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What would I have done.

  • 1.  What would I have done.

    Posted 02-04-2013 12:38
    I have an email file that I send when someone asks me to meet with me,  I have a "statement" letter that list my expertise and tells how I charge-hourly to a %.  Then I add that the first meeting will take about 2 hours and I will charge the client for 1 hour  (I hour for you and one hour for me) due at the end of the meeting.
    That way I feel I have been paid for gas and 1/2 my time and most times a client has a check or cash waiting for me.  If someone wastes my time, I have explained that I am supposed to be paid and I send an invoice when I get back to the office.  Occassionally after receiving that email, the person decides that we should not meet and I have not wasted more time.

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    Ann Dunning AIA
    President
    Ann M. Dunning, AIA, Inc.
    Chagrin Falls OH
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  • 2.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-05-2013 08:15
    That's a very professional way to do it, Ann. Nothing wrong with that at all.  I normally request payment in advance, if I am expected to go somewhere.  

    I typically do not charge for the first meeting, as long as they come to my location.  However, I have learned, during 40 years of doing this that going to the client's site, stomping around and mumbling things like: "Oh we can do a nice one here," and, "Oh look at the great view!"  or "Here's where your garage and living room could go," might excite the client and make them feel good, but really won't do much to get you the job.  I won't do this without being paid anymore. 

    Interestingly enough, charging for a site visit analysis HAS resulted in me getting the job.  People value what you do according to what they pay you.  I don't mind going overboard in what I do for them in that Site Analysis Study, as long as I am paid something.  View Systems, privacy/public exposures, solar angles, prevailing wind, septic (huge issues there), well, driveway orientations, topography influences on foundation costs, buildable area and the like.

    I think many Architects think that they have to ingratiate themselves to potential clients by doing all sorts of things up front for free. All that does is condition a client into thinking that all Architects will do this and undermines our professional standing in the profession at large.  We are, or at least Should, be running businesses here, along with practicing an art.  There is no shame in earning a living and being asked to be paid for the services we render.  Service with a smile? Absolutely.  Service for free?  Not wise. 

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    Rand Soellner AIA
    Architect/Owner/Principal
    Home Architects
    Cashiers NC
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  • 3.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-05-2013 13:37

    I still do the first visit and a proposal letter for free. That's the way everyone I have worked for in the past has done it and that is what I learned. I quickly learned I needed to find a way to weed out the tire kickers so I started ending the first meeting with a homework assignment from the owner.  I would ask them for a copy of their mortgage survey and I would also ask them to email me their "wish list" for the project, basically what we had just discussed in the first meeting and anything they think of after the meeting to add.  If I got that I would start a proposal letter. If I never hear from them again they are tire kickers.  If the proposal was accepted I would start a draft contract and this is when I start getting paid, for  some time and the cost of AIA docs.  Lately I have been thinking I need to re-think this. Any thoughts?

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    Thomas Streicher AIA
    Thomas Streicher, Architect
    Monroe NY
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  • 4.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-06-2013 11:25
    I concur strongly, that "free anything" is never valued. Maybe I am materialistic, but the things I have paid dearly for are most dear to me.... Your fees should be as high as possible, automatically teaches respect. My happiest clients are not the ones who paid the least. How your advice be valued if it is free? Human nature demands appreciation for the things committed, and there's no commitment like cash, blood, or one's word.    

    I am not picking a fight with pro bono mavens by any of this - that is worthwhile approach for different circumstances.  

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    Allen E Neyman
    Rockville, MD

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  • 5.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-07-2013 08:46
    Respect is earned, not invoiced. Perhaps I rub elbows with too many regular folks. I think this attitude many of us tend to have about getting the maximum fee per project often leads to earning the least per hour and worst of all it drives us into a corner, isolating us to a very small pool of clientele that can afford such a materialistically affirming fee. My experience dealing with wealthy clients vs. middle income earners is that the wealthy who pay the higher fees tend to get their money's worth out of you. When your fee includes every service under the sun to go Frank Lloyd Fascist on the project, you find yourself giving a little discount for extra services to get the higher total fee, thus automatically driving down your dollars earned per hour.

    I applaud anyone who can keep a full work load of high paying, nearly limitless budget projects, but we can't all be doing this and at the same time have a serious curiosity as to why we Architects are NOT all over the HGTV shows, why we are NOT the first one an average person thinks about when considering a new home, and why we are NOT designing at least 80% of the buildings in this country. There are 10 houses being built for each commercial building and we are barely custom designing a small fraction of the houses being built. The overwhelming majority of houses come from catalogues and this gives us the potential for 1 job per 100+ houses built from that one catalogue design. Catalogue designs are a reality and there will always be a need for this, but our attitudes tend to drive people in masses to catalogues. Our profession needs an attitude adjustment!

    If you only want to do business with clients with household incomes over $250k per year (top 2%), then perhaps these people respect higher fees more. If you want the average American to respect Architects, then you have to work for them! Average American household incomes are around $50k per year and these people don't pay ANYONE in the building industry for a 1 hour sales pitch just to get the job. No agent, no builder, no lawn care guy, no roofer, no tradesman of any sort charges someone just to sell their services. We are our own worst enemy. When we isolate ourselves in such a bubble from 98% of America do we have to wonder why we get such little respect? Just drive around anywhere USA and look at all the crappy cookie cutter, builder boxes and tell me that looks like respect! Browse the MLS listings in your area and tell me that looks like respect! For 98% of Americans, Architects are like Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. Some believe we exist, but they've never seen one of us in the wild. Maybe some of us need to stop trying so hard to be excellent and find ways to insert ourselves into everyday American lives. It's far easier to achieve good results from nearly limitless budgets, but achieving good results on the type of budget most Americans can afford is a very difficult design problem, but a design problem none the less. In my opinion, this is the ultimate design problem that separates us from our egos and relevance, so are you up to the test?

    A good Architect should be able to custom design a speculative house and have it sell on the open market for top dollar, very quickly. That's valuable to the majority of America, not designing an unobtainably expensive house so specific for a single person's needs that it is only functional and desirable as long as that one person occupies the house. The only value for a house like that is to take a pretty picture and maybe get a cover story on a magazine mostly viewed by your piers, not regular folks. These are the houses that take a long time to sell once that owner is gone and they don't always sell for the cost of construction. In exchange for that cover story that lasted a month and some pretty pictures we create an unintended reputation that lasts more than a lifetime. I know it stings, but this is what most people think of Architects and stereotypes exist for a reason.

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    Eric Rawlings AIA
    Owner
    Rawlings Design, Inc.
    Decatur GA
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  • 6.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-07-2013 08:49
    I agree completely, Allen. And you are not materialistic, you simply would like to be given the opportunity to earn a living by selling your time and efforts for what you do to those who can afford it.  We should not have to apologize for asking to be paid for our services any more than a dentist, a CPA, attorney or doctor, or a Contractor.  Would they ever do anything up front for free? 

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    Rand Soellner AIA
    Architect/Owner/Principal
    Home Architects
    Cashiers NC
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  • 7.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-08-2013 08:07
    We are not in the medical industry nor are we accountants or lawyers. We are in the building industry and no contractor, tradesman, or agent charges someone for an initial meeting to sell themselves, at least not in my area. When we behave in an exclusive manner from the rest of our partners in the industry, we exclude ourselves. I'll bet if I interview for a job and give the potential client the common courtesy of an hour of my time, they'll likely respect me more than someone who charges them just to sell their services for an hour. I never feel burned if I don't get the job, but maybe my skills as salesman are well polished because I get far more jobs than I lose. Do you people really believe the client feels like you're providing them with a service while trying to sell your services?

    Sure most folks will try to pick your brain about what they should do, but there is a way to portray yourself as the expert they need while remaining ambiguous about their specific design needs. I always offer generalized, hypothetical solutions while explaining that I need a survey or, in the case of a renovation, I need to measure the building before I can give them a real solution. Having a high level of understanding of local zoning ordinances is a good way of making a client feel comfortable putting their most expensive investment in your hands. Speaking in terms of limitations does not divulge proprietary design information. They found you for a reason and most likely have already seen your website or built examples of your work before you showed up. They should already know that they like the way you solve problems like theirs, just don't solve them while selling yourself and spend no more than an hour doing it.


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    Eric Rawlings AIA
    Owner
    Rawlings Design, Inc.
    Decatur GA
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  • 8.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-11-2013 08:11
    Eric,

    I have to say, you are right on the money as usual.  I think too many architects think of themselves as doctors or lawyers...although even Lawyers don't usually charge for a first visit.  We can't think of ourselves as too good to at least meet with a potential client who is thinking of building a house, or expanding in order to further understand exactly what they need in order to put together a proposal for services, without expecting to get paid.  I, too, get most of my work this way and usually get 2 out of 3 projects from that initial visit. Rarely do I find that someone is just wasting my time.   Even when I used to work for the large offices that do University projects, office buildings, or  retail stores, they did not charge the potential client for my time to meet with them for an interview.  This is part of marketing.  You have to have a budget line item for this in your business outlook.  It is the cost of doing business.    

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    Thomas Wagner AIA
    Thomas B. Wagner, Architect
    Haddonfield NJ
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  • 9.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-12-2013 09:21
    We can debate whether we ought to charge for an initial visit all day long with vastly different opinions. What isn't being clarified here is the difference between a meeting where both parties are getting to know each other to confirm if they are compatible (like a first date). It ought to be brief and the topics should be broad and more about the architect's process. I can't see charging for this type of meeting, call it overhead or marketing.

    When the architect is called out to meet to discuss a specific issue, give practical advice or solutions for a question asked, then there is an "exchange of value." The architect has offered solutions or some level of expertise for a specific condition or aspect of feasibility. In that case, the meeting has gone from "meet and greet" to a consultation. Professionals charge for consultations. Otherwise, they'll continue to want to pay you the same amount as you charged before...nothing. It's not arrogance or any other negative trait, it's just business.

    I make this distinction before I meet with someone. If it isn't clear, I keep it to meeting type #1. At that meeting, I try to demonstrate to them why they need me and how I can help them. The success rate is overwhelming if I "know my stuff" and don't sell.

    People are capable of making informed decisions. This works for commercial and residential projects.

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    Lee Calisti AIA
    Principal
    lee CALISTI architecture+design
    Greensburg PA
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  • 10.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-13-2013 06:07
    Thanks, Lee. I think you have this quite right. I work quite hard to get the clarity you describe before leaving my office. If it seems like a bona fide interview I do it without hesitation, but when I sense a prospect is looking just for a consultation, I offer my time for a fee. There's a difference between marketing and giving away free services. Thanks again. ------------------------------------------- Andrew Fethes AIA President Andrew Fethes Architects PA Oradell NJ -------------------------------------------


  • 11.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-13-2013 10:24
    Wise counsel from Lee Calisti.

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    Rand Soellner AIA
    Architect/Owner/Principal
    Home Architects
    Cashiers NC
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  • 12.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-14-2013 13:56
    We offer a service we call "Reality Check" which is posted on our website and explains what we will do for a small fee to help people determine if they really want to proceed with a project. There are 2 fees depending on size of project. We are contacted several times a week by people considering remodeling projects that hire us for this service; probably about a third of these turn into real projects. For non-Reality Check projects, which are usually larger in scope, we still usually go to the prospective clients home, but then just discuss their issues or their dreams and our services and fees and schedule without providing a solution. We then follow up immediately with a proposal. Probably 2/3 or 3/4 of these turn into real projects.

    Unless it is a new home on a blank site, it is really difficult to determine the scope of a project without actually visiting the existing house. I wouldn't know how to prepare an accurate fee proposal without it!

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    F. John Barbour AIA
    Shelter Architecture, LLC
    Minneapolis MN
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  • 13.  RE:What would I have done.

    Posted 02-06-2013 22:04

    Rand

    My approach is similar to yours.  I consider a meeting in my office a 'sales' meeting where I promote my ability to serve the customer - and I never charge for that.  

    At a meeting on the site, I consider myself there to look at a specific set of issues for the owner, and thus it's a consultation.  I don't spend much if any time talking about me; I'm focused on the site and problem to be solved; and I give real advice - including when appropriate 'I don't think you should build that'.  

    Time being my most precious asset, and all I have to sell makes me hesitant to give it away unless it's a probono excercise for a non-profit, church or other cause of my own choosing.

    However, I do break my own template - when for example in a phone call I sense someone is earnest, honest and respectful of my time.  Tough to judge those kinds of things on the phone of course - but I take a stab at it.

    And as the economy goes down, I may be more inclined to waive my 'initial on site consultation' fee; just like any businessperson might who has something to sell, and occasionally finds oneself a bit overstocked.  In fact, I try to refer to those I work with as customers; not clients; as 'customer service' has a nice ring in my ears.

    Cheers
    Mike

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    Michael Malinowski AIA
    AIA Director - California Region
    Applied Architecture, Inc.
    Sacramento CA
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