The Bay Area has been in a construction boom ever since the recession ended (even a bit before!). During the recession, the American Institute of Architects reported that 40% of the licensed architects in the U.S. were without work or underemployed. How times have changed. Now you might have trouble getting an architect to return your call. How can you get your desired architect’s attention? Here are our suggestions, based on personal experience.
Be friendly. Architects know that they will have a relationship with their clients lasting months, or even years. They want to know that the client will be a fair-minded and nice person.
Be honest. Tell your potential architect about the scope (size and complexity) of your project, your budget and your timeline. It is frustrating to have to probe for this information, which is critical to the architect’s work schedule and project estimate. If you have a relatively small project, your willingness to wait a while to get slotted into a busy schedule will be taken into consideration.
Be patient. Rush projects are a red flag to a busy architectural office. All our clients are anxious to get under construction. It is frustrating when a potential client wants to jump ahead of the line. If you are red-tagged for starting construction without a permit, have code compliance or other legalization issues, we are even more reluctant.
Do some research. Know what jurisdiction you are in, i.e., within the City limits, or unincorporated? Use a search engine to get your property information from your local agency’s GIS system. (For example, type “yourcityname GIS” into your browser, then search information by your street address.) Do you have a slope on your property? Is it in a flood zone? We will have to search for this information before we can give you an estimate. If you provide this information up front, it saves us time and helps get the conversation started.
Get referrals. Check on other recent projects in your area for an architect, a civil engineer, a general contractor, an arborist, and any other services you may need. The time you invest in this research will pay off in the long run! Some of these folks may have a long lead time for their services. (Don’t worry, if you don’t have any referrals to these services, your architect will be able to help you.)
Drop names. If you have done research and have lined up contractors or engineers, mention them to your desired architect. Working with people we know is one of the best paths to a successful project, and we are eager to find out if the proposed team is a good one. Also let us know if you have spoken to one of our past clients.
Respond promptly. If we send you an email, or a proposal, please respond to it. It is OK if the response is “I’ll get back to you by next week”. Formal proposals/estimates take hours of staff time to prepare. We have made a significant investment in giving that paperwork to you. Even if you are not ready to sign on the dotted line, please respond to us. The lack of response leads us to believe that you are just shopping, and not serious about the project. If you have questions about the proposal, or concerns about the estimate, get right back to us with the questions and we will be happy to answer. It helps if you are willing to use email rather than playing “phone tag”.
Stay local. It is very helpful if you hire an architect and general contractor that have experience doing similar projects in your local area. Familiarity with local codes and ordinances, not to mention relationships with Planning and Building Departments, can make a big difference in whether a project goes smoothly. You can check for licensed architects on your local state architectural license board website, or aia.org, or the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
Know your project type. Is this a single-family residential project, multi-family residential, commercial/retail, commercial/restaurant, commercial/office, industrial, high-rise, faith community, etc.? Find an architect (and general contractor) who has experience with that type of project. Architects and contractors that have only worked on residential projects might have to do a lot of extra research on applicable building codes for a commercial or public project.
Build relationships. This is good advice no matter what you want to accomplish, but it is especially important in the construction industry. If you talk to neighbors, business colleagues and politically active friends, you will find out information that will help you get the inside track with your local agencies and construction professionals.
Thank you for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.
By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects