mightyanvil - could you take a look at this situation?

gerberadaisyApril 26, 2008

Hi mightyanvil - I'm cross-posting this from a current "discussion" thread, as a couple of responders suggested that you might be more apt to respond here - I *am* looking for personal comments and information, so I won't take offense at your comments, I promise!

Here's the post from last night (4/25/08):

Mostly I just need to vent, as I think my DH is sick of talking about this, as he's just as stressed as I am.

We've been working w/an architect since early July of last year ('07). We are still in the early stages of the permitting process (and it is a several month process) with the city, mostly because our architect, bless her heart, has not hit ONE SINGLE DEADLINE during our entire working relationship.

In October, she told us we'd submit initial plans to the City by end of the year. In December, she told us we'd submit right after year end - she was swamped because her commercial clients were panicked over expected code changes that were to take effect in the new year. In January, she told us there were working on it, but --oops-- she forgot that we needed to get a grading and drainage study done, so we had to wait for them to get us on their agenda.

We finally submitted plans in late February. City took a month before returning initial comments, which then sat on her desk for a couple of weeks before she worked on them - in the meantime, we missed the deadline for the upcoming Architectual Committee meeting, and then found out the next one has been cancelled, the one following that has a full agenda, so the earliest we can take that next step is in mid JUNE. So we're wasting 2 months waiting for nothing.


Along the way, she has never once delivered drafts, copies or pdfs when she said she was going to. Typically, she is late by a couple of days, with no good explanation as to why she's late except for "oh my god, I'm so sorry, it's been such a crazy day/week/month" Tonight was the last straw (I think), and I just want to cry. In fact, I might. We all agreed that she was going to submit revised plans to the City today, to guarantee us a spot on the Architectual Committee's June agenda. We met this morning, went over final edits, and she said she had a clear schedule, would work on our plans, deliver them to the city, and deliver us a copy to our doorstep afterwards.

Guess what? We get home from dinner tonight, and there are no plans on our porch.

No phone call (as usual), no email. We have NO IDEA what happened today, if anything. We believe nothing has happened.

Why have we stuck it out this long? We love her design. She's actually a nice person, and when we have live meetings with her, we've always come away confident and assured that things are going the right direction, and that she "gets us". And then we're always disappointed in the service that follows.

At this time, only floor plans, exterior elevations, daylight plane calcs, etc. have been done - no detailed construction plans or interior elevations.

If she doesn't have a good reason why nothing happened today (we just left her office at 10:30 a.m., for god's sake), we are seriously considering dumping her. We're $13.5K in to her (not including March and April billings), and ready to pick up a new architect.

What would you do? If we do decide to dump her, what are the chances she'll let us walk the existing plans over to someone else? (Of course, we'd break up with her nicely: "it's not you, it's us") The contract states that she owns the plans, and we may not use them without written consent.

How hard is it for an architect (any architects reading this?) to look at floor plans and elevations and recreate them?

Any support and advice will be appreciated, I'm just so drained from worrying about this, it's absolutely sickening.

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Well, it does seem to be a difficult situation. It might even be too late in the game to benefit from changing architects unless she is going to be as slow with the construction docs.

You would probably need to get her to agree to allow you to own the drawings in reproducible form (CAD or diazo, etc) for another architect to use for this one project. Architects usually charge for that service but in this case she might give it to you because her lack of performance has forced you to ask for the drawings. Her decision might depend on just how overworked she is.

I would sit down face to face and explain your situation to her and your concerns about the future in as nice a way as possible. Ask her what she recommends. You have a problem and she has a professional obligation to help you solve it. Try to keep a "we're working together to get this done" attitude if you can.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 8:15AM
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mightyanvil -- I know that becoming a licensed architect is a long and difficult process. It's also a long road to become a licensed MD.

We all know that complaints about MD's are routinely brushed aside. Does it mean anything to an architect to have a complaint registered against him or her? What's the process?

The OPs situation makes me wonder. It isn't often that you pay someone to produce something but don't own the resulting product. The only other instance I can remember is commissioned photographs, but there you don't pay in advance. You buy the 'copies'; the photographer retains the negatives (unless he signs a release of rights to them).

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 11:54AM
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Those are great questions, Chisue. I'm looking forward to mightyanvil's input on them.

A quick update (which I'm not posting to the discussion board because there is a poster on that thread that insists on posting offensive, unhelpful comments): subsequent follow up on Monday morning revealed that the plans were NOT submitted on Friday - however, they were submitted first thing Monday morning (before my call to their office). A copy of the plans were delivered to my office as well. Our architect sent an email in the late morning (which I hadn't accessed before placing a call to her office).

We're back to being torn - the submittal package looks good, but we sure popped a lot of blood cells stressing over the situation over the weekend, which could have been alleviated with a simple phone call or email on Friday. A conversation with her is clearly in order - I think my plan is to wait until we've heard whether or not the City has accepted our re-submittal, then, when we're in the waiting period (waiting for the June Committee meeting), schedule a calm, no-work-delivery meeting to talk with her.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 1:30PM
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Your best bet is to light a fire under the architect and try to stay on track. Switching architects seems justified but everyone would probably lose something in the transition.

Just tell her that you like her work but you feel she is not fully committed to the project, or at least she has put other projects ahead of yours. That should get her attention because she will sense that you are thinking of firing her without any threats being made (don't threaten anything you aren't really ready to do).

As far as the drawings are concerned, she can't keep you from using the prints to build one project if the termination was justified (which it seems to be). The real difficulty is getting original, reproducible prints or CAD files that another architect could use without the additional expense of starting over. You need her permission for that because an architect's original drawings are instruments of service rather than something you buy. That's been the law as long as I have been in the profession so it would be a waste of time to argue whether it is fair or not.

There would be no gain to anyone from filing a complaint with the state registration board, even if she had violated the registration laws, which it appears she has not.

The thing I believe most homeowners fail to understand about project management is that emotional responses to difficulties usually come back to hurt you more than anyone else. It is important to put the project ahead of personal feelings. The fact that you were concerned over a weekend is understandable but irrelevant. If it is best to keep the architect, figure out how to do that and then roll on without hard feelings. If it is best to switch start looking for the new one and ask the original architect to give you her final invoice and send her a termination letter. (Don't hire a new architect until you have done this)

When I get into a difficult situation with a contractor I first carefully define the problem as dispassionately as possible, then I ask the contractor
to make a recommendation to resolve the problem. In any negotiation you want the other person to make the first concession. Stay cool and force the other person to "participate" in the solution. Your goal is to move the project forward, not punish the guilty.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 2:44PM
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I've been reading your conversation and just want to say that we had a similar situation with our architect, however, we kind of knew what we were getting into. He is a commercial architect employed by a firm and did our house on the side. He's also the brother of a friend, making issues that arose difficult to deal with without hurting feelings. I think you're approaching this with the right mindset.

My only suggestion that hasn't already been mentioned here is that, if you have a talk where you discuss hard timelines for the next phase of this project, please get it in writing. Have it be an addendum to your existing contract, but please get it in writing. I know it can be hard to ask for, but you can spin it in a way that doesn't sound like you're asking for something to pin her to the wall with should she not perform, which is exactly what it is. I hope things go more smoothly for you from here on out, and I'm glad to hear she at least did submit your drawings on time.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 8:46AM
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