Ask the Architect

‘Communication changes everything’


Q. This isn’t a question, but rather an observation. Now divorced, my husband and I started our home repair/renovation three years ago and in the process learned a lot about people, including each other. We needed more room and felt it was better to add than move. I was expecting, and the whole process of interviewing, designing, getting prices and permits was very stressful.

I’m a trained social worker and therapist, so I was well aware of ways to relate and deal with problems as they came up. I reflect now on how that didn’t help because of the things I didn’t see coming and couldn’t control, like timing. The drawings took a long time — longer than we expected, longer than we were promised. Hurricane Sandy had just happened, and everyone needed work done, so we understood that, but it still took a long time. Permits took even longer, and what neither of us understood was why just looking over the plans should have been such a delay. We knew that making the plans took a lot of twists and turns with ideas, building code problems, government changes during the whole thing, but looking them over should never have taken six months.

We started to argue about everything. There were a lot of tears, and with a new baby and working later to pay for all the things our insurance and the government program promised but didn’t deliver, the stress was just too much. Everyone deals with stress in their own way, and many times the emotions aren’t expressed. My husband just kept it all in and, ironically, with all my training, I couldn’t bring out the problems, get them out where we could discuss them and begin to solve them.

All those people involved in our project in some ways contributed to the stress. I can honestly say that they changed our lives, and not in a good way. The most insensitive people in the process seemed to be the contractor and the building examiner. Both took most of the time and frustrated us by the way neither could really tell us what we needed to know. The contractor kept the prices hidden, only giving us a total number and refusing to explain or break down the numbers so we could understand why everything cost more. He started out like he was our best friend, but changed to a no-show most of the time, leaving everything to a worker who would look at us and then do whatever he wanted, with no explanation as to why.

During the construction, the building inspector stopped by, probably because the architect asked him to, because we discovered that the contractor had done things incorrectly and didn’t want the inspector to see them. We felt vulnerable, not assured. At least the architect came when we called, unlike our neighbor’s architect, who they never called or saw again.

A. Communication changes everything. Thanks for writing.

© 2015 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.