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Top Five Most Common Mistakes Clients Make (as witnessed by a Project Manager)

The five most common mistakes clients make when undertaking a project are not understanding the value and necessity of engaging the services of a design professional (architect or engineer); not understanding the need and benefit of permits; not understanding the totality of project costs; not having an adequate contract between the parties; and not selecting the right team.

It is a mistake to forego utilizing the services of a design professional when one is needed. Design professionals (architects and engineers) bring great value to a project. Depending on the scope of work, the client may need an architect, engineer, or both. Design professionals have knowledge and experience in their area of practice, which oftentimes the client does not possess. Design professionals are experts in their respective fields, with knowledge of applicable codes and standards, and licensure, which allows them to sign and seal the documents they produce.

It is a mistake to ignore the need for a permit to perform the work. Beware of a contractor who tells you, with a wink and sly smile, that a permit is not required for your project. Permits are required for a multitude of construction-related tasks, including new construction and remodeling, plumbing, electrical, window replacement, and roofing. Requirements are established by the city/county having jurisdiction of the area in which the property is located. Permits require submission of documentation for the reviewing agency to review; oftentimes, permits require submission of plans that are signed and sealed by a licensed design professional. The document reviews and inspections performed by the permitting agency are intended to protect the client from errors and omissions in the design or unsatisfactory construction.

Another common mistake is underestimating the cost of a project. Clients need to be prepared for the reality that construction projects performed by professionals can cost a lot of money. Total project costs can include the design professional, the general contractor, with materials, labor, and overhead and profit, furniture, fixtures, and equipment, and permitting. It is essential for the client, or someone they designate, to research project costs in their area. Understanding the estimated total project cost will reduce the shock level and save time and money if the proposed project is determined to be unaffordable.

A well written contract between the parties is an imperative. It is a mistake to accept a handshake or minimal contract document as an agreement between the parties. When disagreements arise, and they will, the contract is the governing document. The client should mandate that the design professional and/or contractor provide a contract for review. The contract should describe the work, the schedule for completing it, the cost of the work and the way payment is to be made, the liabilities of both parties, and provisions for terminating the contract. The client should have someone familiar with design and construction review the contract before executing it.

The fifth common mistake clients make is not selecting the right team for the project. The project is like a relationship. If the participants are not a good fit, there can be acrimony and conflict. Some teams work well together, and some don’t. Before embarking on a project, clients should consider selecting an owner’s representative as the first member of their team. An owner’s representative can help the client select the right design professional and contractor team and talk their language, navigate the permitting process, assist in estimating and evaluating the total cost of the project, and participate in selecting a contractual relationship that protects the interests of all parties.

Signing off,

Andrew, Project Manager

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