Ever have prospective clients ask you for a ballpark price on their home that “they won’t hold you to” during your first sales call? Even after they have shown you a plan view of the project or home without elevations? Maybe they have elevations but no engineering? Perhaps they have made no selections but say they just want “normal, nice fixtures like everyone else that are not too expensive”? You know — just a rough idea of how much per square foot. They want regular tile in the bathrooms but do not know the difference between ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone.
My favorite green versions include, “I don’t care what it costs, I just want off the grid!” and “We want to harvest all our rainwater and store it on site” and “I want a concrete house no matter what it costs!” And away we go, good order-takers running back to our spreadsheets, pricing away just like the clients ask. The worst part is that the clients turn down our prices and go with someone else. But aren’t we worse off if the clients accept our proposal and pricing and we have to build the project or home with less than fully informed clients?
The point is — and I remind our superintendents of this all the time — most of our clients are not stupid; they are ignorant. This is not meant as a knock; it just means that while they may be very smart people, most of them simply do not have experience or expertise in building and remodeling — high-performance green homes or otherwise. Thus, it is incredibly important for us to educate them on the pitfalls associated with incomplete, inaccurate, or inappropriate drawings, specifications, and selections.
We must stress to them that hundreds of decisions need to be made before a project can be finished — and the sooner those decisions are made, the better chance we have of controlling the costs and protecting their budget (and our profit). In an ideal world, all decisions would be made before drawings are finished and construction even begins. That means before pricing is finalized, the design (architect, engineer, designer) and building (builder, remodeler, specialty contractor) professionals working with the clients will have reviewed and made changes for the better to the blueprints, selections, and all specifications.
Say what you will, and knock the LEED for Homes Program or the NGBS all you want, but I have now participated in dozens of charettes with these programs and experienced firsthand how well they work. And they work to the betterment of the project goals and the client budget each and every time!
It is, in fact, our responsibility as design and building professionals to teach clients why allowances are dangerous, how expensive getting off the grid can be, the pros and cons of ceramic, porcelain and natural stone, so on and so forth. We must force decision making regarding design, specifications, and selections earlier in the design process — because incomplete, inaccurate, or inappropriate design, specifications, or selections will only cost us and our clients time and money working out these details in the field when they should have been resolved before construction ever began.
My 9th Commandment: Weak Plans & Specs = Weak Project!