Economy of Cost

In today’s challenging economic climate, each of us is much more focused on efficiencies of labor and cost. We also have a renewed sense of customer service to our clients. As architects, we can no longer afford to design homes that don’t meet the budget. The consumer doesn’t have the stomach for it and we don’t have the resources to waste time on projects that don’t get built. We’re working harder today to get new jobs to walk in the door. Providing the tool of cost during design will set you apart from your peers and provide your clients with more perceived and real value.

Whether you are an architect or a builder, it is imperative to become an expert on cost. Make it your No. 1 priority to be knowledgeable in this area. Use this downturn to sharpen your skills and promote yourself as the cost expert. Flaunt it to your clients.

The easiest way to jump-start your knowledge of cost is to pick up the phone and talk with your builders, tradesmen, suppliers and vendors. They will probably have more time than ever to share valuable information and should welcome your call. Ask them what kinds of fluctuations they’re experiencing with labor and materials. Inquire about the buying patterns of their clients and trends they’re seeing. Schedule a visit to the showroom and take time for the sales presentation. Educate yourself on more green products and what’s being pitched to the consumer. Evaluate which products are worth the investment for the return and compare high-end to more moderate selections overall. This time spent will solidify your relationships with these partners and probably lead to new opportunities.

A relatively new organization dedicated to bringing volume buying power to custom builders is Custom Builders USA, a national cooperative with active buying groups in 13 U.S. markets that are growing quickly. It brings together small- to medium-sized builders who meet once a month to discuss and share information about what they are experiencing in bidding and cost, as well as frank discussions regarding particular subs or vendors. Already a formidable entity, CBUSA recently invested more than $300,000 in a software program that provides collective buying data from preferred vendors to all of the participants. The potential exists to achieve a strong voice with manufacturers comparable to that of volume builders.

CBUSA’s membership is currently limited to custom builders and preferred vendors who are recommended for membership by builder partners. While service providers are not currently invited to join, presentations on subjects ranging from real estate to insurance and phone services are scheduled. As such, architectural services could reasonably become a topic of interest. Reach out to your local association and begin to benefit from this collective builder group through networking. If the organization is not represented in your market, take the initiative to research the website at and promote it among your local builders. CBUSA is working hard to enhance the professionalism of custom builders and design/build companies. This group’s membership can become a strong partnership to architects and a source of real-time cost data.

We will see a pent-up demand in the custom home market; consumers are hibernating and waiting for signs of stability. Clients are anticipating significant decreases in costs across the board. We can improve upon our professional and customer services if we apply the tool of cost during design. It’s critical to the health of our projects and our careers.