How to Handle a Cost-Conscious Building Owner

For many years now, the con­struc­tion indus­try has ignored a com­mon fal­la­cy in the build­ing process. On the sur­face, every­body is pur­su­ing the same goal of con­struct­ing a build­ing, though a clos­er look will reveal that their indi­vid­ual pri­or­i­ties are often in con­flict. The build­ing own­er wants to spend the least amount of mon­ey pos­si­ble, while all of the oth­er stake­hold­ers involved in that project — archi­tects, engi­neers, con­trac­tors, etc. — want to max­i­mize their prof­its.

While the math isn’t going to change, it is not nec­es­sary to assume that this is a zero-sum game. Syn­er­gies and effi­cien­cies can be found that bal­ance the objec­tives of all par­ties while max­i­miz­ing the over­all val­ue of the trans­ac­tion for all sides. In the end, we should be as focused on max­i­miz­ing per­for­mance, dura­bil­i­ty and long-term val­ue as we are on sim­ply min­i­miz­ing first costs. Focus­ing exclu­sive­ly on the cost of con­struc­tion and ignor­ing every­thing else is a recipe for a very unhap­py build­ing own­er.

Respect your client’s financial constraints

The list of design require­ments that a build­ing own­er could poten­tial­ly add to a project will almost always out­strip the abil­i­ty of the own­er to pay for them. There are always more options than mon­ey. The team of own­ers, archi­tects, engi­neers, and con­trac­tors must work togeth­er to iden­ti­fy the crit­i­cal own­er project require­ments nec­es­sary to sat­is­fy the per­son­al or busi­ness needs that the build­ing project is intend­ed to meet.

It’s impor­tant to note, though, that it is often dif­fi­cult to know before the design process starts what a rea­son­able bud­get is for a set of project require­ments on account of chang­ing mar­ket con­di­tions, build­ing codes, and oth­er com­pet­i­tive forces. The goal of the project team should be to help their clients make the opti­mal buy­ing deci­sion based on these con­straints. This requires a will­ing­ness to explore and edu­cate along the way.

Ask questions to identify the client’s pain points

The less a client knows about con­struc­tion, the more like­ly it is that the spec­i­fi­ca­tions they give you won’t reflect their real needs. That’s where ask­ing prob­ing ques­tions can be use­ful. The fol­low­ing are a few exam­ple ques­tions:

  • How impor­tant is employ­ee com­fort?
  • How impor­tant is ener­gy cost?
  • Will the build­ing be remod­eled in the future?
  • How impor­tant is main­te­nance?
  • How impor­tant is acces­si­bil­i­ty?
  • How impor­tant is future resale val­ue?

Not all cus­tomers will know the name, pur­pose, and ben­e­fits of all avail­able options. Fram­ing the dis­cus­sion in terms of what they want as the end result to be can pro­vide valu­able insight.

Help them prioritize their needs

You know your capa­bil­i­ties and past designs. You know what oth­er clients have bought, what they’ve opt­ed not to buy, and how those deci­sions played out. You’ve prob­a­bly even spo­ken with pre­vi­ous clients who told you what dif­fer­ent choic­es they’d make if they were to do it all over again. Use that expe­ri­ence to guide your rec­om­men­da­tions for new clients.

Before long, you’ll become the go-to provider for clients look­ing for a trust­ed and expe­ri­enced build­ing part­ner. By tak­ing the time to under­stand exact­ly what the client is look­ing for and care­ful­ly lay­ing out the options avail­able to them, you’ll build a space that both the client’s wal­let and future build­ing ten­ants will thank you for.

Help your clients weigh their options

You can also advise your clients on where they can cut costs with­out under­min­ing the project, as well as advis­ing them where scrimp­ing would be a bad idea. Some things, of course, are non-nego­tiable (a build­ing has to have walls, after all). But once you get past those basics, lay out the poten­tial options, high­light­ing the trade­offs of each. Fea­tures like glass walls and sky­lights, for exam­ple, are aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing, but make a build­ing less ener­gy-effi­cient and result in high­er oper­at­ing and main­te­nance costs.

As anoth­er exam­ple, weath­er bar­ri­ers that pro­tect the walls of a build­ing from mois­ture prob­lems are nev­er seen after the fin­ish­es are installed. Out of sight, out of mind. How­ev­er, these deci­sions can lead to increased war­ran­ty calls or sig­nif­i­cant ongo­ing repair and reme­di­a­tion costs for build­ing own­ers. In far too many cas­es, mois­ture prob­lems that result from poor designs or inad­e­quate instal­la­tion lead to cost­ly and painful law­suits. Mois­ture pro­tec­tion, espe­cial­ly on frag­ile light-framed walls, is an area you want to help your build­ing own­er make good deci­sions.

This entire process can become com­plex and tech­ni­cal, espe­cial­ly for clients who haven’t man­aged a con­struc­tion project before. The eas­i­er you make it for a client to under­stand what they’ll gain or lose with every option, the more con­fi­dent they’ll be in their choic­es (and with your exper­tise!).

Make the most of your local network

From sup­pli­ers to sub­con­trac­tors, you know the key play­ers in your com­mu­ni­ty. You’re famil­iar with who has the most expe­ri­ence with a par­tic­u­lar con­struc­tion method, and who insists on using mate­ri­als from a par­tic­u­lar sup­pli­er. You know who works the fastest and who takes a bit longer while mak­ing the most effi­cient use of sup­plies. You also know who has been want­i­ng to work with you and will give your client a dis­count to get a foot in the door.

Rely­ing on your local net­work pays off immense­ly. For one thing, it enhances your image as a trust­ed resource. In addi­tion, by steer­ing clients toward peo­ple you trust, you’ll increase the like­li­hood of a suc­cess­ful project. Vouch­ing for peo­ple who do good work reflects well on you. You’ll also be in a good posi­tion to help nav­i­gate the way through any prob­lems that come up. You may also want to take things a step fur­ther with Inte­grat­ed Project Deliv­ery (IPD), a col­lab­o­ra­tive approach that’s quick­ly gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty.

The best way to stand out from the crowd in today’s com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment is to build up all the knowl­edge and exper­tise you can and use it to help your clients achieve their goals. Rather than just lis­ten­ing to their require­ments and drop­ping a set of blue­prints on their desk, turn it into a two-way con­ver­sa­tion. Explain the rea­son­ing behind your rec­om­men­da­tions and ask for feed­back on whether those deci­sions are in line with their vision for the build­ing.

That holds true even when clients come to you with very spe­cif­ic requests. If you know a bet­ter option, speak up. Explain why you think your idea will work bet­ter, and let your client decide from there. Whether it’s the lat­est trends in ener­gy effi­cien­cy, incen­tives, or new reg­u­la­to­ry require­ments, shar­ing your exper­tise will help you help your cus­tomers make the best deci­sions pos­si­ble.

The bot­tom line? Instead of push­ing prod­ucts with the high­est prof­it mar­gin, steer your clients toward choic­es that will make them fall in love with the end result. It won’t take long to see that it pays off in both repeat busi­ness and in refer­rals.