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Ask the Architect

Ready to begin work? Change is bad.

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Q. We read your column regularly, and followed your advice, got plans, a very long permit review and were about to begin construction when the pandemic hit. It took much longer to start the job, and just as we were about to begin, we noticed things we wanted changed. We’re now told that the changes can’t be done easily, that the review will cost more and the plans cost more. The design wasn’t what we wanted or expected after having more time to think about it, so why can’t we just make the changes? We need our additions to be bigger now that we realize we may be living and working from home more, even after the pandemic is over (someday). It doesn’t seem like the big deal the architect is telling us it is. Can you explain?

A. Let’s all hope the pandemic is over sooner than expected, and with minimal suffering and loss of more lives. If I understand the time you spent with the design process, the downtime when your plans had already been reviewed and the time it would take to get into construction, there are more questions than answers.

In my experience, not everyone visualizes what they’re hoping for, and many people not only spend time asking non-experts for opinions, but the over-thinking and under-communicating lead to frustration, indecisiveness and, ultimately, an undoing of good ideas and good intentions. Even though your cousin is “in the business,” or your best friends, interior designer or the contractors you’re meeting with all have interesting ideas, they may not have been given the whole scope of work you asked for, and probably have never looked at zoning or building regulation code books (now online).

I often advise clients to repeat after me: “Change is bad” when the process has reached the point of submitting for permits, the contract for construction has been signed and work is ready to begin. Having to replan a building, which at the very minimum is like pulling apart a three-dimensional puzzle, is also the reconsideration of multiple levels of laws, including building codes, electrical codes, plumbing codes, structural re-analysis, zoning codes and potential shortfalls when quick changes take the place of well-thought-out consideration.

Nobody else on your “team” has the full scope of knowing how to formulate the project like your architect does. Your building department, like most, has to re-review the plans, and at the very least, this will cause delay and possibly additional fees. The contractor has to spend time with new costs and the time it takes to re-estimate. Many material prices have recently risen due to Covid-19 downtime, delays and startup of factories.

It costs time and money to make changes, so making firm decisions and committing to not changing things is extremely important to getting a job done well. Nobody goes to work with the intention of not being paid, so plan to pay more for everyone involved in making your changes for you.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.