3 Tips to Productively Work With an Architect on Your Next Project [Video!]

by | BiggerPockets.com

Let’s face it: Most of us investors absolutely love the buildings and homes that have a ton of issues. The more repairs they need and dilapidated they are, the better. While we do indeed get the best deals in these circumstances, if you are in this business for any length of time, there is a strong likelihood that you will need to hire an architect, structural engineer, or some type of design professional.

Sometimes You’ll Need a Professional

Over the years, we have worked on a lot of homes and buildings that need extensive work. While some of those repairs are easy to figure out—like new kitchens, roofs, flooring, and landscaping—there are others—like cracked foundations and structural issues—that may require a professional to ensure successful execution.

Related: How to Build a Highly Effective Real Estate Team

On major renovations, you will also need to submit drawings to get the correct permits. In these circumstances, one of your team members should be an architect. We have used architects on large gut renovations and smaller projects as well. We have used and continue to use structural and civil engineers as well. This is an incredibly important expertise to have on your team. As with many professionals, however, potential slowdowns in timeline and increased project cost can come along with the specified expertise.

In today’s video, I am standing in front of one of our new renovation projects. I share three tips when working with architects:

  1. Use their expertise to help figure out major issues.
  2. Don’t let them overly run up costs your project.
  3. Use only what you need from them.

As always, I would love to hear your experience when working with an architect. What has worked, and what has not worked?

Let’s get some discussion going! 

About Author

Matt Faircloth

In 2005, Matt founded The DeRosa Group along with his wife, Elizabeth. At the time, the two person company owned and managed two assets – a single family home and a duplex. Over the last nine years, they have grown the company to a 12 person team owning and managing over five million dollars in residential and commercial assets throughout the central NJ and Philadelphia area. One of DeRosa’s mantras is “to make money while making a difference.”

3 Comments

  1. John Bierly

    Matt –
    Great Points. As a registered architect for over 30 years who subsequently has become a real estate developer (and also holds a general contractor license) I am far too often disappointed in my professions lack of responsibility around cost issues. I would add a couple of points for BP members:
    1. Realize that most remodel work you are doing, especially ins small multifamily, is not of great interest to architects whose academic training focuses on new construction. Architectural education at most schools tends to be highly idealistic and aspirational. While that has its place, it unfortunately does not translate well to modest projects that need to produce an economic return and your examples of “over greening” are spot on and much too common. I would especially be careful about younger staff fairly recently out of school who may be assigned to smaller remodels in order to meet fee budgets – oftentimes it is worth it to pay more for more senior staff who will take a project in the right direction and not down an overly design agenda driven path.
    2. My colleagues will probably hate me for this, but unless you have complete confidence in your architects ability to control costs I would recommend having them work as a subcontractor to your GC in a design build relationship for projects of this scale. Many architects will resist this, but ones who understand the development and renovation process should get it and will be willing to work in this kind of relationship provided design liability issues are addressed. Of course, if you want to bid work to multiple GC’s this is not an option, but IMHO negotiating a design build arrangement with a qualified GC is usually the best approach for this kind of work.

  2. Cindy Larsen

    Matt,

    I have only worked with an architect once, (a design/build firm) but I learned some lessons from the experience:
    1. Do your research, write down your questions, and write and draw in detail what you want the finished plan to look like. Be as specific as you can: thinking about how the space will be used by someone living in it (do you have ideas about where the electrical outlets need to be? Should there be a linen closet in the bathroom?) The more concrete your vision when you start working with the architect, the less (expensive) cycles you will go through before you reach a design that does what you want, at a budget you can afford, and meets code.
    2. have a defined scope of work before they start billing you: exactly what do you want the architect to design, and what will be included in the design? For example, will structural engineering be included? Changes / additions to existing electrical, plumbing, roof, …whatever you can think of. If you don’t specify it you may not get it, or not without costly itterations in the plan: written not just verbal communication is key. Also define time frames for work, and the measurement used to agree on when something is complete: e.g. Plan approved by planning department. BTW are you dealing with the planning department, or is the architect doing that: either is fine, but define it.
    3. Have a contract that specifies who is responsible for what: if the architect forgets to specify that there must be a new electrical panel, and it comes as a surprise later, not in the planned costs, who pays for that?
    4. Don’t keep changing your mind. Get the architect’s feedback early on, on whether or not what you want to do is feasible (see 1. Above) then, stick with the plan unless there is an important reason not to. Each time you change your mind, it is more work for the architect, and it costs you money. IF you are tempted to change your mind, ask what the costs would be if you made the change, before you insist on the change. That simple question can save you a lot of time and money. Just because you want something does not mean it makes financial sense to do it.
    5. if you are going to make changes, do it in the design phase, not the building phase: A change in scope is likely to cost much more in the building phase than in the design phase.
    6. Communicate often, monitor the progress against measurable milestones, spot problems early and resolve them. The more work between milestones, the more risk in the project.

    Fortunately for me, I spent 25 years in the software industry, doing every phase of projects hands on, and then moving into project management. So naturally, I did all of the above, and had very few problems except the dratted electrical pannel, and I got them to split the cost of that with me.

    Turns out that managing projects successfully is much the same, whether you are adding functionality to a software app, or doing a remodel: specify, design, cost, develop project plan including costs, sign the contract, staff, build, test, done. You can also break a project down into subprojects which can happen in parallel or sequentially. The most important thing is to be able to monitor the progress, and spot problems early, when their impact is minimized, and you can solve them for less cost. NO plan survives contact with reality without problems.

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