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Professional vs. Amateur Design

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

-Red Adair

O.K… You’ve done your homework and have determined that your entire office project costs (construction, millwork, etc.) amount to $352,000.  Would you consider handing a check for that amount to the person that you have chosen to design your office?  You might as well.  By “hiring” them, you have tacitly given them control over your project and its budget; with no assurance that they have the knowledge and the skills to effectively administer those services or manage the costs or the timing associated with the completion of such a project.  At least a cancelled check would serve as documentation that some agreement was made regarding the fulfillment of your wishes.  In either case, hiring a non-professional designer would be the equivalent of asking Cosmo Kramer [Seinfeld] to mange your investment portfolio.

Case in point:  I had a conversation with a friend whose spouse is a dentist who built an office a few years ago.  They told me that they were very happy with the person who designed their office, and expressed that the person was on the job site throughout the project.  I was truly impressed that they had such a positive experience.  However, as the conversation progressed, the buyer’s remorse began to seep out. There were many issues.  But, I will limit my commentary to three that were most distinctive.

  1. My friend did express that they were dissatisfied with a few of the trades’ people, since their prices escalated during the project.  For example the plumber’s original price was $9,000.  The final cost was $12,000.  Guess what?  The plumber’s cost increase was justified and the client signed-off for the “extras”.  The fact was that the designer’s drawings lacked pertinent details and the plumber deserved to be paid for the work that he performed. That scenario repeated itself with other trades.  The discourse that occurred between my friend and the trades’ people was totally misdirected. The responsible party was the designer, who took no responsibility, and just stood by and watched.  Interestingly, my friend again stated, “… but the designer was on the job every day.”  I said nothing.  Missing or insufficient construction details represent the most significant cause for cost overruns.
  2. My friend also shared that they were disappointed that the staff lounge couldn’t be large enough to fit a table and chairs; even though it was originally a high priority on the list of needs and wants.  I won’t share the details, but it turns out that the deficiency arose from a code violation that had to be addressed; causing the encroachment on the staff space.  Again, the designer should have known the code and planned for the need.  I said nothing.  They spent “how much” money and didn’t get what they requested?  That is unconscionable.
  3. The project took longer than expected.  “… but the designer was there until the project was completed.”.  Keeping the project on time is another of the many responsibilities of the designer.  Otherwise the drawings are nothing more than geometric lines and text on a piece of paper.  Paramount in the provision of professional design services is management of the project.  Anything short of that is irresponsible.

So, what were the ramifications of the delayed project?  My friends incurred an additional month’s rent, as well as overages from subcontractors who had to work around the diverted schedule.  Then, of course there were the inconveniences of having to reschedule services like movers, announcements, staff, etc.   The additional rent alone was $4,500. “… but the designer was there until the project was completed.”   Seriously?!  That’s like having a firefighter show up at a house fire and not attempt to extinguish the flames.  Figuratively, the designer stood there smiling as the budget “burned”.

I estimated the total of the cost overruns at between $27,000 and $34,000.  All of them were blatantly a result of the designer’s negligence and lack of responsibility. That money would have been better spent on a new car as a graduation gift for my friends’ daughter.

Suggestion:   Ask the person(s) who want so badly to design your office, why they want the responsibility of managing tens-to-hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money.  Then ask them why they feel qualified to do so and how they will accomplish that extreme challenge.  If their answers are plausible and they still want the job, ask them to sign a contract committing to the fulfillment of delivering your project, on schedule and within budget.   If they won’t, we will.