October 26, 2018


Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions For Architects and Builders

Savvy clients ask questions, lots of them. The better prepared you are to answer them, the more likely you’ll win a design or construction contract.

Questions are an inevitable part of the design and construction process, particularly at the frontend of a project. And as an architect or builder, you should welcome questions from your clients or prospective clients. They demonstrate the project owner is interested, involved, and serious about hiring an architect or builder.

Questions are an inevitable part of the design and construction process, particularly at the frontend of a project. And as an architect or builder, you should welcome questions from your clients or prospective clients. They demonstrate the project owner is interested, involved, and serious about hiring an architect or builder.

1. Can you provide references?

This is the number one question clients are going to ask a builder or architect, and you should be ready and willing to answer. No one is going to hire a builder or architect without seeing his or her past work and talking to past clients. And if you do a lot of residential work for high-end clients who prefer you not showcase their homes on your website, you will want to make sure you can provide at least a few of those as referrals for new clients.

Prospective clients will not only want to see and hear about the quality of your design and workmanship but will also want to know about the quality of your relationships with homeowners and project owners, and whether or not their experience working with you was enjoyable.

2. Do you have experience building a home or office like the one I am proposing?

Any client worth his or her salt is going to want to see evidence you’ve tackled similar projects. Always have your portfolio ready for that initial client meeting, and be prepared to share photos, insights, and experience on building projects with characteristics like the one your prospective client is proposing. By the same token, have references who are available and willing to provide feedback on projects to new clients.

3. Are you licensed and insured?

Be able to provide proof of licensure and insurance. Clients will want to know you have home building insurance, liability insurance, and workers’ compensation to avoid any potential project delays in the case of a claim filed against you. Also be sure your contractor licenses are current. You should anticipate your prospective clients will be checking your state licensure.

4. Can you recommend a builder or architect?

Many potential clients looking to build a custom home, in particular, will look to you for recommendations. Is there an architect with whom you’ve worked that you highly recommend? If so, have some pictures of his or her work available to share as well as contact information.

And if you’re an architect with a client or prospect seeking a builder to carry out a custom home or office design, be prepared to recommend contractors with whom you’ve worked and with whom you’ve enjoyed working. The home design and building process will go much more smoothly if you’re working with a builder whose processes you already know and appreciate.

5. How long will it take to design and build my home/building?

The average single-family home takes just under 10 months to build, according to the latest data from the National Association of Home Builders. Custom homes typically take longer. And when it comes to commercial construction, time from permit to project completion varies widely depending on project scope and size.

Be realistic when you answer this question for your client, knowing that delays due to weather, materials availability, and other factors are likely. Build a buffer into your timetable. If you know it usually takes 12 months to complete a project like the one on which you’re bidding, add another month or two to the timeline.

No client ever complained about having his or her home or office structure available for early occupancy. It’s always best to err on the side of overestimating time to project completion.

Go Beyond the Design Brief 25 QUESTIONS TO ASK FOR SUCCESSFUL CLIENT ONBOARDING  Start every project out on the same page as your client with these 25 critical  questions to help you understand and manage expectations. Download Guide

6. How many projects do you currently have under construction?

Prospective clients want to know this for two reasons:

  1. They see your book of current business as an indicator of how in demand you are. An in-demand builder is likely a good builder.
  2. They want to know if you really have time to devote to their project. If you’re a home builder with six homes currently under construction, does your team have the bandwidth to handle them all concurrently, or are you moving teams around so that some job sites have no activity for days or weeks on end?

To earn a client’s trust, you have to be able to strike the proper balance between having a solid book of business while also assuring them you have a team that will be devoted to completion of their home or office building on schedule.

7. How much time will I need to devote to the project myself, and how will you keep me apprised of project progress?

Some clients want to be deeply involved in the design and construction of their new home or office structure, and others prefer to give you guidance and see what recommendations you make. Before you answer this question, make sure you have a sense of your client’s desired level of involvement and his or her expectations for making approvals of designs, materials, and change orders.

Then be very clear about what you need from him or her. Do you want to talk on the phone once a week? Would you like the client to visit the job site regularly to provide feedback? Is he or she open to answering questions as they come up, or would the client prefer a weekly email update with a list of questions or actions items? Talk about what systems you have in place for keeping the client apprised of project progress, and make sure those systems work for your client (or be willing to make adjustments to meet his or her needs).

8. What is your fee structure, and when do I make payments?

Be clear about this from the start to avoid disputes (and potential legal trouble) later. Make sure your client understands which costs are included in the contract and which aren’t. Be clear on the process for change orders, and be certain the client understands he or she will be responsible for covering the extra costs that may be associated with a design or materials change.

Also be clear about your payment structure, as you will need those payments to help fund the home’s construction. Will payments come when certain milestones are met? Does the client write you a check every week? What’s the initial down payment on the project?

Make sure your client clearly understands the contract’s payment terms before signing. And don’t be afraid to advise your client to allow room in his or her construction budget for changes or upgrades along the way. This could help avoid frustrations later in the process that could result from the client wanting a change he or she can’t really afford.

Related Reading - 3 Expert Architecture Tips: Design Smart Now to Avoid Costly Errors Later

9. What is your track record for completing projects on time and within budget?

This is a fair question, and one you should be prepared to answer honestly because your prospective clients will verify what you say in talking to past customers. If your track record isn’t perfect (and it’s likely not), then be honest about that and explain what the special challenges were that led a project to go over budget or past the proposed occupancy date. Trust is a critical component of your relationship with the project owner. For more on this subject, see Cultured Stone’s 8 Tips to Stay on Time and Profitable.

10. Can you recommend options for reducing environmental impacts?

This is an increasingly common question among both residential and commercial clients, as the desire to build sustainably goes mainstream, not to mention the potential cost savings gained by building energy efficient and low-maintenance structures. Be prepared to discuss items like green building materials with your client, and talk about your own experience using them, whether it be something relatively simple like orienting and glazing a house to take advantage of passive solar heat and light, adding thermal mass with a manufactured stone wall,or installing and sizing a multi-zone geothermal heating and cooling system for a large office complex.

Commercial clients, in particular, may ask an architect or builder about green certification options. Be prepared to discuss the benefits (like greater energy efficiency and tax credits) of programs like LEED but also the challenges (like greater costs on the frontend and understanding payback periods).

You should also be able to provide data on the energy efficiency gains of past homes or office buildings you’ve designed or built. If you want to sell sustainable design and construction, you’ll need to be able to show hard evidence it saves money and reduces environmental impacts.

Related Reading - Architectural Trends: Looking Back and Predictions for 2018

A little preparation goes a long way toward boosting your client’s confidence. Whether you’re an architect or a builder, being able to answer these 10 simple questions helps to communicate yourself as a seasoned professional.

For more information on onboarding new clients, download Cultured Stone’s Client Onboarding Questionnaire.

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