By Steve Loparco
Only involved homeowners can create their own successful home-building experience.
Lavish or modest, plain or ornate—for most people, the home they build is the culmination of a lifelong dream... a sign of their financial success... a manifestation of the taste and style they have refined over the years.
Naturally, everyone aims to get the job completed on time and on budget. But two things in particular give owners a lasting feeling of satisfaction: the knowledge that the home they built functions smoothly and serves their needs well, and the sense that this house is a personal achievement, not just a structure the architect designed and the builder built.
So how does an owner achieve this sense of fulfillment? My observation, over the course of 15 years as a builder, is that clients are rewarded with the greatest feeling of achievement when they have been truly engaged in the process, from design to certificate of occupancy.
True engagement means that the owner participates in much of the contact among the professionals working on his home. And there are plenty of professionals with whom to communicate—starting with the architect, the contractor, and, most likely, an engineer, a surveyor, and a land-use consultant, just to get the project off the drawing board. Later in the process there may be interior designers, lighting consultants, audiovisual experts, landscape architects, and other specialists. Being personally engaged with this team of professionals, and being sure that they are in touch with each other in a timely fashion, is a key to the owner’s getting what he or she wants—and that there will be no distressing surprises later on. In short, competently managing communications among the members of the team is essential to the project’s success.
But different owners have different appetites (and degrees of patience) for learning the details. For some owners, managing all those professionals can be too much to ask: They are too busy to take on a second career—building their own home. Still, someone must be at the helm. If it’s not to be the owner, there are several options: A full-service architect, a knowledgeable construction manager, or an owner’s representative can take charge.
Owners most commonly cede the task of project coordination to the first person they typically engage—the architect. Many architectural firms, especially in the Fairfield County area, are sophisticated enough to coordinate all of the professionals who must be in the loop. The firm might charge an all-inclusive fee ranging from 7 percent to 15 percent of the construction budget. For this fee arrangement, the architect handles everything, including interior specifications, detailed electrical and audiovisual plans, and, in some cases, landscape architecture.
Another way to manage the process is by hiring a construction manager, helping the architect focus on design without having the distraction of managing the entire project. Full-service construction managers, like our firm, LoParco Associates, often offer a pre-construction agreement that will give the owner advice and coordinate professionals’ services prior to the final design. The construction manager would coordinate the engineering and surveying work and the work of the audiovisual and lighting consultants, the interior designers, and the landscape architect. In this case, the construction manager would be at the hub of communications among all the parties. When the design is complete, the construction manager can be hired as the contractor for the project. At that point, the relationship between the owner and that construction manager has been established, a level of comfort exists, and the two have learned how to work constructively with each other.
One final way to coordinate a project is through the use of an owner’s representative, who can act on the owner’s behalf with all of the professionals involved in building the home. The representative will meet with the owner to communicate the progress of the work, the decisions needed, and so forth. In essence, the owner’s rep coaches the owner through the process.
Whether it’s the owner, an architectural firm, a costruction manager, or an owner’s representative, someone has to take responsibility for coordinating the building of the home. If that doesn’t happen, the project is like a ship without a captain.