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Ask the Architect

We’d like to get the job done quickly

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Q. We’re finally ready to add to our house, but dread doing it because of all the “wait time.” Our neighbors started planning two years ago and haven’t got plans yet. The house down the street is taking almost a year and still isn’t done. We just can’t wait that long. We want a contractor who gets the job done quickly, and plans and a permit in no more than three months. Can we write a contract with time limits, and if so, is it typical, and what happens if they don’t meet the deadlines? We just don’t want to have to wait like our neighbors are.

A. There’s always a reason why planning takes longer than you thought. People regularly ask how long plans will take. The response is (for the little bit you described) three to four months, typically. It can take a little less time if you make decisions easily and meet regularly, or a lot longer if you need more time to decide. Permits may take another two or three months (or more).

You can write a contract with time frames, and some clients do, but those are best-case scenarios, with many issues that cause delays being beyond your control or the architect’s, like a hurricane, an economic downturn — or a pandemic. Also, building codes change every three years, and new standards can change expectations. Some codes become more lenient, others more strict. While energy codes just ratcheted up (causing much greater expense), stair riser height requirements are now less. Zoning issues also change, as they have recently in your jurisdiction.

While all this is happening, you may be consulting with relatives, friends and contractors who’ve “heard” you could do something that you really no longer can. Time that should be spent designing the project is then taken to undo decisions influenced by those who don’t know the facts, the structure or the law. Add to the mix that the interpretation from one official may be different from another, leading you to wonder, who do you listen to? I could fill a book with all the reasons why construction projects are delayed.

Pressuring yourself or those around you usually makes the project more painful, and a less successful outcome more likely. It’s fair to expect that plans be done in an understood time frame, with regular progress meetings every two to three weeks. Consider that construction is way up, meaning it will take longer to satisfy every customer.

Patience is a must. You can get things done in a “reasonable” time, with contingencies for sick time, holidays, vacations, weather — those things called “life” that get in the way. It just takes an honest relationship between you and those you deal with. Look at their track record before you hire and give them dates to work to. Make decisions and pick out appliances, materials and colors while waiting at each stage. Just remember, changes cause the biggest delays. Know what you want and stick to it. Good luck!

© 2020 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.