Pet Peeves Revealed


It’s good to get things off your chest. Everyone does it, so Residential Design & Build invited builders and designers to share their pet peeves. Many of these comments were posted in the RD&B group on, while others were submitted via e-mail.

Share your gripes via e-mail to or by joining our group at (search for RD&B).

Here now are a few of the
comments we received. Enjoy.

As a custom builder we have to be personal shrinks, personal friends, sex therapists, etc. Also, [a pet peeve is] clients who can find fault in every little thing.

John Witt
Witt Construction
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

When customers ask how much per square foot we charge for a custom home. Also, being asked to bid on a home based on incomplete plans and specifications.

Roland P. Valois
R. P. Valois & Company
Dartmouth, Mass.

My biggest pet peeve is the uneducated client who thinks the only thing that matters is cost. Also, the professionals in the industry who don’t work to educate these clients.

Bud Dietrich, AIA, ALA, NCARB
Harold Forrest Dietrich Architects
Deerfield, Ill.

Number one pet peeve is the owners getting too involved with the subcontractors and not the designer or the general contractor. Also, too many home magazines with too many pictures of rooms, fixture, patios, etc.
Carroll Armentor

Indecisiveness which produces frustrations and loss of interest on our part. Changing approved decisions which means delivery time and bottom-line profits suffer. Also, wanting to see everything — it’s time-consuming, usually confusing and often leads to my previous pet peeves above.

Lee Najman
Lee Najman Designs
Port Washington, N.Y.

I have several pet peeves: 1) The client who can’t “see” anything unless it’s done and then says “I don’t like it.” 2) The famous, “While you are here can you …” 3) Subs who don’t call when they aren’t going to show up.
4) Subs who don’t return calls. 5) Dirty jobsites. Hate ’em! 6) The client who went to Europe or Hawaii then doesn’t have enough money to do the job the way it was spec’d.
Darrin Thornton

I’ve always been a little discouraged about the ratio of homes designed and built by speculative builders vs. the homes designed by architects. It appears in many markets that for every 10 homes built maybe one was designed by an architect. Spec home builders have really stepped up their performance in recent years, producing beautiful homes, which causes me to wonder how relevant architects will continue to be in the residential construction market. It seems that clients don’t know the difference and don’t care, as long as they get what they want in a home.

Brent Legendre
Scott Wilson Architect
Brentwood, Tenn.

Buyers and builders are not willing to spend money on planning and do not understand why the project took too long or went over budget. Along with this you can add the lack of spatial visualization by the buyer, and in many cases the builder as well. Another one is when the buyer comments that “they had no idea it was going to look like that.” To further magnify this lack of visualization is the buyer who comes to you with a scrap book of “things” they want on their house, and cannot understand why they cannot have a feature because the floor plan does not allow for it.

Donald Maupin
Maupin Design
Waukesha, Wis.

My pet peeve: The misunderstandings owners have of good design. I know, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the customer is always right, and things like that, but there are basics of good planning, layout and architecture that are pleasing and useful for function. I will add that it seems neither homeowners nor contractors understand the value of good planning/design that a custom project takes. Just about anyone can add a 15-ft. by 20-ft. addition, or sketch a three-bedroom home. But to really design it in a way that is lovely, functional with all the other nuances, that’s value. They want custom, but don’t want to pay!

Timothy Schrock
Design Build Solutions
Lebanon, Ind.

These are not peeves; they are what we need to get our clients to understand. 1) Just because a real estate agent gives a cost per square foot does not mean that is what your house will cost. 2) Owner’s costs (design fees, engineering fees, permits, insurances etc.) are outside of the construction cost. 3) The budget is a target and has implications to the level of finish and size of the house. 4) The economy has influence, but we are not manufacturers giving the same discounts as the auto industry. 5) There is a correlation between cost, quality and size. 6) We are not mind readers. 7) Just because you want it does not mean you get it for the base cost.

Robert W. Lisi, RA, LRB
Dolphin Architects and Builders
Johns Island, S.C.

My biggest single pet peeve is clients who draw their own home plans (either sketched on graph paper or worse yet, using $50 home design software) and then give them to our architect so he can “draw it up.” They completely short-circuit the design process, and as a consequence miss out on the tremendous value added by an architect. Invariably these clients invite you to suggest better alternatives to their design, but they’re so “invested” in their own design that they never choose to implement a suggestion from a full-time residential design professional.

My next biggest pet peeve is clients and/or real estate agents who want to benchmark a custom builder’s work by comparison with other custom builders on a cost-per-square-foot basis. No matter how hard we work to educate clients and real estate agents, they still want to “dumb down” the comparison to a single, simple (and meaningless) metric.

Also, clients who agonize over the wrong details at the wrong point in the design and/or construction process. For example, the client who is paralyzed during the site planning or conceptual design of their home because they can’t decide what type of cabinet hardware they’d like, or the swing of a particular door.

Timothy P. Cleary, P.E.
Charles Ross Homes
Williamsburg, Va.

My main frustration is that many prospective clients do not understand the importance or value in starting the process by creating and commissioning an effective design and project management team, or simply that the team they have put together does not have a clearly defined purpose or vision. I have seen firsthand the costly mistakes that have been made when an inexperienced architectural designer has not properly understood the client, building code or functional layout requirements, or simply did not have good design sense. The result is something has been built or partially built that then has to be reworked to make it right. In some instances, I have had to point out the necessary revisions to the architectural designer or contractor.

I have been involved with residential projects in Canada, and in Europe. The same problems exist in both places. However, from what I have observed I would say that this issue is more obvious in Canada and the United States. Our cultural approach to the custom build process is more of a fast-food approach than in Europe. Just like we can drive through and get a burger and large fries, we can “drive up” to the local custom builder who claims they can design a dream home, and give them a menu of requirements, and ask them to supersize it and sometimes they throw in a free toy — everyman’s Happy Meal.

Just like fast food, we get what we pay for — something that might hit the spot at the time, but is not healthy, enjoyable, beautiful, and does not improve our lifestyle. So what can we do about it? We can — and we all do — complain about it and that is the easy part. Most of us — self included — could do a better job of educating not only our clients but also the media, builders/developers, and the industry at large to the benefits and potential cost savings they will reap from having a team put together at the beginning of a project that will work cohesively all the way through their project, with integration of all disciplines at every stage. In short, we need to sell ourselves better!

At the moment the client has a smorgasbord of designers, architects, builders and more builders to choose from. If they can get something cheaper down the street from Fast Food Design and they have not been clearly instructed regarding the differences between what we offer and what the fast food guy is offering, who have we to blame but ourselves? My observation is that before we focus our discussion with the client on our fees, that we should be setting ourselves apart by telling our prospective clients about what makes us different. What makes us unique. What makes our process special. Give them examples of projects that you added value to, or rescued from certain death. Be specific. Be inspiring.

Oh, and just as importantly, those of us who offer complimentary services to one another must work closely together in a more united and integrated approach. If we are not supporting each other, we run a greater risk of an unhappy client. If one link in the chain is weak or breaks, the whole chain is affected. You know the saying; “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Well, it’s up to us to give our clients a vision for the great results that can be achieved when the custom design and build process is done well.

Kevin Gray
Sizeland Evans Interior Design
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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