Friday, April 30, 2010

Letter to a Potential Client

I was recently approached via email by a potential new client for a house.  This person had seen something I had posted online, but was not very familiar with my work, my design process, or the type of architectural services that I offer.

For most of my professional life thus far, I have worked for other architects (some very good ones, in fact) but have always done my own projects on the side also.  These have primarily come through friends, friends-of-friends, associates, or family.  It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to compose a thorough description of what I do, for the benefit of someone I didn't know well and had not had the opportunity to meet in person.

Here is what I wrote, with some very minor edits:

Dear _______

Great to hear from you.  I am very interested in helping you with your project.  Let me describe how I usually work, and ask you some basic questions about your goals, objectives, and intentions for your new home.

If I were to design you a house, it would be a custom, one-of-a-kind creation.  My goal is that every project is both integrated with its site and reflective of the owner's requirements & desires.  The various attributes of the site are crucial.  For example, are there views?  Are there neighboring houses or other structures close by?  Is it a confined city lot, or on some acreage?  Perhaps the site has special features such as a mature shade tree(s) or steep slope to be accounted for.  The movement of the sun relative to the property also has some impact on the design, as does the climate in general. 

Second, I would want to know more about you and your goals and desires for the way you want to live.  Do you live alone?  Partner/spouse?  Kids?  Pets?  And a host of other things, which we could talk over at the appropriate points in the design process.

Finally, I always aim to keep the budget in mind.  I could design a very nice, modern house of the size you describe, of simple wood frame construction, with perhaps one or two specially designed, customized touches like a fireplace or library wall, to suit a modest budget.  Alternatively, I could design a house of the same size that would be a modernist tour de force, of wood, steel, and glass, complete with custom furnishings, at 3-4x the cost.  Keeping the design appropriate to the budget is very important.

My usual approach, once an agreement has been reached as to the fees, general time line, and other particulars of our working relationship, would be to develop a basic schematic design first (or perhaps 2 or 3 different schemes, depending on the project and its complexity,) then after client approval, proceed to develop the scheme more fully.  Once the developed scheme is approved, I would move forward with turning it into construction documents.   This whole process usually takes 4-6 months. 

Then, during the construction process, I like to be as involved as possible or practical, depending on where the project is located.  A lot of little refinements are made during the construction process.  Did you see the lake house I designed in Indiana, on my web site? Here's the link:  One of the reasons it was so successful was that I was able to visit frequently during the framing stage, and keep the contractor on track.  Traditionally, the role of the architect is not only to provide a design, but to help the owner with issues of quality control during construction, and to ensure that the design intent is being executed faithfully by the contractor.

So: With all of that being said, my first questions for you would be:
1. Do you have a specific lot or piece of property in mind for the house? 
2. What is the budget you had in mind?
3. Related to #2 -- do you have a contractor in mind, or lined up?  If so, have you discussed price with them?  Usually they want to see some plans before they will get very specific about the price, but they should be able to give you some sense of price per square foot for your area. 
4. Where would the house be built?  I am in Los Angeles, but am not fazed in the least by working long-distance. Again, the lake house in Indiana is a great example.  I happen to be working on a new design for that same client, to be built in East Tennessee, about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, on 28 acres.

I have not typically been in the business of just selling floor plans, since I am really interested in the creation of something unique for each project, because every combination of client and site is totally different.  I know there are lots of websites that offer this type of service, with lots of plans to choose from.  I just wouldn't know how to do that.

However, this description of my services is what I would consider the "norm" or "ideal", but as I also said, each client's situation is different.  It is more important to me that you want to work with me because you like my work, and you like what I have written about how I work.  If you feel that we would be a good fit, I would be more than happy to put together a package of services to suit your needs.
Best regards,

Earl Parson

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