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Architects of Archinect, I need help with what could be my first client project ever.

cristiansotomayor

Dear architects,

I am a 27 year old job captain at my firm. I have 5 years of experience in all aspects of the architectural design process. I have finished my AXP/IDP hours and I am soon going to begin the process of studying for my ARE exams. I believe I should have my license within 1 - 2 years.

I have been fortunate enough to create a relationship with a couple that would like to hire me for a large addition to a 1 family home in the state of California.

I know that here in the state of California there is no need to obtain a stamp from a licensed architect or engineer for this type of project. So legally I should be able to design the addition and apply for permits.

However, though I feel confident that I am capable of undertaking the full scope of designing this project I am not sure whether it would be the best approach. I would like to cover any risks that could come from the liability of a construction project.

Also, another thing I am wondering is whether I should register a business for this project. If I did register it, would it be something that I could eventually transform into my own design firm once I become a licensed architect?

So architects,

  1. Should I undertake this project on my own and apply for permits with my own drawings, or should I act as a 'designer' and involve a licensed architect or engineer?

  2. Would it be advisable to register a design business for this project? and could it be a business entity that would evolve into an architectural firm once I obtain my architecture license?

Thank you!

 
Oct 8, 21 12:48 pm
SneakyPete

I'd like to request serious answers to this question, it's the sort of thing that is valuable for folks in the profession to know. 

I am also interested, even though I have never been in this position and as such do not have any answers for you.

Also Christian, if you get some wall-of-text replies talking about certified building designers or anything about the rules in Oregon, consider asking for a second opinion.

Oct 8, 21 1:03 pm  · 
10  · 
cristiansotomayor

SneakyPete, I hope someone can shed some light on this topic. It is a very fortunate situation that I am in but I would like to be very careful with how I approach this. I have read some things about becoming a certified building designer, it just seemed like a waste of time as I am in the process of obtaining my architecture license. Does Oregon have specific rules about who classifies as a building designer?

Oct 8, 21 1:12 pm  · 
2  · 
SneakyPete

Don't go down that path. There's one person who posts here who derails every post they can with information about that "certification" and they live in Oregon. While I won't say they never have good advice, it simply is not applicable for you. I apologize for being cagey, I should have just laid it out. Licensure is what you should be pursuing, and side gigs like this one are a valid question. I just don't have the info you need, but there are those here who do. I probably should have just kept my yap shut.

Oct 8, 21 1:22 pm  · 
3  · 
cristiansotomayor

Haha, no worries I spent too much time on this, I want to be an architect.

Oct 8, 21 1:27 pm  · 
2  · 
SneakyPete

boom goes the dynamite

Oct 8, 21 3:00 pm  · 
1  · 
Jay1122

That text wall, just LMAO. Dude is one of a kind.

Oct 8, 21 3:09 pm  · 
1  · 
cristiansotomayor

rcz1001,

Thanks for taking the time to write that up. Although I have no interest in pursuing a certification I do appreciate the time you took to enlighten me in the extent to which 'building designers' get their head cut off in court for not being protected.

I think the most prudent thing to do will be to speak to a lawyer regarding the registration of a business and also obtaining insurance for the job.

I really do not care if the I do not make a large sum of money on this project. The experience alone is valuable enough. I just hope not to lose any money.

Oct 8, 21 3:26 pm  · 
2  · 
cristiansotomayor

 

Oct 8, 21 1:11 pm  · 
1  · 
x-jla

You should form an LLC, and do everything under that LLC.  In the future you can change the name from xyz design to xyz architecture or whatever.  The LLC will protect your personal assets (in theory anyway).  


In my state anyway designers don’t “pull permits”.  Only The contractor or owner can pulls permits.  It may be different in Californian.  It all comes down to what you are comfortable doing, and how much time it will take you alone vs with some guidance.  If something takes you 20 hours to figure out that would take a more experienced architect 1 hour then who’s footing the bill?  Are you eating the time loss, or passing the expense to the client?  If the former, then that’s fine and it serves as a learning experience.  If it’s the latter, it’s not really fair or good business practice imo.   



Oct 8, 21 1:26 pm  · 
1  · 
x-jla

Bottom line is, you have to start somewhere. Having a good collaboration with an experienced architect or builder will be beneficial to you and the client rather than trying to do it on your own. They will also appreciate the referral, and if they are decent people, reciprocate in the future.

Oct 8, 21 1:30 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

Architects cannot form LLCs in California:

  https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CORP§ionNum=17701.04.

Oct 8, 21 1:50 pm  · 
1  · 
x-jla

He can change it to a pllc upon licensure.

Oct 8, 21 2:40 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

Architects cannot form PLLCs in California:


"(e) Nothing in this title shall be construed to permit a domestic or foreign limited liability company to render professional services, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 13401 and in Section 13401.3, in this state."


Oct 8, 21 3:03 pm  · 
2  · 
SneakyPete

Amended former post: 

 Professionals rendering professional services cannot form LLCs in California: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CORP§ionNum=17701.04.

Oct 8, 21 3:06 pm  · 
1  · 
cristiansotomayor

x-jla,

I agree with you, the best will be to perform my services under an LLC that could hopefully turn into a firm later on. If not I will just have to register a new business. Just gotta make sure I only advertise as design and not architectural services.

I also agree that it is best to bring this to an experienced professional to work together. I know some architects and structural engineers that I might contact. Unfortunately, I do not have a great relationship with my current employer. I was planning to just stick it out here until I got my license and then try out on my own.

In terms of me charging them for my longer times. I would not do that. That sure seems unfair. I would just eat it up as a learning experience.


Oct 8, 21 3:38 pm  · 
3  · 
x-jla

I don’t worry about being sued, because if a client is unhappy with something I just ask them what o can do to fix it and then I fix it. Liability increases proportionally to how poor your communication is. If you have good communication with the client, it’s unlikely that things will go that sour. It happens, and some clients are
unreasonable, but it’s far less likely.

Oct 8, 21 5:10 pm  · 
 · 
curtkram

i think you should bring a contractor on board early.  you can lay out the floor plans, room sizes, elevations, etc.  if you have the contractor that's going to build it working with you, they can help with what details you need, materials, and budgets.  They should also have MEP subs on board to make sure you account for their requirements.

consult an attorney about the business part.  ask them about any sort of liability insurance you might want.

Oct 8, 21 1:32 pm  · 
5  · 
cristiansotomayor

So you think avoiding bids would be best? I am meeting with the client on Sunday. So then I will have a better picture of what they need. They might already have a contractor picked.

After I know what the client wants I am going to book an appointment with a lawyer that seems like the best thing to do.

Oct 8, 21 4:01 pm  · 
1  · 
curtkram

definitely avoid bids. if the contractor is on early they can take responsibility for their scope. if you go with low bid, CA will be a nightmare for you. your drawings are probably not going to be that good/ complete and that gives the contractor opportunity to take advantage of you. it's just single family residential and conventionally framed. they can do that in their sleep.

Oct 8, 21 4:51 pm  · 
4  · 
cristiansotomayor

Curtkram,

So, I met with the client yesterday. Was a quick property walk-thru. We just roughly discussed some of their design ideas. No talk of a construction budget yet or any fees. I am scheduled to go back on Tuesday to measure up the place more precisely.

However, they did mention that they already have a contractor that they worked with in the past. They gave me the contractors contact info.

Do you have any advice as to how I should approach the contractor for the first time? and maybe what questions I should be asking him about the project and his relationship with the owner? My interactions with contractors in the past have been all over the place and I'd like to hear some advice form more experienced people.

Thank you!

Oct 11, 21 4:35 pm  · 
1  · 
cristiansotomayor

Also: the existing home has all around real stone walls, the addition will be wood framed with a stone facade to match the existing real stone. I will be bringing a structural engineer on for the framing and connections in the home.

Oct 11, 21 4:45 pm  · 
1  · 
jcarch

Forming an LLC is good advice, it's not that difficult a thing to do.  And I second bringing in a good contractor early.  I'd also recommend using a structural engineer, and while you should select an engineer to work with, if they're open to it, I'd have the owner hire them directly.  This puts any liability for structural work on another party, and while you may have done the structural framing for dozens of houses, it's more likely that you haven't, you want someone who can do it in their sleep.

Oct 8, 21 2:37 pm  · 
4  · 
SneakyPete

Forming an LLC is not good advice. See above.

Oct 8, 21 3:05 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

Neither of us are lawyers. Leave it to someone else who knows the reasonings of LLC vs. Corps to give advice as to whether starting with an LLC and changing later is more advantageous than starting with something that needs no changes later. If jcarch knows advantages, I would like to hear them, and I apologize for my antagonistic response above.

Oct 8, 21 3:12 pm  · 
1  · 
cristiansotomayor

Jcarch,

Oct 11, 21 4:45 pm  · 
 · 
cristiansotomayor

Jcarch,

I will register an LLC even if it's only for tax purposes.

The owners already have a contractor, any advice on how to handle a relationship with him? maybe what questions to ask him before I begin designing?

I will definitely be bringing a structural guy onto the project. The existing dwelling has real stone bearing walls all around and their addition will be traditional wood framing. So, I need the engineer to figure out the framing and connections, plus the seismic stuff here in CA.

I have a few in mind that I was recommended, however I am not sure how to proceed with bringing them on. All of the engineers have asked for schematics before wanting to speak to me at all (which makes sense in a way).

Should I proceed to work the schematics with the owner and put the structural stuff on hold until I have a design set in stone? do I just give the owner the drawings and recommend them the engineer I think is best? I am not sure about how I would get the owner to hire the engineer themselves, or how to communicate why they should hire the engineer themselves instead of thru me.

Any help would be appreciated, Thanks!

Oct 11, 21 4:55 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

OP, here is my 2cents. If you are not working as an architect and stamping the drawing, you are working as a designer. I don't think you need E&O, you are not even a professional. It is a single family house, that is why a stamped drawing is not required. What you need to watch out, is more so the conflict with the clients. You have a contract. You may get sued for breaching the contract. Well, mostly likely on payments. Or excessive change makes you run out of budget. Well, just read the AIA contract. You will need to study those for your ARE exam anyway.

With the solid work background, I think you are capable of meeting the residential codes and construction requirements of the typical 2x4 stud house. Also, the building inspectors and code officials are there to help you. Don't be afraid to ask questions during early project phases. What you need to watch out, is the trade not of your expertise. Especially MEP stuff. Structure, well if you follow the prescriptive code requirements and do the joist and stud at the recommended spacing. You will be fine. Working with a contractor early is one way, but then you cannot do bid. Or get familiar with it yourself. It is not that difficult. I don't think you will have enough money to hire any consultants unless it is a super luxurious custom house with huge fees. I am more concerned if you are aware of all the administrative stuff involved.

Anyway, what you need to know most is probably, how much is the client paying you?  Are they looking for down and dirty permit sets? Hey, the Pro Prac portion of the ARE exam helps you prepare for those. 

Oct 8, 21 3:41 pm  · 
1  · 
Jay1122

OP, I am just curious. Did you discuss the potential fee range for the project with the client already? I hope the client is not thinking a fee of 5K and try to get design, CD, CA all included in the contractor. Heck, the client may think the realistic renderings are included too. LOL

Oct 8, 21 4:13 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

Isn't tort a civil responsibility? "Tort definition: a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability" A single family residential is not public. It is private. I really doubt you will get sued in terms of civil responsibility. By owner? For sure. I am not a lawyer. Go ask the lawyer that. Anyway, go play some where. Don't want your text wall.

Oct 8, 21 4:21 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

Ok, I quickly read the case you referenced. It is a criminal charge. I got to say it is quite interesting. And wait, Isn't that his own home he designed? I think he was charged as an Owner, rather than architect/designer. Him, as an owner, decides to put dangerous fire place indoor. Well, kinda like an owner puts booty trap or loaded fire arms in the home and injured emergency responders. If it was a third party owner, hires him to do the fire place. It may be more relevant to the discussion. Then we could argue whether the decision by owner to do the fire place has breached the designer's duty.

Oct 8, 21 4:47 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

Hahaha , btw should know the fee before diving into all those. What if it is one of those pay you 5-10k, design me a house kind of client. LOL. For clients with no fee issue, they usually find a proper architecture firm with track record of projects. People find side gig people always look for cheap down and dirty.

Oct 8, 21 4:55 pm  · 
1  · 
cristiansotomayor

Jay

Oct 11, 21 5:05 pm  · 
 · 

Incorporation is not a shield from liability, especially if you can't afford to defend. The primary advantage of incorporation is reduction of tax liability. 

As mentioned above, get a contractor involved early. The competitive bidding process is a guarantee of costly problems that do not compensate for money "saved". The trick is finding a good one.

A residential additon is a great place to start your independent career and you will learn a great deal. Be prepared to spend whatever time is necessary to get a good result (read happy client) without regard for fee. 

I suggest that you speak with the principles at your firm regarding a) conflict of interest and b) possible support for your first venture. Much better than listening to a bunch of wankers on some forum.

Oct 8, 21 8:01 pm  · 
5  · 
SneakyPete

As a wanker, can confirm.

Oct 8, 21 8:05 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

Token wanker here. Can also confirm.

Oct 8, 21 9:11 pm  · 
 · 
saw.earth

Agreed with Miles, an LLC is not a shield of liability but it can shield your personal assets from being claimed in any suit so forming some type or legal entity is highly recommended. Definitely consult a lawyer as to what is best in your state. 

In reference to making the shift from an LLC to PLLC, be careful with what you name your original LLC. I have made this shift in NY State and had to change the name of my studio because my original name was not approved by the state. In NY State any professional practice can not have a name that implies any level of superiority, e.g. "The Best Architecture Firm".  I even had to ask special permission for the inclusion of the term "Workshop" and was only given approval after explaining that my studio also fabricates a lot of our designs in-house. They typically prefer PLLCs to be the name of the person under which the license they are created. Not sure how relevant this in CA, but could be something to keep in mind to save you time down the line. 


Oct 9, 21 9:30 am  · 
1  · 
proto

OP

you say you are capable; go with your gut: you can do this. In some manner the other shit will work itself out

Don’t underbid it. That’s a great way to start feeling bitter midstream when you should be going the extra mile to make sure this project is successful. But also, don’t feel like it has to be a financial success — just cover your time/expenses.

Oct 9, 21 6:27 pm  · 
 · 
atelier nobody

1) Yes, absolutely take the project if you believe you're up to it.


2) The potential liability for a room addition is probably small enough you don't have to worry about it - I certainly didn't for the few little side jobs I did before I had my license. I did put some language in my agreements and on the documents themselves, to avoid any appearance of "holding myself forth as an architect" without a license and maybe help with some liability issues, but I have no idea how much actual difference they made.


3) It has been a number of years since I looked it up, so it may have changed, but when I looked into it (I am a California architect), the rules about architects and LLCs had some subtle distinctions that meant it wasn't absolutely impossible for an architect to have an LLC. If this is a route you want to pursue, look it up yourself or, better yet, hire an attorney before making a decision.


4) If you are very concerned about liability, I would think more about insurance than about the business structure. I have no idea whether any of the companies that issue E&O policies would issue to an unlicensed designer or not, but you might want to look into it. If you can't get E&O (or in addition to E&O) you should check into a Commercial General Liability policy.

Oct 10, 21 8:05 pm  · 
 · 
mightyaa

This. It's a residential addition to a private residence. Just be sure to do a contract with a limited liability clause and that clearly defines scope and expectations.

Oct 11, 21 10:34 am  · 
 · 
archinine
I second your seeking some help from an experienced professional. Particularly with the contracts and CA. I can tell by the kind of questions you’re asking. You’ll be referencing those contracts til the bitter end of the job so it’s rather important to get those right or at the very least ensure you understand exactly what all parties are agreeing to.
Oct 11, 21 7:33 pm  · 
 · 
CharlencPherson

That's great! Wish you all the best for your first project. Carry on!

Oct 11, 21 9:33 pm  · 
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