Editor’s Desk: Residential vs. Commercial

The Difference in the Level of Consumer Education is Debated

While attending a luncheon the other day, the subject of consumer education (or lack of it) was raised at our table.  This immediately pushed the table into two camps.  Nothing, of course, was resolved by the end of the meal, but it was interesting to listen to, nonetheless.

On one side, several architects stated that they don’t do residential work anymore, simply because they feel that half of their time is spent educating their prospective client.

As one designer put it, “If you went to a restaurant, didn’t look at the menu, then when the waiter asked you for your order you replied, ‘something to eat’ it would be about the same as talking to a client about their new house.”  He went on to state that most residential clients have absolutely no idea what they want in terms of size, design, style, colors, or anything related to the building process.  “You have to give them a crash course in construction and design before you can talk to them about a site plan,” he stated.

He then discussed the fact that most residential clients go into a mild form of cardiac arrest when the subject of fees is raised.  “To them, you’re just drawing pictures on paper.  It’s not something physical you’re proposing, it’s ideas and if they can’t touch it or taste it or ride it around the block, their attitude is that they’re getting charged too much.”

Several designers agreed with that statement, and said that’s why they chose to stay in the commercial arena.  “People who are in the construction business know what they want and are willing to pay for professional services rendered,” they almost stated in unison.

Naturally, there was disagreement.  Some said that most residential consumers are better educated than the others gave them credit for.  One added that even if they’re not knowledgeable about what they want, that’s where the art and challenge lies.  “If they don’t know what they want, so much the better.  I can start with a clean sheet of paper and put my own ideas and concepts to work.  When a client sees a rendering of his new home, I get a real charge out of watching their faces light up.  With a commercial account, the developer has done this a hundred times before.  There’s no thrill for him.  He knows what he wants and doesn’t want to be bothered with new ideas.  As far as fees go, he knows what he’s paid before and figures since it’s a similar building, most of the legwork has been done.  Why should he pay it again?  He’ll demand a discount,” he stated rather strongly.

They all agreed that it’s hard to get paid full price when working for a client that demands cookie-cutter plans that are used again and again.  The residential proponents pointed to this fact when declaring that there’s good money to be made when each client is different, each site is different, and the ideas developed between the client and the architect are finally put on paper.

The commercial side was quick to point out that more construction defect litigation is filed in the residential sector.  This, they claimed, was a direct result of uneducated consumers complaining to overzealous attorneys… and that’s a whole other subject that would require a different debate that I’m sure we’ll tackle in the future.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

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