The Architect's Blog

Should I Use the Contractors’ Draftsman or Hire My Own Architect for My Project?

Sometimes prospective clients will say that their contractor has offered to provide building plans or “blueprints” as part of the construction cost of the project and that it seems like it would be a big savings over hiring a design professional like an architect.

For a small job, where the client knows exactly what they want and the contractor is reputable, this may be a possible option. A bathroom or simple kitchen remodel where no walls or windows are being changed or removed are two such examples.

However, having been asked to provide drafting service to general contractors myself, I’ve seen the other side of this arrangement and have some insight into why I believe it is in the client’s best interest to contract directly with a design professional and not use the contractors’ draftsman.

Since the general contractor has included the cost of the plans in this construction budget, he benefits from paying as little as possible for the plans while charging the client as much as he can get for them. For this to make financial sense for the contractors’ draftsman he is forced to spend as little time as possible on the client’s project. Most often this means little to no contact between draftsman and client. This has the potential to drive the cost of the project up since the best and most cost effective period of a project to anticipate problems and capitalize on opportunities is during the planning phase. When the client and design professional have direct and open dialogue about the project, it is more likely that changes that would be costly to undertake during construction will be dealt with early on when it’s inexpensive to do so.

Although many contractors will refer to the person who draws their plans as their “architect” this person typically is not actually a licensed and insured design professional – and legally cannot be called an architect. This may seem like a negligible distinction, but if you’ve ever seen the stucco “box” addition, set on top of a house that seems completely foreign to the rest of the structure (or to any style of building you’ve ever seen on this planet), you’ve begun to appreciate the distinction between the trained design professional and the draftsman/designer. Furthermore, should problems arise that were generated by flaws in the design, you will have little legal leverage to motivate the draftsman to help you fix the problem.

Finally, we’ve all heard anecdotal horror stories about (as well as have had first-hand experience with) bad contractors – incomplete or slow work, litigation that lasts for years, cost overruns etc. On the other hand, when a client deals directly with the architect or other design professional, they are dealing with someone who can act as an advocate. We frequently aid clients in finding high quality general contractors – who are motivated to perform, as they know we can be a source for future work. We also develop plans that can then be competitively bid – which gives the client great pricing leverage.

Though it may seem like the cost to use the general contractors’ draftsman may be less expensive, there are many benefits to using an architect/ design professional that can protect the client, solve problems early on, and ultimately result in a better and less costly project.

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