After all the effort and sleepless nights trying to prepare the perfect project design, it is heartbreaking to discover that your blood, sweat, and tears will end up being too costly.
More often than not, on commercial projects, this nightmare becomes a reality. With the time wasted and money lost, the ramifications of this error are severe. Often followed by frustration and disappointment from the owner, and the designer’s feeling like they let the owner down. Additionally, the bidder that priced the project fear that they wasted their time bidding on something that cannot be built, after which they will have to start the entire process over again with a scaled down design.
Aside from the emotional impacts, there are severe economic consequences involved with having no clear understanding of the project budget during the outset for all parties. For example, the money spent on the current design will be lost as a sunk cost, and the owner will likely have to pay more design dollars to modify the plan. The bidders have wasted tons of estimating time, and the designers may feel compelled to cut their margin to reduce the owner’s frustration. And most importantly, the enthusiasm and excitement that often accompanies the start of a new project are completely diminished.
So, why does this happen?
It is possible that the all important budget question is never asked. This is unacceptable. All projects have a budget, and it should be the first question a designer asks the owner during the initial meetings. A more likely reason may be that the owner states that “they have no budget,” expecting they wont have any problem staying under the actual budget. Again, this is a serious lapse in judgment. Another common mistake is owners asking the designers to incorporate all their needs and desires into an attractive design to learn the costs, and again, this tactic can fail by overshooting the projected budget.
At this stage, a designer should probe deeper into the actual budget and never leave without a firm grasp of the owner’s budget. If all else fails, and the owner insists there is no budget, the designer should give the owner a round number. However, if the designer doesn’t leave the initial meeting with a good feel for the project cost, there is a fail-safe. A simple solution can be contacting a contractor or mentor with experience working on similar projects. After the designer gives the contractor a good summary of the project, the contractor should be able to give him or her a somewhat accurate estimate of what the job will cost you.
Lastly, it is always ideal for the owner to have a budget in mind from day 1. It is valuable for all parties to have a confirmed budget, so that the designer can work comfortably within the given parameters. If that is not the case, try the trick described above, and you should be set in the right direction!