Well, it's been a somewhat busy week on the homefront. We interviewed a potential new architect, spoke to a couple of the builders, chose a builder, and heard from The Architect. Where to begin...
(1) A new architect?
We flirted with a new potential architect (Let’s call him Mr. Yard Dog). This fellow was our #2 behind The Architect when we started this whole adventure. He had ably architected and built a cool affordable modern for a friend of ours who heartily recommended him. We met him at an art opening “back in the day”, and he was quite pleasant.
When I contacted him last week, he had just closed up his shop and joined another one. I went to visit him and the head of the new shop with the end result that the firm he joined is WAY out of our league. After 90 minutes of describing what we were after and whatnot and the standard give and take, the bossman identified their niche as the $280 to $330 a square foot market. That’s fine, but that’s a little (actually a lot…) too rich for us (and a little embarrassing [and heartbreaking] after yapping about our project for 1.5 hours). Next...
One thing we learned talking to them was that design-build makes more sense for a high-end detailed house where the architect needs to be on-site to make sure it gets done right, something we are not in the market for. Not to mention that it seems like a lot of the design-build firms are either (a) out of business or (b) (consistent with what the bossman said) high-end. The other thing we learned, and it’s quite an obvious one, is that if they don’t show what you’re looking to do on their website, they don’t do it. I’ve had some folks suggest that, given the soft market, we shouldn’t delist an architect that does high-end stuff. I disagree. They do what they do. You can’t teach an old dog old tricks…
(2) Builder post-audit
After sending out a note to the builders about our inability to afford the house The Architect designed (and the termination of our relationship with said architect), two builders asked to visit with us. They both expressed surprise at some of the material choices “we” had made. One surprising choice was the cladding for the sandcrawler. I envisioned standing seam roofing material: metallic, cool looking, inexpensive. The Architect had the builders pricing custom metal shingles: metallic, cool looking, expensive. Very expensive. Like you-either-get-this-siding-or-you-get-a-garage expensive. The builders thought this was a bizarre choice for us to make. Except we didn’t make it. The Architect did. While he was pressing us (yet again) to get rid of the garage, he was cladding (a small) part of the house with the proceeds. Another expensive part of the house not exactly shared with us was the cost of the entries. He had a $9,000 back door and a $7,000 front door. Was this discussed with us as a potential costsaver? Nope. But that troublesome garage sure was. As the missus says these days, The Architect was working more for the photo in his portfolio than for us.
(3) In talking to the two builders, we decided on one.
Given that we weren’t finding a whole lotta choices in the design-build realm at our price-point, we knew the other option was to choose a builder up front and bring him to the design table. One of the builders we talked to had me stifling “Amen, brother!” after almost every sentence he said, not to mention that he has a long track record of building affordable modern. We know he can do it, and what he says about design choices makes a lot of sense. Therefore, we’re going to revisit our info sheet, get some surveys done, reassemble our precedents, and dive back into the dating pool with architects, this time with those recommended by the builder.
(4) The Architect sent us a note.
Not surprisingly he insisted that (a) everything was our fault (The Architect does no wrong.) and (b) he was not obligated to design a house that fit our budget. Wished we had known that going in. And if that was the case, we wish he hadn’t told us early on that a big part of his job was keeping us on budget. I guess he mistook us for folks that like to design houses for fun! Yippee! Especially infuriating was his claim that WE let costs get out of control. Huh? We were the ones begging him to design a project to fit our budget!
We’ve wondered what the heck we did wrong in hiring this guy. We thought that because he had architected several speculative projects that he would be attentive to costs. Furthermore, he had architected a project that, from all outward appearances, was in the budget and finish-out range we were looking for. One thing we didn’t consider is that the spec builders he worked for probably had good data on what it costs to build and could use their BS detectors early in the process to reel him in. In retrospect, our error was hiring an architect that didn’t have much (if any) experience working with future homeowners.
One of the builders gently suggested that this time we find an architect that we get along with. We seriously thought we had. After all, we worked with him in finding a lot, explored putting an addition onto our house with him, and hung out with him. It wasn’t until after we signed an agreement and started designing a house did things go south. And really, it wasn’t until then that we figured out he had a terrible design-killing handle on how much it costs to build as well as a lousy philosophy on damage control (pretend nothing bad’s happened and, if the client notices something bad’s happened and then asks about it, blame the client).
Live and learn…
[photo by mwah; intramural fields]