People often ask us why it is not better to have a design done by a designer or architect and then have it “bid out”, and awarded to the lowest bidder. Naturally there are a large number of answers to that question that relate to the quality of design and construction, as well as cost. We shall try to address some of those here.
Quality of Design in Your Home is a Paramount Issue. The quality of the designer is a most important question. Home design is a very complex and demanding architectural specialty. A home is a statement about its owners. Design begins with an understanding of the lifestyle to which its owners aspire, and includes decisions about general and material specifications, as well as designer-decorating decisions.
In the field of home design there are various levels of “professionalism.” First, there is the Home Designer. Some home designers have very minimal training, as little as one year. Given the depth and complexity of high-end homes, not every designer has the talent necessary for designing these homes.
Those trained in architecture, on the other hand must meet specific requirements of education, “hands on” construction experience, and resident training. Little, if any, emphasis is given to costs of construction. They are required to take course work in structural engineering, mechanical design, aesthetic design, construction management as well as art and architectural history. Typically, an architect becomes a specialist in one or two of these areas. One rarely finds the artistic skills in an engineering-oriented designer, and visa versa.
At Frey & Son, our experience has taught us to value first and foremost a designer trained in the art of fine architectural design. The two design firms we use are well-trained designers highly experienced in the residential field of design. They have been designing high-end homes for our company for years and have developed a specialized level of expertise through working with numerous Frey & Son clients. We employ a Structural Engineer, whose focus is limited to only the mechanical and structural integrity of the design, freeing the designer to allow his creative talents to flow.
Architect/Designer Approach. After choosing an architectural firm, there is no assurance that you will be dealing with the chief architect for the firm. Often times House design gets the lowest priority in terms of the architect assigned and drawings completed. Moreover, when one is a client to an architectural firm, he is usually required to pay a substantial fee up front, or commit to payment of a fixed fee, regardless of whether he builds. Typically for larger homes this may run from 8 to 12% or more of the expected cost of the home.
The architect is rarely able to provide you with accurate costing during the design process, as his main pursuit is producing plans. Pricing for him during the design process is done “by the pound,” using inaccurate square footage or volume rules of thumb. Not until the design is finished and bid out, will you get your first real idea of what the house will cost.
The Frey & Son Approach – Standard Plan. Contrast this all with the Frey & Son approach. You may begin with a “standard” architect designed plan we have on file, and a price showing the cost of the house, with the various extra items separated out, but nevertheless priced. You advise us of any changes you wish and these are priced for you. Changes to standard plans can be made and priced at no design charge to you. When all the changes are made, you are presented with a “firm price” contract. The only uncertain items are those that relate to your special needs, such as an unusually low lot, or heavily vegetated site.
Those items are, of course, “guesstimates”, and will very depending upon actual cost. But all other items are priced, either with a firm number, or with a “cost plus” statement, if they are impossible to price. With a standard plan, before you pay the first dollar, you know what your design will be and what it will cost you, within the limits of lot-related costs, or unusual or special items you elect to include. If you like the proposal, you sign and build. If not, there is no obligation.
The Frey & Son Approach – Custom Designed Plan. If you do not find what you want in our “plan” library, but want to go to a custom designed house, you work with one of our affiliated design firms who will design for you only after seeking to understand your lifestyle needs.
After the preliminaries are completed to your satisfaction you are provided with a firm proposal, just as in the instance of the standard plan. The basic house is priced. All extras are explicitly spelled out and individually priced, so that you can “prune” those you do not wish to have, or add others as you see fit. All the design, structural engineering, construction supervision and related costs are included in the quoted price.
On the other hand, Designers rarely have a real sense for cost. This is one of the important strength of having a builder who has both long experience and recognized integrity build your home. One must begin with excellent artistic design skills, adding sound structural engineering knowledge and accurate cost information in order to obtain a quality home. Combining those imperatives with a builder of known high integrity provides the best possible combination to assure you of a well designed, structurally sound homes, built at a fair price.
Accountability. Aside from the obvious convenience and efficiency of working with a builder that handles the design and construction under one roof, there are some important accountability issues that need to be considered. Using the “Frey & Son Approach” you will be working with the same organization in the design and building process. Should you order a certain kind of tray ceiling, cabinet modification, window placement, etc., the request is processed simultaneously. In the event that the plans aren’t modified as requested it becomes our responsibility to “do it right” at no cost to the customer. If, however, you are working with a separate design firm and builder, very often modifications can fall through the cracks. When the plan is actually built it may be missing certain details or design requests. It then becomes an issue as to whether it is the builder’s fault for not building the home according to the plan or the designer’s fault for not producing the plan correctly.
Won’t cost of construction be cheaper in a bid situation? Many builders who bid homes through designers and architects are very small builders, who are typically financially weak. Risks of failure in the industry are significant. Architectural design and supervision costs also must be included. A larger builder like Frey & Son who has been in business for a considerable period of time has the advantage of greater financial stability and better purchasing power. These “economies of scale” include a good long-term