on a south or west sloping site, not on a flat lot),
  • A chosen lot may be subject to specific land use regulations or possible zoning review if the preferred design is not able to comply with all applicable zoning requirements. The Client’s lawyer or Architect may need present the design proposal to the local Planning Board, Site Plan Review Committee, Historic Preservation Group, or Zoning Appeals Board to obtain approval for the project (sometimes with significant modifications),
  • For Additions and alterations to an existing dwelling, the Architect will need to make measured drawings of the current structure before he/she can focus on the new design. In some cases, exploratory field cuts may be needed to determine the nature and integrity of old construction or to test for the presence of hazardous building materials,
  • A scaled study model or 3-D virtual view might be developed to show the untrained client how a detail or suggested addition might look in three dimensions,
  • The Client might need the project completed on a fast track basis where phased occupancy of the dwelling is planned, especially when undertaken in an occupied home.
  • The Architect may also be asked to prepare defined scope construction drawings where a portion of the work will be done by the Client and other portions of the work will be completed by a Contractor.
  • Some Clients may also request that more detailed construction documents be prepared for bidding to several local Contractors in the hopes of profiting from a competitive bid climate versus negotiating the cost of the project with just one builder.

Many factors can affect the value of design services that must be clarified prior to either party agreeing to a $$$ number that adequately addresses the true scope of the project. Some design professionals and their clients suggest the best way to start a project is to hire the Architect at an hourly rate where the client and Architect work together to develop a well defined design program that reduces the number of variables to a minimum, then establish a Fixed Fee or Not-to-Exceed Fee for the remainder of the Project.

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