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The Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN®) Knowledge Community develops knowledge and information to benefit architects who are engaged in, or who are interested in learning more about, custom residential practice. CRAN® presents information and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise to promote the professional development of its members via discussion forums, national symposia and conventions, publications, and local activities.

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  • 1.  Wise Approaches to Difficult Clients

    Posted 03-14-2024 02:00 PM
    Edited by James E. Kehl 03-15-2024 01:30 AM


    I'm looking for helpful thoughts, anecdotal or in-principle, from architects who have worked with challenging homeowners / clients. In our sector I know this is normal to encounter now and then. What have you done differently in these types of projects to navigate toward a successful (or at least, not disappointing) conclusion?

    For example, do you mollify clients by expending extra effort and 'going the extra mile'? Do you obtain resolution to disagreements or dissatisfactions by facing tensions head-on, or do you try to avoid any arguments and keep things mellow and positive? Did you make the decision to terminate the contract? How did your approach work out in the end?

    Any thoughts welcome,

    James K. AIA

    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.

  • 2.  RE: Wise Approaches to Difficult Clients

    Posted 03-15-2024 12:47 PM

    Over the years, I have learned that in person discussion or meeting is always better then email or text when dealing with difficult clients. Keeping things mellow and positive also has worked better for me then being rigid. As far as extra effort, that seems to be always part of my basic service, always go above and beyond.

    With that said, there is just certain clients that are not happy no matter what you offer or how you operate and in those occasions I try to be very professional as far as documenting work, scope changes, meeting minutes etc.  In rare occasions, I have also walked away and terminated contract once the relationship is just beyond repair. 

    The past few years or so, I have become very good at understanding clients and how they operate initially prior to getting into contract with them. I do this by vetting them or doing initial paid consultation with them to understand their needs, project goals, how they make decisions etc. 

    Arben Sela AIA
    BuildPlus Architecture PLLC
    West Nyack NY

    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.

  • 3.  RE: Wise Approaches to Difficult Clients

    Posted 03-15-2024 06:06 PM

    First, I am curious in what ways your clients are "difficult", as the approach would vary depending on how they are. 

    I have been very fortunate with my clients over the past 37 years, however when I have had issues, it's often been

    due to communication issues.  Email and texts are usually the culprit these days, as the tone of the writing can easily be misinterpreted.  And I have had a few clients with very changeable personalities (almost as if they are a bit bipolar) so they can go off on you at the slightest irritation if they misinterpret what you wrote.  I take deep breaths when that happens and do my utmost to convince them that their interpretation of my writing is not what I intended...and we move on. 

    And then there are the clients who need your time but complain about having to pay for it.  I do my best to assure them that I only spend the time that is necessary to ensure the quality that is our standard and what they also expect from us.  (We work hourly). 

    We do mostly residential projects, so in the end, the project is THEIR home, not mine, so if they insist on something that I disagree with, I make sure I explain all the pros and cons in the decision and let them make the final choice. 

    I did "fire" one client who clearly had developed a problem with trust issues and became unreasonably paranoid.  And this was an old client for whom I had done more than one project for.  But it was something that wasn't going to change so I quit...and it was before any construction drawings were done.  I did it with a very nice letter, with my regrets at having to quit and how I always had their best interest in mind. 

    If you smell trouble early on, it's definitely better to walk than to hang on as we don't make money at our field to begin with, and projects typically are in the office for years.  If we don't at least have the "perk" of liking what we do and who we do it for, there isn't any point.  

    One last thing...something my contractors get mad at me for...if we have an error and something during construction has to be corrected because of it, I usually offer to pay to correct it.  We are known for our detailed plans, so it is rare, but it happens.  I have given some clients a credit on our bill, which I think goes a long way in the good will department.  And i always emphasize with clients how we are all one team (client, architect, builder).

    Hopefully this was of some help?

    Good luck!

    Gina Moffitt, AIA

    Gina Moffitt AIA
    Kiyohara Moffitt
    Los Angeles CA

    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.