By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.
The residential construction industry is on the rise, which is great news. But lately we've noticed a tendency of owners trying to build or renovate without good, solid design plans. This is not anything new, but seems to be more prevalent these days. Perhaps it's a side effect of the recession, or, as one architect recently said to me "the commoditizing of our industry." I'm not quite sure the reason, but what I do know is that undertaking a home building or home remodeling project without a complete set of architectural plans is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Think about it. Would you take a trip through a mysterious and confusing country without a map, a guide or a GPS? Well, home building and renovation can be a mysterious and confusing place as well, not only to the homeowner, but to the builder who is trying to navigate his or her way through a project without a well-defined set of plans and specs.
I didn't always think this way. In fact, when we first started in this business, we'd pride ourselves on being able to build off the back of a napkin. As my former-father-in-law used to say "When you're young, you're stupid!" But whether it was these blunt words of wisdom or most likely the first-hand experience of trying to build without a solid set of plans, we at S+H are now complete converts to the "religion of design."
If you are going to build new or remodel and are looking for accurate, competitive estimates that are "apples to apples," it is critical to invest in good, thorough construction documents. These documents give real definition to the project and help you understand what you expect will be built and what the finished product will look like.
Of course there are other factors to be considered when hiring a design professional. You need to be comfortable with the design sense of your architect, have a good feeling that you will be able to develop a good working relationship, and decide on the involvement of the design team throughout the course of the job. There is also cost, of course, but cost should be one of the last considerations (did I mention yet that this is not a good place to save money)?
Make no mistake - this requires work on your end - interviewing a few architect / designers, the same way that you would interview builders. It is time consuming and it requires patience and thought, but it pays off many times over in the long run. Design is not simply another line item in your construction budget. It's the headlight illuminating the way. You turn it off or dim it down at your own peril.