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The following editorial is from the April 2002 issue of Residential Architect;

 From the editor

"Client’s choice - They’ll spend on products, but will they pay for you?"

 By s. Claire Conroy

 This is our annual issue about products. Unlike much of the homebuilding process, home buyers understand products.  They perceive the difference between a Sub Zero refrigerator and a no name model from Best Buys.  They “get” the value of a well-designed product.  They’ll pay extra for an appliance that’s more beautiful, functional, and enduring than its mundane counterpart.  What most homebuyers don’t “get” is architecture.  Yes, they may grasp something about house style, and they appreciate the importance of good construction, but most don’t have a clue why they should spend money on your professional services.

            I’m learning this firsthand as I try to convince someone dear to me to hire an architect to design her custom home.  She’s a professional accustomed to billing handsomely for her services, and she enjoys well-designed things.  Still, she just doesn’t get why she should spend a sixth or seventh of her budget on an architect’s work.  To her, the service that architects provide is intangible or, at best, an expensive luxury. 

            In some ways, products are your competition.  Homebuyers would rather cut out that superfluous design fee than do without the granite countertops, Viking range and Bosch dishwasher.  After all, they believe they can find a decent house plan through a book, Web site, or “custom” builder.  If it’s not exactly what they’re looking for, the builder can tweak it for them.  Or they can go to a design/build firm that swallows the design fee to get the construction job.  Ask them to spend $60,000 for full architectural services on a $400,000 house and they’re apoplectic.  Buyers want money in the house, they’ll say, not someone’s pocket.

            I feel like I’m arguing with one of those people trapped in Plato’s cave-the ones who think the shadows are beautiful enough because they’ve never seen the outside world.  Maybe you can help me bolster my argument and get you that $60,000 fee. Here’s what I’ve told her so far:

            Instead of plopping a generic plan down on your property, architects design the house to fit your site, your budget, and your lifestyle.  They are problem solvers.  They can find efficiencies in design and construction that will make the house less costly to build.  They can develop a footprint that gets you the space you want without consuming all of your valuable backyard.  They can open up the house to light and breeze, but block the view of the neighbors next door.  They will also supervise construction of the house, watch-dogging the builders to make sure they’re building it right.  Ultimately, they will work on the house for at least a year and a half.  And, frankly, they rarely charge enough for all the work they put into a project.  Will that contribution amount to XX dollars at resale?  Well, how do you measure amorphous but vital qualities like pleasing proportions, effortless functionality, and the simple, daily delights of something designed well?  You can add the Sub-Zero refrigerator a few years from now, but you can’t so easily solve a flawed floor plan after the fact.  Good design is a necessity; nice products are the luxury.

            I guess it’s another battle in a never-ending war: some people will get it; some just won’t.  If you think of any more ammunition, let me know.  I haven’t given up the fight.

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