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Money and Building

November 30, 2013

there is never enough and there is no upper limit

In every website, coffee table book, magazine or HGTV show the cost of doing construction is either dumbed down to sound bite superficiality, or its the huge rotting dead moose on the table that goes unaddressed.

Builders want to make a profit, designers want to make a vision – and you are left with the bill. Unlike your car, whatever you build – renovation, addition, new – has never been done before so there are no “list” prices.

Every builder assumes risk, every designer wants to express him or herself. Both protect themselves with contracts that call for the client to pay when things “change”. Just like law, medicine and academics the dirty big truth about construction is that the less your clientele knows the more you can charge, no matter how much you, your services or your work product is worth.

There are exceptions to the common practice of trading on exclusivity, but some doctors patronize patients with half-truths, many lawyers obscure inside-baseball proprietary processes with intentional ambiguity, and academics use obtuse language wrapped in convoluted arcania to generate ignorant awe and validate grant proposals. Unfortunately builders, designers, real estate brokers and bankers have traditionally kept consumers at arm’s length to keep the nuts and bolts of their value in a hidden place of mysterious worth.

An open book method of accountability – for process, products, means and methods – is messy, sometimes embarrassing, but always takes more time. But transparency creates trust, and where there is trust, real value is created in building.

Homeowners are bombarded with information designed to sell services, products and designs. But what every housing consumer has to know is that construction is not a product, and it’s not just a service. If it were psychotherapy, then the results could be explained away. If custom construction were a product you could buy it at Home Depot, or simply take it to the Returns Desk if you end up disliking the result.

Building, and all of the design and option-giving that goes into it is a uniquely human hybrid – not as essential as finding a way to eat enough to live, but not as unecessarily elaborated as haute cuisine. Fast food quells hunger, it’s cheap, its served off a sign as a number, but it seldom satisfies. Creating your own place to live may not be as essential and free as breathing, but it should not be as costly and rarified as $600 perfume.

Everyone needs to get out of the weather and find shelter, but you also want to love where you live. Building anything involves mystery we do not tolerate well, and money and patience we have a limited supply of. We can learn about the risks and realities of construction to diffuse the fear of the unknown. We can man-up and get braced for a long haul. But most of us do not have a color xerox that prints $100 bills.

Money is usually the most fixed asset we have. Creativity and elbow grease and dogged shop-till-you-drop focus can expand how much you can build with the money you have, but only added time can expand the actual money you have to spend, absent a winning Lotto number.

There is a floor to costs, but no ceiling. Every step up the ladder of escalating cost is a choice once you have determined that floor. This is not an express elevator that you either go up to the penthouse in or stay in the lobby – building and design should be a path to getting what you want, knowing what the costs are as you go along that path so you can stop or change course.

But to gain control, you need to have professionals who let you into the process of designing and building – and those step-by-step costs. They are out there, and the internet’s infinite blogs, websites and video streams can get you acquainted with the terms of engagement.

You are reading one of those right now.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. Janice Gruendel permalink
    December 1, 2013 7:14 am

    This is absolutely, 200%, truly truly true. Could I be more emphatic? Besides discipline on the part of the home owner and remodeler (is that a word), it requires a really high level of trust with your architect. The fates brought us together with Duo, and we shall be forever grateful. Aside from a blow-away renovation at one of God’s most beautiful beach spots, we are now (finally) about to do the master bath. Timing and patience also help when you have a budget in mind (and in your checking account). Janice Gruendel (Bfd)

  2. Pent Maher permalink
    December 1, 2013 9:43 am

    All true, Duo, but there aren’t many architects like you who are willing to design the home (or any other kind of building) the client wants rather than the monument to their ego that many architects produce. I can only imagine that my husband and I would have been the clients from Hell for most architects, both of us knowledgable about various areas of construction and design, but you, Duo, worked so happily with us to produce a wonderful home. The only way we managed to have this wonderful home you designed for us was to do all of the interior construction ourselves which took us a LONG time. The results are beautiful thanks to our partnership with you.

  3. February 24, 2014 2:01 pm

    My printer will only print $84 bills.
    I started my own blog years ago to provide transparency and a window into the process. My website seemed so static and uninteresting to me despite the pretty pictures and I figured there would be some element of that for people who visited it. I definitely hit a nerve and have had many interesting correspondences and even gained some great clients because of my willingness to throw it all out there.

  4. February 24, 2014 2:27 pm

    altho I’ve never gotten work from all this, over 52,000 sets of eyeballs have viewed it, so thats pretty AOK…


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