Client, Engineers, and Builders want my time after design for free. What to do?


My contract with a particular client was specifically through the delivery of construction documents for permit.  Per their request all CA work is not my obligation.  I do have the option in the contract of paying me hourly for consultation after delivery of the construction documents, though.

I have had at least 2 incidents since permit set delivery which are frustrating:

1.  The client forwarded me a shop drawing which the client then asked me to review for approval.  For now I've chosen to simply ignore the communication.

2.  A consulting engineer the client is contracted with contacted me and started asking me a slew of questions about the project.  This engineer seemed upset when I referred them back to the client for resolution to their questions.

I am not in the business to piss away my time giving out my professional services for free.  I've learned over the years that this is all too easy.

On the other hand, as I am naturally a people pleaser  >I am led to believe the majority of architects are< its difficult to draw the line in the sand and either ignore the client's request to review their shop drawing and/or flat out refuse to waste my professional time spouting off information for use by an engineer.

Ideas?  General thoughts?

In regards to the shop drawing, I've thought about emailing the client back or calling them, and reminding them that they have the option of paying me hourly for my review time.  If this is a good idea, how might I word a reply without pissing them off?

Jul 9, 15 12:26 pm

Refer to your contract, point out the additional services and explain that you will gladly review the shop drawings, RFIs, etc. and they should expect a bill for your time per the conditions in the contract you all agreed to. If you think they won't pay you once billed, ask for a retainer.

Jul 9, 15 12:49 pm  · 

Just point out the contract and tell them they didn't want that service so you can do it as an additional service at your listed rates.

Usually, 15 minutes or less I don't bother and write it off to networking/marketing.  More for clients that could be a good referral or continuing partner.

Jul 9, 15 12:52 pm  · 

give them an inch ...

If it's in the contract do the work and send a bill. Do it weekly and itemize the requests for services and consults.

Jul 9, 15 1:47 pm  · 

As others said: send an email to the client asking for authorization to proceed with the additional service as outlined in the contract.

In my case, if it is a simple question with an immediate response, I will answer. If it will take more than 15 minutes, I will ask for approval before proceeding.

Jul 9, 15 5:09 pm  · 

Why not send the invoice first, with a request for a verbal go-ahead before proceeding with your review?  Call him 2-days after you mail/email it to be proactive.

Same for his consultant.  Send the owner an invoice for a retainer amount for meetings with his engineer. Let him know you'll schedule a review meeting as soon as he approves the amount.  Bill additional as required.

Jul 9, 15 5:13 pm  · 

I agree with those above, and I would 100% inform them first that there will be additional services.  Clients tend to say "if I'd known this was going to cost more, I never would have approved it."  Informing them first eliminates that particular type of bull**it.

Definitely agree on getting a retainer for the hourly services too - though if that's not in your contract, they'd have the right to say no to it.

Ignoring communications is definitely not the way to go.  That's just going to put the owner in a bad mood.

Jul 10, 15 10:31 am  · 

Ignoring any client communications is really bad form. That is one reason the reputation of lawyers is is the toilet. Answer quickly, clearly, and professionally. Anything under fifteen or twenty or so minutes just do it and ask them to call again if you can be of further assistance. In a way you are representing all architects. Don't be an ass.

Jul 10, 15 1:40 pm  · 

I don't recommend performing any additional services without prior authorization.  That will piss off a client.  Call them, tell them that you have received a shop drawing from the contractor for review, and tell them that you'd be happy to review it as an additional service under the terms of the contract, and ask them to approve you to proceed.  Send them a work authorization, confirming your phone call, and have them sign and return it to you.

Always give the client the choice of whether to proceed or not. 

Jul 10, 15 2:24 pm  · 

I have the right to remain silent.  Any ASSumption the silent person is being an ass or a saint or anything in between makes an ass out of the other individual doing the ASSuming.

I do not engage with blathering blatherskites who assume such things.  And most certainly I avoid any client who would come to such hasty nonsensical conclusions.

This is a thinking profession, not a hustling profession.  Certainly there is some hustling of drafters which must be accomplished to produce the deliverables, but I avoid any and all hustling with clients and consulting engineers.  If any one of them starts hustling me its done before it even started.

I don't hustle others and I refuse to be hustled.

If I wanted to be a hustler with clients and consulting engineers, I'd go get a job as a manager at Taco Bell (metaphor is manager is hustling the cashier to hustle the customer and at the same time hustling the slaves in the back to hustle it up with the next 99 cent taco).

I could also hustle criminals and the public if I were a police officer.  And garbage if I had a job as a garbage man.

Or, of course, as a two bit general contractor.  A job is nothing more than a linear algorithm to be played out over and over again.  A profession deals in systems.

Architecture is a thinking profession of systems (as is lawyering FWIW).  Not a job of hustling product production.  Drafting is to be hustled.  I don't draft.  I am an Architect.  My byproduct, if there is one, is in systems.  Not widgets.

Personally, I am convinced impulsive morons in the profession who speak out of their ass, including ASSuming a reply to any and all communication is requisite all the time, are ruining the profession.  Turning it away from systems management and into product delivery.  Screw all the impulsive, hasty, short sighted, hustling, wanna-be-architects-but-are-really-drafters, employees out there.  You are ruining it for the real architects: the thinkers and meticulous planners and consultants and expert advisers who give a damn about the quality of the thought process and a quality result.

And note lawyers are still doing quite well in terms of remuneration for their time, silent or not.  Their average salary is what the average architect can only dream of (not that I agree or disagree with your notion that lawyers' reputations are in the toilet and/or that it even matters).

Jul 10, 15 2:52 pm  · 

No you are being an ass. The effort to bill for 15 minutes of work would take more time that it is worth. What if the engineer or contractor had discovered a serious flaw in your drawings and wanted to discuss it with you. Are you, being a total asshole, going to charge him for that?

Jul 10, 15 3:15 pm  · 

i think you could replace "hustling" with "communicating" in most of that post above

Jul 10, 15 3:40 pm  · 

If I could add up all the mere 15 minute time chunks everyone has wanted from me for free it would be average at least 8 hours a day 7 days a week, yes including Saturdays and Sundays.

Yes, I am a (profitable) asshole if that is what it takes.

And no, my drawings are not released with serious errors.  That is why I am an Architect and my stamp means something.

By the way an ass is not an asshole and an asshole is not an ass.  Please be more thorough in your thought process and less internally inconsistent.  Less like a blathering blatherskite of a hustler that is.  Its embarrassing to the trust level of the profession.

The local used car dealer is not a fitting role models for architects.  At least they really ought not to be.

Jul 10, 15 4:57 pm  · 

Ignoring communications is likely grounds for a complaint with your State board, if the client was so inclined

Jul 11, 15 10:27 pm  · 

I would simply put it like this, if it is a small project or I simply don't have alot of other projects going competing for my time and the amount of time is less than an hour then I wouldn't bill. If I am spending cumulatively over several hours then it is one thing. Aside from general construction observation which I would provide normally as periodic site visits to see how the project is progressing.

Jul 12, 15 12:51 am  · 
null pointer

I have minimum charge of .1 hours. clients know that if they call, they're going to get hit with the bill. i also bill on a 15 day cycle. i worked as a consultant prior to my life as an architect, and one thing you learn in that business is that you don't necessarily charge for research if you've already done it before (for someone else, generally), but you definitely charge for the delivery of said research. if they have issues with that, they can hire someone else. part of being good at what you do is knowing how good you are.

Jul 12, 15 11:44 am  · 

If a client asks for no CA - then it goes in the contract as no CA, but there's an hourly fee for "on request" CA. Then they get a bill. Yes, I'll do phone calls for freebies, but I might bill if they go over that magical 15 min point. Simple contractor questions on the phone, no problem. Just landed a new job through a contractor because I took the time to talk to him 2 or 3 times through the course of a small project, it's just called customer service and networking, no need to get crazy about it. I figure a few extra hours into each project for these kind of things anyways. Once it becomes "serious CA" like doing pay requests, submittals, site visits, change orders, etc, then it's billed. Kinda dangerous to ignore requests, you need to follow up with the client and let them know that you're going to have to bill. 

Jul 13, 15 6:47 pm  · 


Jul 14, 15 10:21 am  · 

Good_Knight, you're correct that you're a professional and shouldn't have to put up with hustling. However....

First, professionals don't ignore communications.  Period.  Ignoring phone calls is even bad form when it comes to dating. It's childish.

You return a call even if it's to say "I received your call and I'm returning it so you know I received it, but I'm not interested in discussing it further."

Second, if your contract is good AND you've intentionally maintained good communications about exactly what it contains, then your client should be unsurprised by the fact that you're not willing to perform *any* services after permit for free.  If your client is surprised by this, then you likely didn't make it clear enough to them. It's *your* job as a professional to suss out the competency of your client and respond accordingly. Some people need a ton of hand-holding, some don't.

So be manly about it and respond: "This request falls under the contract's designation as additional scope, so I'll be charging you for it."

Yes, you're a professional, but the way you've presented your reactions to this situation is not at all professional.

As others have said, doing a small bit of work in good faith is almost always the best response. Be the bigger person, for heaven's sake!

Jul 14, 15 12:22 pm  · 

Also, to the specific case with the engineer: are you upset because the engineer was offended? That's not your problem. The engineer may have been under the assumption, of been flat out misled by the client, that you are doing CA. Just say "I'm not contracted to do any more scope on this project, so you'll have to talk to the client about how to answer those questions." Then let it go. If the engineer gets all whiney or nasty to you over it, then *they* are not being professional. Again, be the bigger human.

Jul 14, 15 12:27 pm  · 

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