Dreams and Truth

Dreams and Truth

Dreams and Truth is about a couple of diametrically opposed things: what a homeowner dreams and the reality of the truths facing them.


There is a company (not this one) that designs houses for its clients and it believes that it is wrong to tell them the truth about their dreams for their new residence.  Let’s call the person to who runs that other company “Bob.”  Bob’s way of doing business is a real policy that is going on all over the USA and world (not at Home Architects).  Bob is not a bad person.  He believes he is right about this.  Mainly in terms of not wanting to offend his clients or correct them as to their financial belief.  In other words: Bob doesn’t believe he should tell the client that they really can’t afford as much house as they are telling him they want.  And once again: Bob believes it is wrong to set the clients straight about what they want early in the project, during the middle of the design, or even near the end of the design. 


Let’s be specific: most clients believe that they can have any of the types of houses seen on any design company websites, with all the bells and whistles for around $100/HSF (Heated Square Foot).  They are absolutely convinced of this. 


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Because they heard somewhere, perhaps about 30 years ago, that someone in a busy large area did that (like Orlando, Houston, Tuscon, Raleigh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, or other large metro area).  Even then, it was probably tract housing (no, it’s not “track” housing).  Tract housing is when a very large development company buys a very large piece of ground (often called a “tract”), near a large metro area (where they can find ample supplies of economical labor and materials).  And then they buy materials literally by the railroad boxcar load for much less than regular builders pay (cheaper in bulk).   And they have little cheap designs for little boxy houses that are repeated again and again and again (tract housing, not custom houses of the sort that today’s home buyers want designed by an Architect). 


Now then, imagine that you are Bob’s client (the one who believes that your mind is so delicate that you can’t be deprived of your dreams for your new house by the shattering reality of the fact that what you think you’re going to pay is simply nowhere near realistic).  Let’s think about that.  You might be happy from the start, believing that you’re only going to be paying $100/HSF.  And you further believe that this will include large and gracious front and rear porches (on your very steep mountain land), 3 car garage, 24′ tall cathedral ceilings, beamed ceilings, wood plank ceilings, stone-paved custom driveway 1,000 feet long, Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances, heart pine wood floors, geothermal HVAC system, solar photo-voltaic power, slate roof, 5 fireplaces, any kind of landscaping that you can conjure, stone walls on the house and maybe even a barn or two.  Really?  And Bob “doesn’t want to harm your delicate sensibilities and destroy your dreams” by telling you the truth? 


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Would that really be what you want?  To be sheltered from the truth until you one day obtain a bid from a Contractor who’s going to tell you the truth “big-time.”  That’s called the “Come To Jesus” meeting.  Because it will be akin to a religious experience, as all the blood drains from your face when you finally do hear the truth.


And do you really think that any Contractor (let’s call him “Pete the Builder” will be concerned about popping your bubble and damaging your dream of getting a 3,000 HSF house with all the trimmings for a mere $300k?  No siree.  And why’s that?  Because Pete the Builder isn’t in business to go bankrupt and pay more to build your house for less than it’s going to cost him to build it.  In fact, Pete the Builder HAS to make a reasonable profit, over and above his costs so that he can pay his workers, material providers,  subcontractors and his own company.  That doesn’t come cheap.


Therefore: wouldn’t you rather that your Architect tell you the truth in the beginning, instead of allowing you to believe something that has no possibility of happening? 

Does that mean the Architect is supposed to tell you: “Oh no, your house is going to cost you $224.78/HSF (Heated Square Foot)”?  No.  Any Architect that provides an exact cost estimate, or even any sort of “range” cost estimate is doomed to be wrong.  Why: because it is a very detailed thing to do (estimating cost of construction).  There are all sorts of factors that can make it otherwise than what someone might “estimate” it to be.  And the stating of any sort of estimate implies liability, which your Architect should not have to bear.  He/she is, after all, only designing the house.  So where does one obtain the exact cost of construction? 













Pete.  The Contractor who’s going to build it, of course.  Pete is the only one who will know for sure.  And did you know that it typically costs Pete the Builder more than $2,500 to calculate the cost to build a house?  And he needs at least a month, working nearly full-time on it, usually at no cost to his customers.  And Pete will have to obtain quotes from at least 50 subcontractors and perhaps that many more in material suppliers.  So: it is a highly focused effort from a construction professional who is going to build it. Does that sound like what the Architect does?  No.  The Architect designs. The Builder prices and builds. 


Architects in general may have a round number idea of cost: $200/HSF, $250/HSF, $300/HSF and more.  But they can’t guarantee it. They don’t spend a month of their time for free, obtaining prices from a hundred different labor and material sources.  Once again: that’s not what Architects do. They design. 

For instance, this firm once believed that a very nice, large home near a lake should have cost $350/HSF.  In the end, the Builder actually charged more than $1,000/HSF.  So: it’s really not in the Architect’s best interests to provide a guesstimated quote, now is it?  What if he’s wrong?  (and he will be).  Liability.

However, the Architect CAN say one thing, without concern of reprisals: “What you’re asking to have designed and built for you is going to cost you far more than you are thinking. You need to have a much larger resource fund on which to draw.”  That’s a fair and reasonable statement to make, early on in the project.  And the above is what this firm, whose website you’re on right now tells every new Client, very early in each project.

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Because they all think (soon to be homeowners), because of the force of their dreams, who they are, their important job, their ability to argue and adopt an angry and loud voice, and their strong personality, that they will be able to coerce some poor Pete the Builder to build it for the price that the client would prefer to pay.  No.  Not going to happen.  For the reasons indicated above (Pete and other Builders need to earn a decent living and that doesn’t happen by doing things for you for free or next to nothing). 



After obtaining the much higher than expected cost to build the project, Clients will usually have to choose one of several options:
1.  Give up and not do the project. Possibly sell the steep land you had bought for the project.
2.  Work hard and earn & save money for several more years until the funds are in hand.
3.  Ask the Architect to redesign a more modest project in all respects, paying him again to do this for you, because you did not listen to him when he previously told you that what you wanted would be too expensive earlier in the project.
4.  Find and open financial resources that the Client didn’t want to use to build the project (retirement funds, loans, grandpa’s trust fund, sell other properties).



Usually, the Client will typically opt for choice 4, because, in the end, they want what they want and will ultimately pay to get it.



A.  Listen to an honest Architect tell you that what you’re thinking of having designed and built will require a great deal of more funding on your part. 

B.  Then find those extra resources, or decrease the scope of your project early on, which may include finding a different site (because steep land is notorious for making your foundations cost many times those on flatter land). 


Does Home Architects want to be mean by telling a Client the truth early in the project?  No.
Does this firm further want to pop the Client’s dreams?  No.
However, this firm believes it in unethical to allow a Client to believe that what they’re going to pay for their house construction will be 2 or 3 times more than what they are imagining, without correcting them.
How many times must an ethical Architect so inform and correct their Clients before their duty to the truth has been accomplished?  Good question?

Once?  Twice?  Three times? That is up to each Architect.  There is no legal requirement to do so.  Just a wise idea.
And by what means?  Verbally.  Yes.  Through emails and/or project programming? Probably a good idea, so that there is some record of it. 
And should this involve precise financial estimates?  No.  Just the statement that what the Client is  imagining is not realistic and will possibly/probably be much more than they are thinking.  Remember: Pete the Builder is the one to provide the exact cost of construction.

And so what should the Client do?  See Course Of Action items A. and B. above. 
But what is reality actually usually happens? (you’re not going to believe this):
Most Clients IGNORE what the honest Architect has told them and bulldoze ahead, believing that they instead know the truth, because it’s what they choose to believe.

So what should this honest Architect do?  All he knows is to keep telling the truth and doing the best job he can to provide the Clients what they have requested.  

Words to the wise: listen to your Architect, especially asking him/her their opinions about cost, size, features and site characteristics.  In the end, you’ll be far better off. 






tags: dreams and truth, mountain, post and beam, Cashiers, Highlands, Lake Toxaway, Atlanta, Hendersonville, Asheville, Sevierville, Aspen


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