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Does Your Budget Match Your Goals, Values and Dreams?

Design projects ultimately require money; not only for design, but also for construction. One of the first questions an architect is asked is “How much will it cost?” The underlying questions: How much are the design fees? And, how much will the total cost of the project be?

The most precise answer is “it depends.” This answer may help, but more often it confounds. What does “it depends” mean?  It means quality, budget, and timing all affect each other.

In an initial interview with a client, the architect most likely will ask “What is your budget? or “What are you thinking of spending?” She will talk with the client about what she would like to achieve. Why does the architect ask this? Does she just want to max out the budget? Up-sell the project? Or, is she just doing some research?

Architects ask these questions because we respect a client’s budget and time, and also want to make sure that the scope of work and quality, along with the budget, are in alignment. We want to quickly set expectations. Since Seattle is an especially expensive part of the country, and if someone is not familiar with local costs, the construction expenses to build a project can be surprising.

As a client, something to remember is that the architect and the contractor are only as familiar with your dreams and goals to the extent that you share your ideas. Why are you doing the project? We don’t know what your long term plans are (retirement for example) and how this project fits into your plan. Along with your expectations, you need to determine your budget so all elements can be taken under consideration from the very beginning.

If you tell your architect that your budget is 200k, but in reality it is 400k, you may not get the scope of work, or level of quality, that you are expecting until you disclose that your budget is truly 400k. The opposite holds true as well. If you tell your architect that your budget is 500k and it really is 350k, there will be a discrepancy (or disproportion or imbalance) in quality and scope that will ultimately be reflected in project pricing. Have you resolved, no matter the budget, how you will ultimately pay for it? Perhaps savings, stocks, loans, an inheritance, or a combination of the above? Make your financial plan and then tell your architect what your budget is in reality. Let her help guide the process. At live-work-play, we want the project to be sustainable, and that includes financial sustainability!

Another thought to keep in mind, for custom residential projects, is often the costs will shift while the project is under construction. Why does this happen?  There are a number of reasons. Unanticipated findings, especially at the beginning, can occur: there can be unexpected ground water; an old decommissioned septic or oil tank may be in the way of excavation and footings; or you may have to add engineered soils for stabilization.  In a remodeling project, framing that is uncovered may be so rotten it has to be replaced and repaired or perhaps a structure was framed in a non-standard way and the construction detail needs adjustment. Frequently clients say, “While you are here, could you also do this….?”  Or, “We would like this more expensive finish,” rather than the less expensive one.

Since construction costs can shift, it is a good idea to expect the situation to arise and be flexible. You should have a reserve of 5 to 10% of the original cost estimate as a backup. If this isn’t planned from the forefront, you may have to ask for some value engineering (value engineering is when the construction detail is changed or the scope of work is reduced to lower cost) to parts that are not yet constructed to cover unexpected conditions.  Everyone is better off with a contingency plan.

Can design fees shift also? They can, mainly in schematic design. Schematic design is the initial process where we explore many different concepts. It’s a great idea to take the time to explore during this phase, as it is much less costly than changing the design during construction (if that is even possible.) What about additional phases, can costs shift then? Once a schematic design is agreed upon, design fees will not shift very much unless revisions are needed, perhaps due to budget. (See above references to budget.)

While a project is under construction, sometimes the client/owner may feel like all she is doing is writing checks and depleting her bank account. It’s important to be aware of how you are feeling about money during the course of the project.  Is it stressful? Are you worried? How are you feeling about spending this amount of money on your home? Are you nervous about it or are you at peace with it? Did you completely plan how you would pay for everything? Are you staying informed, feeling on top of things, and understanding why you are spending what you are? If you are concerned, voice your concerns with your architect and contractor, but remember to respect that they are doing their best to help you achieve your dreams and goals with the project, and that sharing your real budget plays a big role in achieving that end.

Some further reading:
Making Peace with Money by Jerrold Mundis.

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Staying in Place – Aging in Place

•    We want to live in our home forever!
•    We never want to move again!
•    What can we do to stay in our home as we age?

We hear these comments and questions often at live-work-play.  We’ve seen and heard from multiple sources that the next housing crisis is, in fact, that aging American’s are not going to be able to remain in their homes.

Sometimes it can feel disconcerting to think about getting older.  Even so, be proactive when considering new construction or a home remodel.  When doing your home needs assessment, whether on your own or with your design professional, analyze your long-term use of your home and discuss changes to meet those needs.

In the industry, we use the term “Universal Design.” Universal Design principles incorporate the products and processes in the built environment so that all people can “live actively by design,” regardless of age or ability. Economics plays an important role, but there are many reasons to consider Universal Design for long-term planning.

The Principles of Universal Design are:
•    Equitable Use
•    Flexibility in Use
•    Simple and Intuitive Use
•    Perceptible Information
•    Tolerance for Error
•    Low Physical Effort
•    Size and Space for Approach and Use

In current studies, only one percent of U.S. housing units have all five of what are called “Universal Design” features: no-step entry; single-floor living; extra-wide doorways and halls; accessible electrical controls and switches and lever-style door and faucet handles. Just 57 percent of homes have more than one of them.

Some additional changes you can incorporate into your building or remodeling plans include: ramps and lifts; risers for beds, toilets; step stools; hand rails and grab bars.  Read more here about Economics in Universal Design.

The physical structure is not the only thing for you to consider for ‘aging in place” but you should also think about safety.

From a blog post at the Idaho State Journal, “According to AARP, aging homeowners largely prefer to “age in place,” or live in their home safely and independently, regardless of age or ability level. For some seniors this is entirely possible, but to keep residents safe, considerations should be made about a house and what’s in it.”   This article addresses safety issues from the bedroom, to the kitchen, to outside, and points out that safety measures should be a consideration for all homeowners, no matter what age. Read the full article here.

Talk to your design professional about your long-term goals. Whether you’re downsizing, re-creating living spaces or just planning for the future, at live-work-play we can help you assess your changing needs and lifestyle.

Call or e-mail live-work-play now to discuss your new design or remodeling project. 206.726.0077

Additional info and resources:

King County Aging

The Next Housing Crisis: Aging Americans’ Homes


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Navigating the Backyard Cottage (DADU)

You may have heard quite a bit lately about the need for more housing in the Seattle area and we are seeing a plethora of new hi-rises under construction on both sides of the lake. Many residents are thinking about adding housing units to their properties for a variety of reasons. We talked a bit about this new trend in our April 2013 blog post  “Live Small Strategies” and the many reasons a homeowner might make the decision to build a Backyard Cottage. With this on-going growth in our neighborhoods, we want to discuss additional questions you may have if you are considering a BYC or ADU, and help you navigate the process.

Before we start, here are some acronym definitions:  a backyard cottage is a separate structure also known as a “detached accessory dwelling unit” or DADU.  An “accessory dwelling unit” is a separate living unit within your home that is also called a “mother in law unit” or ADU.

Of course, the first issue to be discuss is who the new home is for? Whether it is for a current use, or flexibility for a different use down the road, the lifestyle of the intended resident(s) will help determine size, structure and design.

Who is the new home for?

–older family member (does it need to be accessible for aging in place?)
–younger family member?
–all of the above at some point or another?

You’ll have to determine some basic background info before you move forward.

Some basic background info to look at:
–is your property eligible (most are)
–how large a unit would work for you?
–typically an additional parking space is required, is there room?
–will you be converting an existing structure such as a garage or building a new one?
–would you like to add a separate living unit within your home, such as your basement?

Next, you’ll need to determine costs and how you’ll pay for your investment.

what are the costs?
–permit fees
–design fees
–construction cost
–will you borrow money or pay for the investment in a different way?

Live-work-play will help you answer these questions and design a solution while collaborating with you based on your needs, the above background information, and the individual property  in your neighborhood to keep it in scale with the existing houses.  We’ll help you pull it all together…then the fun begins!

Further reading–if you would like more generalized national information about DADUs, check here.  Plus, an article about DADUs in San Francisco.

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