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.