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Key Factors that Design Professionals Should Consider in Client Selection

02.15.19  |  By Douglas R. Halstrom

Client selection is the most important factor in avoiding risk for the design professional.  While signed contracts, contract language and doing quality work are obviously very important, knowing when to say yes or no to a new opportunity will keep you out of harm’s way over the long term.  While you should not simply walk away from every potentially risky situation, the following tips will alert you to risky situations you should avoid or manage in a different way.

First, be wary of the potential new client who wishes for you to substitute for another architect.  There are plenty of justifiable reasons why an owner may wish to do this, but, predictably, there are reasons which may signal you to avoid this relationship, the most obvious one of which is a payment dispute with the outgoing architect.  This type of situation may indicate an unwillingness by the owner to work out problems with the outgoing architect, which is a foreshadowing that this owner will do the same with you. At a minimum, you should request the owner to provide some type of proof that the outgoing architect has been paid, which you may want to confirm with the outgoing architect.  In addition, have the owner explain to you why a new architect is needed so you can evaluate whether this is a situation that will be repeated.

Second, perform your own due diligence to determine whether this person or entity has previously performed similar jobs successfully.  While many owners have a very clear picture of how they want a project to proceed, there are far more that may be dabbling in real estate development and are learning as they go.  Situations involving the latter tend to result in delayed projects which ultimately result in claims for delay and construction extras.  With the advent of social media and the wealth of information on the internet, much of this due diligence can be performed at your desktop.  Moreover, the construction community is a relatively small one, even in the larger metropolitan areas of this country, and there is a wealth of information at your fingertips for you to determine whether this new client is one with whom you see yourself working efficiently. 

Third, do not disregard your personal instincts during your initial discussions with this new client.  While previous projects with a recurring client certainly provide you with a multitude of information, you will not have that luxury in a vast majority of projects where you are meeting a new client for the first time.  As members of the human race, we are equipped with instincts which alert us to dangerous situations so we can protect ourselves.  Anything that appears out of the ordinary during your first discussion with a new client should spur you to engage in your own due diligence, as mentioned above, in order to obtain information about this person or entity.

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