Lowering Expectations

For many of us who adopted the design/build business model in the early 1990s, we helped homeowners shift their buying attitudes toward designing, building and remodeling their homes. The seduction of design/build offered accountability, control of the financial investment and buildability of the project to name a few benefits. Today we continue to reshape the American homeowners’ buying attitudes toward design/build.

For the past six months I have been meeting with homeowners and their builders to help design their projects. Typically we meet with the potential clients for about an hour. After a lovely tour through their home, our next step is to review their design needs. Based on the scope of work, design goals and their financial investment range, we provide the homeowner with a fixed cost to design and estimate their project. This is where the meeting completely falls apart.

The homeowners for the past six months have been saying the following as if they have all been reading the same script. “We think your design fees are too high.” This in itself is just a statement. We know enough to start asking questions and not get sucked into defending our fees. If you defend your fee you will do it for free.

Meanwhile, we are witnessing our industry sinking to a new low which is producing unprofessional business practices and unqualified designs just to keep the lights on in some places. This poor business behavior is corrupting the design/build community.

For the past year I have had the displeasure of reviewing extremely poor plans landing on my desk month after month. This includes additions drawn with no thought, window placement which has no rhyme or reason and “improvements” that will devalue the home. Most projects are not built because of poor layout, planning and the inability to financially qualify the plans.

Most often the design professional has been paid in full, the contractors and subs have wasted their time chasing down pricing, and the homeowners have wasted their time and money. Nobody wins except for the design professional, but I guess that’s the new American way: Get mine and who cares about anybody else.

This stressful time in America is revealing some business professionals’ true colors. I am beginning to understand why everyone wants to get green but not go green. We are also seeing building professionals discounting their prices by $20,000 to get the project. This is the biggest joke today which means just another construction project disaster in the making.

I understand that people have to make a living and keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads, but we are only helping homeowners corrupt the housing marketplace with this panicked business behavior and are hurting ourselves professionally in the long run. You are a design or build professional and you deserve to be treated like one. Find the homeowners’ emotional trigger points before you tell them your design fee. Offer a compelling story about why people pay for your services before discounting your fixed cost to build their addition. If you don’t you could be leaving money on the table and adding to the chaos and confusion in the market.

Is it too late to turn back the clocks when people seem to have a greater sense of responsibility to the larger picture? Choose to design and build only if you can design a win-win situation. If only one person wins, that means hundreds will lose in the bigger picture. You are part of a bigger picture that helps us all stay connected. Help others to win and in return they will help you win.

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