Discussion: View Thread

Telling your Clients NO

  • 1.  Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-01-2018 16:23
    What do you guys do when you have a client that wants to keep making changes when it's too late and or
    you've spent all of your fee?

    I have heard of some offices telling their clients that they're done when they've spent up the fee, and
    I've seen others that keep on working until the job is complete, despite having gone well over the fee.

    What do you guys do?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 2.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:23
    It's called "extra services" and should be described in your contract, e.g. "Revisions to previously approved drawings", along with other extras.

    Bressack and Wasserman Architects
    751 Southampton Drive
    Palo Alto CA 94303 
    ph: 650 321-2871  
    fx:  650 321-1987 

  • 3.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:24
    I always tell them that it will be an extra charge BEFORE I do the work.

    Karen Smuland
    Karen Smuland Architect, Inc
    Bend OR

  • 4.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-10-2018 09:57
    And your clients are mostly receptive to this?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 5.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:26
    We now include an estimate of meetings, allowing 1 or 2 more, but then able to charge if need be.
    You can also list 'additional meetings" in your Additional Services. 

    Identifying when it is too late - include an 'approved' SD in your scope, and ask for a signature on the drawing after the approval.

    Robert C. Foss, AIA
    Clement Foss Architects
    2709 South MacDill Avenue
    Tampa, FL 33629
    Ph: 813 831 3223

  • 6.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:28
    Depends on Client, scope of changes, and Agreement.  Typically, we would request Change Orders.  The key is to put the brakes on as each change occurs versus after completing the work.

  • 7.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-10-2018 10:00
    How successful are you in getting the add serve?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 8.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:33

    If it is a modest amount of work I do it.  If it is continual, and clearly things that have been agreed to earlier, I carefully explain to them that I can't keep making infinite changes and anything past "this last change" will be additional services.  IF it is a change in scope I will tell them so before I do the work and get them to agree to the extra before I do the work.


    John E. Crowell

    Deer Hill Architects LLC

    40 Lowell Street

    Peabody, MA 01960


    Office: 978-532-8660



  • 9.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-10-2018 10:01
    And if they don't agree?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 10.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:34

    Design changes should require additional fee's .  Additional time should translate into additional fee's.  This should all be in the contract.

    David DeFilippo AIA
    Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, Inc.
    Boston MA

  • 11.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-10-2018 10:02
    Of course, but how successful are you with enforcing that part of the contract?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 12.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:36
    It depends on how your contract was structured. I keep design time at an hourly basis for this very reason. If the design changes constitute a change in the original scope, I have wording in the contract to manage that as well. 


    Elizabeth Craver, AIA
    CRAVER Architects, LLC

    P: 703-765-2780
    F: 703-765-2747

  • 13.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:40
    I try to do most of my work on an hourly basis, at least until the design is complete and the client has "signed off" on it.  Up front, I tell my clients that the amount of time the project takes (and therefore costs them in fees) is directly proportional to their decision making ability, and that more changes equals more time and more fees.  You might tell the client that you'd be happy to make additional changes for an additional fee.

    best of luck,

    patrick marr, aia pe  architecture + structural design
    2105 gillespie street
    santa barbara, ca  93101
    p:  (805) 898-2096

    proud member of 1% for the planet

  • 14.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:46

    Important that you "discipline" your client (and yourself) to be careful about this. Not to say, you should never allow it, but you need to develop some friendly language about it for your clients, and use it whenever you need to...something like:


    "You know, that could be a pretty good idea, and I'd be happy to pursue that for you ( --if you truly would be glad to do it, that is --), and if you think it's worth adding some additional amount to our fee so we can develop it for you, we could look into it.  I say this, Mr. Client, because, you know, we didn't have those new requirements or needs that we've just identified today factored in to our proposed scope of work for your project, and I'm always trying to be careful with your funds spent on design and construction drawings so you will have funds available for construction....  If you can justify some added design expense for that (new idea/new need), then we'd be happy to add this to our scope....Let me take an hour to think that through and figure out how extensive a change this would be, what it might take for us to make those changes, and I'll get back to you with a modest additional fee proposal to add it.  I don't think it should be a lot of additional expense, but let me take the time to think about it and I'll be back to you ASAP."    


    This usually puts a client on notice, and gives you a shot at increasing your fee to cover unintended things that come up.  Of course, it helps most if you can do this early-on  and  make a habit of it  --  even before you've exceeded available time, rather than after you're way beyond your fee limit.  Also, it helps hugely if you happened to define this in your proposal, by writing something like: "Anything not specifically listed in this proposal or stated as "included" in architect's scope of services will be considered an additional service, and if desired by client it can be added to the original services scope and fee, with client's authorization."


    Hope this helps,  




    Community Heritage Partners

    Email: aleci@chpartners.net

    Web: CHPartners.net

    Phone: 717.393.1639

    Address: 214 W. Grant St.  Lancaster, PA 17603


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  • 15.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-10-2018 10:07
    Thanks Eugene. This is great advice. I'm curious how successful you've been with this method? Are most clients receptive to this?

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 16.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-12-2018 19:00
    As with most things, the client's receptivity to this depends on the quality of the client, and on how much they appreciate what we're doing for them.  Some clients just won't listen, and want to try to run us over.  Sometimes, when we're dealing with a board or committee, there can be a changing of the board members and officers, and this can often create a shift in attitude from the original client rep.  Particularly important then to have this  well-defined in your agreement, if you can.  But when we have a trusting, caring client, which is what we aim for above all else, and if we've done our job keeping them informed about what we're doing for them along the way, they will be more likely to give us this consideration.  It's not easy, but it can work.

    Eugene Aleci AIA
    Architect / President
    Community Heritage Partners
    Lancaster PA

  • 17.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 17:51
    Do you have an additional services provision in your agreement?  It should state when it kicks it.  Otherwise, you could just charge them for your time. However, you need to be careful to determine whether changes were due to your error or omissions or just Owner requested changes?  Change requests during construction would just be field changes.  Hopefully you are being paid hourly for construction admin.  


    Elmer Lin, NCARB, CSI


    2120 18th Avenue  San Francisco, California  94116

    T:  415-566-7442  F:  415-566-1431 

    W:  www.consortium-sf.com

    E:   elmerl@consortium-sf.com

  • 18.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:08
    We would keep working, but only after telling the client and getting approval to keep billing.  This is why we do most contracts hourly with an estimated cap which is a percent of construction cost.  As the project costs increase, our maximum estimated fee increases, which is only an estimate.  Some clients will not agree to this, but most do.  ur projects are pretty design focused, more than budget driven.

    James Zack AIA
    Architect / Principal
    Zack/de Vito Architecture + Construction
    San Francisco CA

  • 19.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:12
    Three things I've learned the hard way in 30+ years in this profession:

    1) Offer Schematic Services as an hourly and then convert fee after this phase is complete to a fixed fee or percentage (if that's your clients preference). The advantage of this is that Schematics are the most open-ended (and hardest to predict) part of our services. There is a huge range of experiences we've had with various clients -- Some make decisions quickly whereas with others its takes months and months and it can be quite painful. Going hourly incentivizes your clients to make decisions quickly and not over-think.

    2) At the end of Schematics, have your clients sign a record set of plans and elevations (keep a scan of this !) and accept the design as a condition of moving forward either for zoning submissions and/or contract documents. This establishes that the client buys into the design.

    3) Include language in your letter of agreement that any revisions to the design after construction documents commences will be offered as "Additional Services" (i.e hourly). We carve out building department required revisions since its our responsibility to provide drawings that will produce a permit.

    Richard Becker AIA
    Becker Architects, Ltd.
    Highland Park IL

  • 20.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:12
    I have a fixed fee they cd's, split between schematics, DD's and cd's. CA is handled separately. I also have a clause stating that after DD's are agreed to, any further changes either to DD's or CD's  are billed hourly as an extra service.

    Stuart Chait AIA
    Chait Studios
    North Chili NY

  • 21.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:25
    If it's a fixed fee project, I describe exactly what services are included.  The number of schematic design options,  a list of documents included in the construction set, and any allowance for construction administration.  I charge an hourly for any revisions to the plans.

    If it's an hourly agreement with an estimate (not a capped fee) I document all revisions and changes in each billing.  When I am approaching the estimate I send a written notification that we are exceeding the estimate and why.

    Carol Riewe AIA
    Santa Cruz CA

  • 22.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:40
    Architects are notoriously poor business people because we tend to want to do whatever it takes to make the project great. However you need to make a habit of getting paid for additional services.  No other profession works for free, so why do we?

    It is important that you define the scope of work clearly in the contract, including maximum number of design options, and how additional services will be charged.  Then as soon as the client wants a change late in the game, you let them know that you are happy to make the revisions for them, but you will need to track your time hourly (or however your contract spelled it out.)  Then you send them an invoice when you are back on track.  If the amount of time spent is not huge and you don't want to charge them, you should send them an invoice that shows the time and cost for the work you completed, with no balance due.  That way they at least see the value of your services, so the next time you need to charge them it is not as big of a surprise.

    Brad McKenzie, AIA
    Assistant Director of Business Operations
    Project Architect

  • 23.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-27-2018 23:40
    There is a conundrum because the AIA Owner-Architect agreement says the Owner will furnish a program to the Architect.  Homeowners don't know what this is.  So how do we get started if the Owner doesn't have a program?

    I offer this service for an additional fee.  My proposal spells out what's involved.  So before I ever start SD, I have a program the Owner has approved.  Design is always hourly.  But at least it not trial and error guess work.
    Tim Mead, AIA
    President, Maui Chapter AIA

    Timothy Mead AIA
    Timothy N. Mead, AIA, Architect
    Kihei HI

  • 24.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 18:41

    I like to charge hourly for the schematic design phase in order to protect myself from indecisive clients. Then, AIA Document B105-2017 "Standard Short Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect", for example, says "At the request of the Owner, the Architect shall provide additional services not included in Article 1 for additional compensation.  Such additional services may include, . . . revisions in the Project scope, quality or budget, or due to Owner-requested changes in the approved design. . . ."    There may be some argument over what the "approved design" is.  Therefore it is a good policy to have the clients sign off on the schematic design before moving on the construction documents in order to establish the "approved design" for future reference. I sometimes put in a clause stating I will only provide a certain number of schematic design concepts as part of my basic services and that additional schemes are additional services.   If you use standard AIA contracts and are careful how you edit them you can protect yourself from clients who endlessly keep changing their minds. Then don't be afraid to enforce your written agreement to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.

    Robert Larsen AIA
    Robert R. Larsen, A.I.A.
    Denver CO

  • 25.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-02-2018 22:43
    I (mostly) get sign-offs at appropriate intervals (SD, DD, 50% CD). Then if they want changes to design elements they've already signed off on, I explain that I'll do it hourly as an additional service. The key is communicating what the sign-off means and sticking to your add. services guns. My proposal/contract usually lists the tasks as hourly with a range of costs. If things start to get out of hand, I will adjust the amount, in writing.

    John Downie AIA
    John V. Downie | Architect
    Auburndale MA

  • 26.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-03-2018 01:26
    Hello All ---

    Oh, that's easy; my Design phases are all-hourly services, with a "ballpark" total for each phase (Schematics and D.D.) in the Proposal.  We've had the conversation where I repeat, "It's a lot cheaper to look at more-and-more options on paper than it is to hack-up built work, or live with the 'if-only's for the next umpteen years".

    Typically after 3 or 4 different Schematic layouts, we're ready to go into D.D., based on one layout, or a combination of elements.

    However --- about 10% of the time, there's a gnarly project that "fights back", so we end-up with 10, 12, even 15 options.  This has been for a particularly tough context, tight space, etc...  After a suitable bit of time, things work out, and we proceed.

    Thanks ---
    william j. devlin aia, inc.,
    Springfield, MA

  • 27.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-03-2018 12:57
    I have a change order stipulation on my contract: Upon completion of each phase, there is a change order fee. I advise them of how much the fee would be if they have a revision, before I make the changes. If the revisions are minor, I don't charge them. 

  • 28.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-03-2018 13:54
    David: Many firms say when the job has passed Schematic Design and the group has approved it …that is the end of changes without being paid... to change it.
    ON a small job ask for an hourly rate…and change away.

  • 29.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-03-2018 14:12
    Edited by Robert Smith 03-03-2018 14:20

    This issue can be a serious problem.  We explain to clients that the design will progress in three phases, and we reference the traditional SD, DD, and CD phases.  Upfront, before designing anything, it needs to be clear to the client that the SD and DD phases is when different design changes and options are explored.  Once they approve the design and you start CDs, the design should be finalized other than minor adjustments.  During this early discussion, we also explain that making design changes during CDs will be an additional expense and will be billed hourly.

    I realize this is easier to say than it is to implement.  And you have to exercise some discretion and tact when making the decision what is a minor adjustment versus a significant change.  We are also aware that many people will not realize that what looks like a minor change to the plan has a ripple effect throughout the drawings.  Moving a wall in plan may change the elevations, roof plan, framing plan, etc.  All of that usually has to be part of the discussion. Maybe it is not too late for that discussion on the project you are currently working on.

    David, After I posted this I realized that you had already received a lot of good feedback.  The advice already posted about SD services on an hourly basis is excellent advice.  Most of our clients tend to resist and open ended hourly basis, so we usually have to state an anticipated budget amount and try not to exceed it.  If you go this route, then it is again an issue of communicating what additional services are and when they will apply.

    Good luck.

    Bob Smith
    Architect, AIA, LEED AP
    Shelby NC

  • 30.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-14-2018 08:07
    Thanks Bob! This is great advice.

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 31.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-04-2018 19:19
    Most of the time it will depend on what you have written in your
    contract as to whether you can collect additional fees. I usually list
    points at which certain types of design changes will require additional
    fees. Usually this will be once we have DD sign off. Once color and
    material selections have been made and those boards are approved and
    signed off then reworking the pallet will usual be on an hourly basis.
    Any changes that will impact engineers work will also need to include
    time for their work and our coordination of that work.

    Be up front with your clients and then there is less chance for hard
    feelings on either side. I cannot work for free any more than they would
    want to.

  • 32.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-12-2018 13:22
    Thanks for the advice everybody! Very helpful.

    David Robertson AIA
    Marietta, GA

  • 33.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-12-2018 20:10
    There are some people you just have to walk away from.

    Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
    R. Beuc Architects
    Saint Louis MO

  • 34.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-13-2018 19:09
    Learning when to step back from a client/project is an extremely important lesson in the process of maturing as a practitioner.

    Frank M Guillot, FAIA, NCARB
    G-V-V Architects Inc
    Burlington, VT

  • 35.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-14-2018 21:40
    This is a solid topic! If any of you want to be in an article I'm writing on the topic, please email me.
    Can you guys offer tips on how to step back? When to do it, what kind of client is the one to step back from, do you do it when you've already accepted $ from them? Any anecdotes? When do you just suck it up?

    Nichole Reber
    Authority Marketing, Ghostwriting, and PR
    Turning Architects and Builders into Thought Leaders
    312-545-0375 cell

  • 36.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-15-2018 17:27
    Be sure your Owner-Architect Agreement has some provision for termination for architect's convenience, or phrasing to that effect.  The usual AIA Agreements have the architect promise to press on regardless, or at most to only not do things that you're not paid to do.

    Joel Niemi AIA
    Joel Niemi Architect
    Snohomish, WA

  • 37.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-15-2018 17:36
    Back in the '90s, when work was plentiful and we didn't need to put up with difficult clients and could afford to absorb small losses, the key thing was to try to determine early on, when you hadn't clocked many hours, if the client was going to be a pain.  At which point, the appropriate statement was, "We don't think we're the right firm for you."
    Leah Greenwald, Architect

  • 38.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-18-2018 13:44
    Edited by Rudolph Beuc 03-18-2018 13:52
    Ok, timely subject. Just had to do walk away from someone.

    Had someone call me out of the blue from a "Tiny Home" company, an LLC, in California. They were looking to partner with an architect in my area to produce modular homes. How much do I charge for such services? I responded that I don't bid on projects until I have an understanding of how much work they might entail. So we arranged for a meeting the following week.

    After hanging up the phone I did some homework. I googled their name. Their company's website was top on the list of options. That was the only option from the google search results with any relationship to their company. So I visit their website. The information on it was quite slim. No street address, no past projects, no employee profiles; just some we'll do the job right for you language, generic background construction images, a phone number, and "call us for an appointment". I noticed it was a WIX site. That is, it was a site anybody could put up with very little work or skill. The phone number on their website and the return phone number the gentleman gave me had California area codes. The name on my caller ID did not match the name the caller gave me.

    So I go to Dunn & Bradstreet to search for their company. Nothing. Being an LLC they should be registered in their state. A search on the California's Secretary of State website yielded no results.

    I cancelled our appointment.

    Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
    R. Beuc Architects
    Saint Louis MO

  • 39.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-19-2018 17:57
    I see a lot of businesses using WIX, Wordpress, and other online website design options these days. So I'm not sure I'd use that as a reason to write a business off.

    Similarly, I recently saw that Buzzfile - which "licenses all the company information from Dun & Bradstreet" - had listed my personal name, "Thomas Bank," as being "located in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania. This organization primarily operates in the Functions Related to Deposit Banking business / industry within the Depository Institutions sector."

    Buzzfile's (and D&B's) information on my actual business isn't correct either, but they regularly call me trying to sell me on subscribing to their services. Along with the BBB, I see no reason to get involved with them.

    Thomas Bank AIA
    Principal Architect
    Simply Stated Architecture, P.C.
    Lemoyne PA

  • 40.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-20-2018 20:34
    Edited by Rudolph Beuc 03-20-2018 20:44
    Please understand, it was an accumulation of factors.

    If their site was full of information, the situation would have appeared completely different to me.

    Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
    R. Beuc Architects
    Saint Louis MO

  • 41.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-23-2018 08:37
    How did they find you Rudolph?

    David Robertson, AIA, NCARB
    Marietta, GA

  • 42.  RE: Telling your Clients NO

    Posted 03-26-2018 17:42

    Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
    R. Beuc Architects
    Saint Louis MO