Hiring a friend as architect?

ControlfreakECSNovember 8, 2010

Hi, just starting to get the ball rolling on a remodel project with addition. Our neighbor (and father of our son's best friend) is an architect. About a year ago when talking to his wife I mentioned we might call him for recommendations (he worked for a firm that specialized in commercial architecture at the time.) And she said that we could just hire him - he's allowed to take on side projects. At first this sounded great, but now that my husband and I are financially ready to start the project, we are having reservations about hiring a friend. My husband is particularly uncomfortable with the idea. And we are both quite aware of how emotional/stressful a major remodeling project can be. We are not "close" friends, but we are good neighbors. We would hate to jeopardize that relationship. They are good people. Trustworthy. He has a similar design aesthetic to us (I know this since he designed their home). Their family is the same size, he is very familiar with all the neighborhood restrictions and volunteers on our local planning board. There are lots of good things. But, my husband is very adamantly against developing a working relationship with him. Now I am afraid to even ask him for recommendations thinking he may be offended.

Should I try to talk my husband into hiring him? Is my husband right, and we should never mix business with pleasure? How do I approach our neighbor for recommendations, or should I seek out another architect without consulting him first (which seems weird too, it's not like he won't notice a major addition onto the back of our house)

Thoughts? Personal experiences?

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collins design

I think that if I were in your position I would simply have a very honest conversation with him. Explain what you've just explained to us: that you really respect his design aesthetic and know he'd do a wonderful job for you, but that you value your relationship more... and since we all know how stressful renos can be, you don't want to subject your relationship to those stresses. Assuming he responds well to that, you can then ask for recommendations.

I'd think that would be preferable to simply hiring someone else without speaking with him, which would be likely to cause some hurt feelings.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 7:11AM
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Do you want to keep a good relationship with him?

Hiring friends and neighbors for professional work is not a great idea.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 9:21AM
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You've already spoken to the wife about asking him for recommendations.

So ask him for recommendations.

If he were then to try to solicit the work for himself, then simply thank him; tell him you're flattered, but you'd prefer to not mix business with friendship.

Instead of being offended, he should be flattered.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 9:34AM
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HA ... boy can I relate. Our next door neighbor is a contractor. I've seen his work and it looks nice although those who have hired him complain about the timeline.

We got bids from him and two other people. In retrospect, we shouldn't have gotten a bid from him but the whole remodel started in an after dinner conversation with him a few years back about what would be possible for our house.

For various reasons we opted not to go with our neighbor as the contractor. The biggest of those reasons was that we felt that we lost our leverage to complain or express our concerns if the project fell off track.

My husband had what he thought was a nice talk with him before we started and just told him that we value his friendship too much to go into a major business relationship with him even though we knew he would do a great job. He said he understood.

That was four months ago. He's not spoken to us since. His wife broke a lunch date with me and has not returned several phone calls since. They've essentially broken off all contact with us. These were our best friends in the neighborhood. We watched each other's dogs when the other was out of town, we'd walk into each other's kitchens to borrow a cup of sugar even if the other wasn't home. Their kids would come over to play with the dogs. And now it's over.

I'm truly sad about it, but there's nothing else we can do. This was clearly a damned if you, damned if you don't situation.

So, I agree with the others: don't hire him. I just hope it's not too late to salvage the friendship. We're both very sad that we're going to soon (god-willing) have the house of our dreams (well, close) but we've lost good friends because of it.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 12:11PM
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If your screen name is describing your personality...you are a control freak....there is no way I'd recommend hiring a good neighbor/friend in any capacity. You will drive him nuts and affect the relationship!

Trust me, I've been there.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 2:50PM
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First, leave the man's wife out of it.

Second, whatever you decide, discuss it with him honestly because the only way you can seriously offend him is by allowing him to be surprised when the work starts. It should only be a matter of professional pride since he already has a full time job. (His employers are unwise to allow moonlighting unless their insurance carrier approves of that kind of activity.)

Third, perhaps he might offer to review the design drawings and give you advice. I often do that since I am not comfortable taking money from my neighbors. Would I give them a discount?

Fourth, do ask him for recommendations because it will make him feel respected and involved.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 8:23AM
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Thanks everyone. I am closer with the wife, and he is busy and hard to get a hold of. I am most afraid of what happened to Sailorgirl. I really just need to work up the gumption to have the conversation. Time is running out, we were hoping to be able to start work in the Spring, but hesitation about hiring our neighbor as the architect has slowed us down.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 9:42AM
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Fori is not pleased

Several years ago I hired a neighbor as a GC for a kitchen remodel (and a few jobs after that). His house was gorgeous and many neighbors in that 1920s neighborhood recommended him.

It worked out great. And we knew he wouldn't do anything ugly since he could see our home from his. :)

Maybe we were all on our best behavior?

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 7:09PM
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I guess I don't see the problem. You tell him what you want and he draws it up and stamps it so that it will pass inspection. Done deal. You might even save a buck. You already said you know he would do a great job. Hiring an architect to do the actual construction work would be a little scary. Is that what you're talking about? If not,I say go for it!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 6:08AM
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A home addition and renovation is a very personal experience and more difficult because of it. To tell an architect "what you want" so he can "draw it up" would be like taking a sandwich to a banquet.

You should discuss with the architect how you use your house now and how you would like to improve it. He needs to learn as much as possible about your personal lives so he can discover solutions you haven't considered. For the best results don't put unnecessary constraints on how he can do that; encourage a collaborative design process.

If the architect is a friend, the collaborative process can be easier and lead to a better design. But you say the architect is busy and hard to get a hold of. That's not good. When I do a project I expect to meet at the owner's convenience usually in the evening and on weekends. I've gone to a meeting at 10PM with an hour's notice. Much of the success of the design process depends on how attentive the architect will be to your needs and schedule.

My wife and I learned long ago that it is inappropriate for her to express an opinion about a client or the design of a project especially if she knows the owner. My dealings with clients are confidential and I try to keep the rough patches to myself. The end result should speak for itself; others don't need to know how difficult it might have been to arrive at a good design.

I would get good recommendations and call their references asking how cooperative and helpful the architect was and go look at the results. Find someone who made good friends of his clients. Sole-practitioners are often the best bet. Price is important too. Do the same with your friend's husband. It's quite possible that he doesn't want to moonlight for a friend or can't promise to be available when you need him.

Your friend should be just as concerned about her husband being able to keep you happy.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 8:50AM
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Things that concerned me: You stated the neighbor 'worked for a firm'. Where does he work now that he is too busy to get a hold of? If he's not answering calls or doesn't have time to meet with you then my assumption would be he doesn't want the job. His wife may have spoken out of turn and they may be feeling as uncomfortable with the situation as you are.

Since your husband is uncomfortable working with a neighbor then I'd just call the guy, ask if he has a reference and move on.
As mentioned above, if you're wanting to hire him to strictly draw up plans, then I don't see a problem. But, personally, I learned long time ago to keep business and family/friends separate.

DS used a friend as her architect and things went fairly well. She got a little frustrated at one point because they had to redo some of the drawings which meant a reschedule of the start-build date due to the friend not returning calls as quickly as he should have.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 8:42PM
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Are you aware of what all is involved in archtectural drawings? In addition to the design and building drawings, they also include electrical and plumbing, placement and style of doors and windows, and so forth. You need to work with an architect that is experienced and accessable. If in the midst of the addition/remodel, something comes up, you don't want to wait for your employed architect to find time to answer questions while expensive subs wait. These drawings are not static.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 7:58AM
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