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.