Professional Snobbery?

DoggieMomAugust 16, 2014

Husband and I are planning to build a 3500 sf, (very modest for our area),custom home and will splurge on some things such as kitchen appliances and countertops, insulation and windows and finish trim and save on other things such as stock cabinets, cheaper flooring in basement and granite remnants for bathrooms counters.
I believe that a beautiful home can be achieved without selecting high end everything.
I'm just curious if any of you who have built or are in the process of building a custom have encountered snobbery on the part of your architect or builder regarding your choices. We have yet to select these professionals and have only seem a glimpse of it with one interview so far but based on my research it seems to be ... not uncommon. I would think that finding the best professional partner not only based on their expertise but also on compatibility would result in a relatively pleasant process and positive outcome. I'm just wondering how much of this we should expect to encounter as we wade into the pool of custom home building.

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I did encounter some of that but mostly from subs and I didn't take much offense. I think they assume everyone wants the most expensive of everything and frankly, they make the most upselling. So far everyone has been accepting of our budget and choices once we state what they are and that we have to be firm in some areas. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 12:02PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

There was one architectural firm that were very snobby...we didn't go with them...we knew they weren't right when they insisted on custom designing cutters to make their own custom designed trim. We found an architect who worked well with stock lumber. We were much happier. I also found some snobbery at the plumbing supply store where they were insulted that we would want to spend so little on fixtures. We went elsewhere.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 5:06PM
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Like Annie said, if you find snobbery, go elsewhere - it does nothing to improve your results. I have worked with a lot of architects in my business, and I have found that in general, the ones who express snobbery are less competent than the ones who want to please their clients.

You are hiring them, you will be their boss, and if they do not like that arrangement, then don't hire them. Some architects want to make all the decisions for you, and unless their name on the design will increase the value of your house, this is not necessary. When I heard Michael Graves talk about a client of his in the California wine country, he said that his clients wanted the exterior of their house painted white, but that was not to his taste, and so he painted it the colors he wanted. After the project was over, the clients painted their house white the way they wanted it, much to Michael Graves' dismay. In my opinion, he was wrong not to listen to his clients, but I did not tell him that.

Competent architects understand how to work within a budget and make the best of it. All projects have budgets, even royal palaces. Be upfront with your budget and make no excuses for it. Best to make all limitations very clear from the beginning.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 5:34PM
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I'm sure it does exist, but you need to be comfortable and confident in your own decisions. Your budget is your budget. You're paying the bills, they work for you, not for their own interests. If you encounter a professional who wants to push their interests on you, then move on and find someone else.

We had a KD early on who, despite being told the budget, delivered a design at double that cost. After flipping out on them, they returned with something only 50% over our budget, but insisted that this was the "best look for a home in this area", this was the "look that everyone wanted", and that "nothing else would really work in that space." Next! Found another KD who took our input and desires, delivered 3 different alternates, tweaked things repeatedly and had lots of ideas to get it to work in budget. Had similar experiences at plumbing showrooms with sales people trying to upsell us into things we didn't want. I walked away.

You'll encounter some of it, but you'll need to feel your way around and get a good read on people. Finding the right architect/builder/craftsman/tradesman isn't always about the lowest quote. It's about finding someone you feel you can work well with, and will respect your wishes.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 7:10PM
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Sophie Wheeler

One thing about choosing moderate finishes is that your home has to meet a bank's appraisal for loan purposes. If your home won't appraise, then you may need to bring more money to the table to be able to get it built.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 7:33PM
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If a house fails to appraise due to "moderate finishes" there is something else wrong with the entire process - including the construction loan.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 8:08PM
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I get a lot of "but this is the way everyone else does it!" My response is that if I wanted it the same as every other house out there, I wouldn't be building my own house.

The appraisal should reflect the cost of the build. If you use lower cost finishes, then the house will appraise lower. But then you would be looking for a lower loan, so it shouldn't matter. I can imagine issues if you've spent a little more, but the final appraisal doesn't reflect that. I think it's more common that people pay too much for things that look cheaper, or spend a lot on materials, but then don't have it installed well. If you're looking to trim the budget, you'll probably put a lot more effort into shopping around, or making something less expensive look better. You're probably less likely to buy something expensive and mess it up.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 9:20PM
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I despised going into showrooms. I had a very good idea of what I wanted, total easy sale but I guess they didn't want my money bad enough. I wasn't about to give it to someone who thought I was beneath them.

So I ended up buying everything online. No tax and free shipping on just about everything, and I didn't have to deal with dimwits.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 8:26AM
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In my opinion professional snobbery is not the flaw in the typical home building process.

Setting a fixed construction budget and asking an architect to not exceed it is a form of project management from the 50's. It is prevalent only in the slow to change home construction industry.

Homeowners unfamiliar with project management often present an architect with a firm budget without a complete program and that simple condition leads to a process that usually leads to disappointment. Contractors are after asked to agree to a fixed fee with 20% of the work included as fictional Allowances eliminating any opportunity for price control of that work. These issues and the unpredictable nature of the market often presents an architect with too many variables to be able to accurately predict the final cost of a project.

Large projects are never designed and built like a house because there is too much money involved and the possible losses to the owner can be very large. The architect would be hired first and would set up interviews with contractors where the they would commit to the fee they would include in a future Cost of the Work contract. The interview would give the contractors an opportunity to show how they had been successful in cost control in previous projects and to demonstrate their project management methods and techniques especially for cost control and quality assurance. Then one contractor would be selected and enter into an hourly contract to work with the architect during the design phase and provide a cost estimate revised as the project is designed. When the design is finalized a construction contract would be signed whether it is Lump Sum or Cost of the Work (with or without a Guaranteed Maximum Price).

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 9:35AM
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It wasn't for a build but for a total kitchen remodel, but one contractor we talked to about what we wanted. We presented our ideas and rough plans and after a few minutes of back and forth with questions and answers, the contractor said I think we're wasting each others time here, and she and the guy she brought with her packed up their stuff and left. We were flabbergasted. I got the impression that she was more used to customers who say, "I don't care what it cost, just make it fabulous"

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 10:43AM
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What we continue to run in to is the tendency to repeat what they are comfortable with. Their is an asymmetry in the process - homeowners typically only build one custom home, which the vendors/trades/builders do a bunch. It can be hard to get them to think "out of the box" and to spend the time to learn something new.

Builders like to build and not to think, so repeating what they always do is easy for them. We have had to repeatedly push to get our builder to do things a little different. After they do it once, it becomes part of their comfort zone and they next person will have an easier time.

We did hire a very good interior designer who can steamroll over vendor objections in a way that is harder as a homeowner. it took a lot of looking to find someone who would try to reach what we wanted rather than implement their favorite design.

One thing you do want to avoid unless you have a very large budget are "name-brand" architects and firms. They design very nice houses, but most of their clients tend to have the budgets to do custom everything. Moving from a custom design with standard elements to a custom everything design costs a lot more to build.

One of the appliance salespeople was horrified that we were doing the cheaper Electrolux all Fridge/ all Freezer combination rather than a top of the line model. We found a different salesperson who better understood tradeoffs in designs.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 12:22PM
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I was forced to buy my lighting from a certain lighting showroom as specified in my contract with the GC. The sales person at the showroom was snooty, and I felt that I was a child with the way she spoke to me, like I was in the school principal's office. She lied to me by saying that the same exact fixtures that are sold online or at other stores (for much less than what her prices are) are all fakes. But I contacted the manufacturer, and the manufacturer verified that those stores do not sell fakes; there are no fakes. She also gave me my final pricing with tax and got my approval to place the order, and then suddenly she's adding on high freight charges for some of the fixtures (she never mentioned the freight charges for those fixtures when I chose them weeks ago); the other stores offer free shipping.

Honesty is important to me, and when a sales person tells a blatant lie to make a sale, I do NOT want to deal with them any more. And she could lose the condescending attitude. I'm so glad that I will never give that showroom a cent of my money again! Had that showroom not been listed in my contract with my GC, I would have gone somewhere where they are honest, respectful and appreciative of having a new customer.

So if your contractor requires you to use his/her suppliers, make sure to check them out before signing your contract. Visit those showrooms, if you can, to be certain that you'll be comfortable working with those sales people and that you like their products.

This post was edited by toobie-ornot on Thu, Aug 21, 14 at 5:57

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 5:47AM
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I do not think that it is too big of a problem, people who tend to work on high end probably tend to not want to be associated with lower budget work.

Some poor sales people may use snobbery to try to pressure people into buying upgrades but I think you will find most sales people do not.

You can probably manage to avoid most of those people.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 9:46AM
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It is simply a mistake to sign a contract that limits your sources for fixtures. Don't be distracted by the fixture salesperson; it is your GC who is playing a game with you.

By the way, selling lighting fixtures is not a "profession" and those who do it are not "professionals".

"a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain."

A profession usually requires state licensing and oversight by a professional organization.

The term "professional" has several different meanings none of which would apply to retail sales.

Don't confuse upselling with snobbery. You're elevating the status of these people without justification. Just demand a better source from your contractor. And next time have the contract your contractor gives you reviewed by a professional who works for you for a fee.

This post was edited by Renovator8 on Sat, Aug 23, 14 at 7:36

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 4:18AM
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Doggiemom, we've had a good experience in that regard and hope that you will too.

In one of the first conversations with our architect, I was throwing out some wacky ideas to try to work around a zoning issue. He took a breath and started explaining to me, in a considered and most diplomatic fashion, why he would not recommend such an approach. I laughed and said he should just tell me bluntly if any of my ideas were dumb ;-).

Our builder did tell me they thought our initial tile allowance probably was too low, just as a heads up, that most folks ended up choosing something nicer when the selection deadline rolled around. But this was communicated in a nice way as to budget expectations, not as "you must have bad taste for picking cheap tile."

Good luck, hope you enjoy the process!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 9:10AM
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Oaktown - Thanks for the post. It's been interesting to read the interactions some folks have had with uppity salespeople in various showrooms but I have no worries about that. I'm quite comfortable with what I want and in general I know where I want to splurge and where I want to save.
My concern is more related to finding an architect and builder who will, if not completely share my vision, at least be supportive of it and be a collaborative partner in the process. I'm reassured that this doesn't seem to be a huge issue.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 10:46AM
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I had an interesting experience yesterday. I've been struggling to find a reasonably priced counter top for my ensuite. Everyone's telling me that I need to buy a whole slab of quartz even though I only need a third (or less). A few weeks ago, I called a stone place that supposedly does a lot of small pieces. They told me they had lots of remnants, and I'd be looking at around $600, and they suggested coming into their showroom to see the available pieces. During this conversation, I asked if they do slate because that's what I'm putting in the kitchen. He told me they can, but he thinks it's a terrible choice for a kitchen. I told him I have had it in my kitchen for the last 3 years, and I'm getting it again.

So yesterday, I was in the area, so I stopped in to see what they've got for quartz remnants. He didn't remember me from the phone. It came up again that I am doing slate in the kitchen. I told him again that I have had slate for 3 years in my current house, and I want it again. Yes, I'm aware it's soft and scratches easily. Did I mention I've lived with it for 3 years? I told him point blank, "I am getting slate for the kitchen and it's not up for discussion."

5 minutes later, he asked me who did the slate in my existing house. I told him. His response was "do they not know about granite and quartz?" Dude, I get it, you don't like slate. But no, I was not directed to do slate because my previous (and likely future) stone guy didn't know that granite or quartz exist.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 6:05PM
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I think that there is a lot more reverse snobbery from homeowners towards professionals than the other way around. This thread exhibits some of that for sure. Pros have done hundreds to thousands of projects to the homeowner's one or two. They have the edge in training and experience. It would be prudent to take advantage of that and lean from the mistakes vicariously rather than having to make them yourself. One thing I've learned that I will freely share is that it pays to choose the best quality in materials for the first go around rather than paying two or three times to correct the poor quality choice over time.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 11:31PM
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The difficulty in answering the original question is that very few houses are designed by architects and they are rarely asked to help with material and fixture selection so the most common experience in this matter is with the suppliers that builders like to use and that means sales people and often excessive mark-ups.

Even without an architect it is possible to avoid this unfortunate circumstance but you will need professional help writing the contract.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 4:41AM
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Annie Deighnaugh


My concern is more related to finding an architect and builder who will, if not completely share my vision, at least be supportive of it and be a collaborative partner in the process.

This is an entirely different issue from snobbery. We met and worked with 6 different architects in attempting to build our house, and while some were snobby, others were not, but were not flexible enough to work collaboratively. One told me, "I will design your house for you. I will even pick out the switchplates." Not my guy for sure! We did find a guy who was perfect for our needs...flexible, collaborative, we shared a design vision, he put up with our quirks, but was honest enough to tell us when we were being idiots, and understood "homeowner" (meaning limited budget) vs. "architect" (meaning dream vision).

It is a very tricky process, because you want to build a home you are comfortable living in, but you are hiring someone for their expertise and taste, and you don't want to pay for that service and not benefit from their experience and wisdom (as a control freak like me easily could.) So I was very insistent on floor plan as that's what we really feel in the home in terms of day to day living in the place. He prevailed on the things I had no expertise on at all like structure, trim work inside and out, proportions, ceiling heights and between we collaborated with the understanding it wasn't personal, it was all about the job, and when we disagreed, each had to state the reasons why so together we could determine which was best. Not easy and it requires a great deal of patience, understanding, and compatible personalities to get through. That's why after 7 yrs in design and 3 yrs in build, we and "Uncle Joe" are still good friends.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 8:40AM
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Renovator8 - Thanks, that makes sense and will help me with my approach.

AnnieDeighnaugh - Thanks, I completely agree that the expertise of the architect/home designer should be benefitted from and I expect and want their suggestions. Based on your comments I actually think you and I think alike. I have a pretty thick skin and can handle constructive criticism. :) Your comments are helpful.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 9:38AM
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Renovator8 - Thanks, that makes sense and will help me with my approach.

AnnieDeighnaugh - Thanks, I completely agree that the expertise of the architect/home designer should be benefitted from and I expect and want their suggestions. Based on your comments I actually think you and I think alike. I have a pretty thick skin and can handle constructive criticism. :) Your comments are helpful.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:05AM
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"He took a breath and started explaining to me, in a considered and most diplomatic fashion, why he would not recommend such an approach. I laughed and said he should just tell me bluntly if any of my ideas were dumb ;-)."

Yeah, I could have written that, oaktown! I told our architect "I've been married for 30 years. I'm aware that just because I have an idea doesn't mean it's a GOOD idea!"

We had a wonderfully collaborative process. Our house is very livable for us-- probably not what a lot of others are looking for, but they aren't paying for it!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 1:36PM
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Some architects are not comfortable with a collaborative design process because It adds complexity to an already complex task and requires special skills and a good temperament. Other architects thrive on it. This difference is sometimes due to their personality but their training also makes a difference. It is the task of the homeowner to find the right architect for their project. The best way to do that is to ask their former clients the right questions.

Architectural design collaboration was first introduced in the US in the late 30's by Walter Gropius who became chairman of the Architecture Dept at Harvard and founded The Architects Collaborative. I worked for TAC a year after he died but his approach was in strong evidence and carried on by his partners. A design team included people with broad skills and expertise and of course the client and the contractor.

When a good building is finished no one should be sure why it seems so appropriate except to give credit to the hard work on everyone's part.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 9:01AM
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