Red Flag words and phrases

Bob Borson —  October 26, 2011 — 46 Comments

Red Flags

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Sometimes it’s just a vibe you get … you know  there’s something wrong but you just haven’t figured it out yet … It’s an uneasy feeling at best and when you are talking about meeting with potential new clients, it can be a matter of life or death to your business if you don’t figure it out in time.

I’m talking about words and phrases that should send up a red flag - things that you might hear in a conversation that should make you spin around in your chair, look at your wrist and say:

ooh look at the time … I’ve got a thing to go, I mean be … ahh, what I’m trying to say is I’ve got somewhere I’m supposed to be right now!”

It might be an awkward exit but better to deal with it now than have to deal with it later (and there’s ALWAYS a later). Here are some phrases that should you hear them spew forth from the mouths of others, get the hell out – now!

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spruce, zippy, or classy  - e.g. “I already like my house, I just need to spruce it up so I can sell it.” or “We don’t want any zippy new fangled archimabobs.”

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“I’ve done lived in a house my whole entire life and I already knows what I want.”

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“I make decisions super-fast so that should save you time. How’s about reducing your fee?”

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“My last architect didn’t do it that way…”

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“I just need someone to draw up my sketches.”

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“My mother will pick out allllll  the finishes, (clucking tongue and winking at me) ‘caus’n she’s got the good taste.”

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“Are you good at designing towers? We like ‘dem towers mmm, hmm…. and turrets, lots and lots of turrets.”

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“I bought this 3d house com-puter program software package down at the Office Depot and got ‘dis all figured out. I just be needing the permit drawings.”

“One of my favorite materials is glass block, especially in the shower … in a fancy geometric pattern.”

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“We have lots of cats and we have prepared some sketches of a special room that we’d like to create for ‘em. (holding cat up to face and making its legs move like a master puppeteer) Yes we do – don’t we?? bup bup bup yes, we do!!”

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“We travels a lot and prolly won’t be round for many a decision, but we’re confident that you’ll be knowing what we’re thinking we want.”

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“We love the guy who just done built our fence and think he would be perfect to built  our house!”

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“We already have our drawings but couldn’t find a contractor who bid to it make it fit in our budget – figured you might know of other contractors.”

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“I know the project is over budget, and despite you repeatedly telling me to remove (making air quote gesture) “programming” and make rooms (again with the air quotes) “smaller”, ha haa! I just keep on a’making those rooms bigger. Would you reduce your fees to help lower my costs?”

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“I don’t need full blown architect services, don’t you have a fella in the back who can draw this up at night, like… (whispering) on the side?”

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“Why yes, I am a lawyer, but I plan on acting as my own contractor…”

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For the record, I am aware that I made most of these phrases sound like they came forth from the mouths of hillbillies – because it’s funnier to me that way. It just as easily could have been Cajun but I would have had to add a whole lot of extra “whooo-eeee’s” and “dat-der’s” to these sentences and I decided that it  just wasn’t needed (and I don’t want to offend any Cajun’s). Luckily, since I know these red flag words and phrases, I’ve avoided putting myself in a position to have to deal with them too often … but the list is always growing. In fact, I’m sure there are some others, just let me know what they are in the comment section below.

Cheers – and whoooooeeeeee – look out!

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  • Judit

    Dear Bob,
    allow me to bring my own best-of collection after 4-years of experience:
    “I was already making a lot of thoughts about the house. (Brings out 50-page self-written expectation sheet). Feel free to design anything!“
    “You are asking what will I use this extra room which is not fitting in my budget for? I don`t know. But I want it.“
    “Why do you ask me to call you before I come to your office? This way it is faster for me! If you are not there to talk to, just anybody will do.“
    “What is your star sign? I am a blah-blah and I think we will make a great team together!“
    “I think you learned a lot from me already, right?“
    Greets, Judit

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Ah, one is missing:
    “We are just doing a small addition,” (actually about 18,000sf with a zoning & Use change) “so we didn’t get a contractor to save on getting permits. The City came and red-tagged the house and said we can’t live there anymore” (since they also disconnected all the utilities) “–How quick can you get us a Permit? Could it be Tomorrow?”

    “Incredulous Looks” ought to be a moderately-good college band, not what happens when you explain things like “Remember when I told you you needed to got to P&D for that, and you needed 6 weeks’ to do just that?”

  • Ed Rowley

    Actual question from a potential client: It is more expensive to re-roof or add a second floor?

  • for sure not your client

    I hope a lot of your future potential clients of yours read this and realize how condescending you are. I surely would not want an architect who thought it is funny to put people down. Wow, you must be great at customer service! Do you think all people around you are idiots? No wonder architects get bad raps for being narcissistic jerks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brettwolfeaustin Brett Wolfe

      if this drives away clients, then it’s served its purpose by driving away the wrong clients (those who have no clear concept of what architects do). look at this way: no sane person would ever go to a doctor and say “i’ve diagnosed myself, all i need is for you to write the prescription, oh and i know i need surgery, but i have a buddy who is a vet and all i need you to do is send him your notes.” no one would treat their doctor this way, let alone their lawyer, (all equally licensed professionals)… so why treat your architect that way?

      • Dwayne

        With all due respect, i am in agreement with you. Architects and architectural professionals don’t get the respect the profession deserved. Ppl are quick to cut corners on us and our fees. I just think the general public needs to be educated more about architects and what the profession entails…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Kelly – sorry you feel that way and were so moved as to leave a comment which really amounts to nothing more than name calling.

      While I wrote this post in humor, there is a certain amount of truth in the statements I put up there. Given that I have 450+ articles on this site, if someone were to read this one post and pass judgement, I’m not sure I would want them as a client. Since I generally don’t remove comments unless there are curse words, I felt like I needed to leave yours in place but I thinks it’s a silly comment.

  • Archt

    This is my brother, he just moved here from out of state and will be the Contractor.

  • http://www.canright.net Jessie

    Great Post!!!
    As a web designer who works with architects, I hear the same red
    flags.  One time at an AIA reception, I saw a name tag I recognized and
    immediately went up to say hello.   I had been discussing website
    options with her for the past few months and was excited to put a face
    to the voice.  She said “I should have
    invested in your firm, instead I took a cheap route and got a crappy
    flash website and I hate it”.  I’m extremely extroverted, but
    in this case I wasn’t expecting that (at all) and felt mortified.  I
    had no idea what to say except “I’m sorry?”. Sometimes, these red flags just need strong clarification and
    communication to explain the value you will bring to them as a
    designer.  Other times, its best to get out now, since they will not
    budge and will not truly appreciate your services.  Its a hard lesson to
    learn in any design field, especially when you truly want to help. 

  • http://www.canright.net Jessie

    Great Post!!!
    As a web designer who works with architects, I hear the same red
    flags.  One time at an AIA reception, I saw a name tag I recognized and
    immediately went up to say hello.   I had been discussing website
    options with her for the past few months and was excited to put a face
    to the voice.  She said “I should have
    invested in your firm, instead I took a cheap route and got a crappy
    flash website and I hate it”.  I’m extremely extroverted, but
    in this case I wasn’t expecting that (at all) and felt mortified.  I
    had no idea what to say except “I’m sorry?”. Sometimes, these red flags just need strong clarification and
    communication to explain the value you will bring to them as a
    designer.  Other times, its best to get out now, since they will not
    budge and will not truly appreciate your services.  Its a hard lesson to
    learn in any design field, especially when you truly want to help. 

  • Pingback: A La Carte drafting services | Vermont Architect - Robert Swinburne

  • yo!

    I have a variation on the “I got a drafting program and designed the house already”

    It went something like this:  “I stole some 3-D software off the internet and designed my house.  I want you to use my stolen version of a software (that you don’t know, it is super easy to learn, I did my house in two hours, you can figure it out) and get me a permit.

  • shtrum

    Just to toss in some more that actually happened:

    “i took drafting classes in high school and was pretty good at it.”

    “If i use stucco instead of brick, can i make my house bigger?”

    “i’ll draw the floor plans . . . you just make it look like a house.”

    “i have tons of stuff, and i really like open plans.”

    (and sometimes words aren’t even necesssary, such as when someone approaches with an armload of Better Homes and Gardens magazines . . . )

  • Kathleen Lunson

    Actually one of the most enjoyable projects I ever worked on was a room for cats……..

    • dagiancarli

      Haha are you willing to share a link? I’d love to see it.

  • D.

    [Non industry guy says:]
    “I know how much things USUALLY cost, but I have so many friends and connections who will do it practically for free – don’t worry about your construction estimate coming in around $1.6 million, the most I’ll probably end up spending is $800k.”
    … no surprise that when REAL NUMBERS came in they disappeared… [told you so! AND lesson learned]

  • http://www.architangent.com Brinn Miracle

    Great post, Bob! How about this one (and yes, this actually happened):
    Client: “I ‘borrowed’ the software you use for design from a friend at a competing company, and re-created your entire design, then made some uh-maze-ing changes to it because that is more what I want, even though it completely ruins your entire concept and looks like a five year old drew it! Oh, and I expect to get your level of quality, service and craftsmanship for the price of ‘that other guy’ who does sub-par work. I get to determine your level of profit, since I’m the client. Oh, and the products you specified for my job, well I don’t want THOSE I want what my friend recommended…what do you mean ‘then let my friend do the job’? He isn’t good at anything and your stuff is better! I want you to do it, I just don’t want to pay for it!”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      oof! That was painful to read – I’m sure it was even worse to listen to live. At least those are so blatantly obvious in how terrible the experience and relationship will be that it makes it easy to spot them and remove yourself graciously. (I hope)

      Cheers

  • lisa league

    I know your favorite is the one about the glass block:)

    This one is my favorite:

    “I bought this 3d house com-puter program software package down at the Office Depot and got ‘dis all figured out. I just be needing the permit drawings.”

    I actually designed one of my own custom homes, and just gave it to the builder for his designer to draw up correctly.  They did not change the layout at all – which was wat I was concerned with.  I was on the job site checking in with the super on a regular basis –  it actually turned out great, and was one of two by the same builder.  

    I must give them credit for being so pleasant, giving me just what I wanted, moving quick, and working out a way to get me a C.O. when my carpet came in with damage to the backing and had to be reordered, and I had no place to live!

    This was back in the hand drafting days – quite a number of years before I got my Master’s in ID and passed the NCIDQ.  I no longer live there, but still look back and think it was a good design:)
    I probably did not represent their typical client – I hope they did not roll their eyes at me, and this was back the day before blogging…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I thought about writing it as “computey” but thought that would be gilding the lily (so to speak).

      For every rule there is the exception to the rule … congratulations on being that exception!!!

  • Tjcleary

    “I just need somebody to draw something up.”  Ooh, I love that one.  Usually comes from spec-McMansion builders (thankfully, which I very seldom do work for in these past three years; see, there ARE silver linings to the Great Recession) who are only grudgingly calling on me because an HOA requires it.  As if it’s the drawing itself that represents all the effort.  When I hear it I want to reply, “Oh, you mean like a book publisher saying ‘I just need somebody to transcribe this stuff from these scribbled notes; the author’s already written the novel’?”

    But of course I don’t say that; it’s more like, with feigned innocence, “Oh, so you have the design already?  Great, because if you already know what it’ll look like, then we can get a less-expensive draftsman to just copy it.”

    Of course, if you hear that come out of someone’s mouth it’s already a waste of time trying to educate them about the difference between “design” and “drawing”.  Just politely hang up & move on.  Unless the mortgage is due next week and the fridge is almost empty.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I love the line:

      “As if it’s the drawing itself that represents all the effort.”

      That’s going into my internal list of awesome phrases to whip out on people.

      Thanks!

      • Mark Mc Swain

        That lovely classic “We love this plan” (holds torn-out 8.5×11 newsprint planhouse page up “all we need is a few minor changes.” Which are, add a bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, reduce the floor plan area by 10%, but use 2×6 exterior framing (or hay-bale/adobe/ICF) and 144″ 1st floor & 108″ 2nd floor plate height. (“Whaddyamean, 35′ Code height restriction?”)

        “How can it be /that/ expensive? You just make this hallway 24″ wide, and tack a simple 22 x 20 bedroom on the back! How can you possibly mean you have to redraw the _entire_ thing?”

        Sigh

  • Caleb

    Client: “When I built my house ten years ago this is how much it cost. That’s what I’m expecting to pay for my new office building.”

    Client: “That (experienced) commercial contractor’s estimate was too high for my new office building, so we’re going to let my daughter’s homebuilder do the project. He’s very motivated.”

    Client said to my high school job shadow during a meeting, “You want to learn how to be an architect? You’d better find a different one to shadow. Mine doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

    Client: “My architect moves his mouth and I have NO idea what he’s talking about.”

    Contractor: “We’re in a rush, so I won’t wait for a the design or the permit. I’ll just make a few calls to my friends downtown and then start grading the site.”

    Contractor: “What’s a spec book?”

    Principal Architect/Boss: “My family and I personally do business with this client, so I won’t be the one giving him the bad news. That’s you’re job, project architect.”

    Principal Architect/Boss: “We want to minimize the time we spend on this project. Just let the contractor tell us how to design it.”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      wow – that is an impressive list. I can only hope you have an active imagination rather than personal experience…

      thanks for adding to the comments

    • Mark Mc Swain

      Aw, now see, what you do is put a rectangle on the Spec cover that reads “Plan Table Leg Goes Here”–and everyone finds a used for it [grins, ducks, & runs]

  • http://twitter.com/Splintergirl Amy Good

    You know, one of my favorite clients (built for him 4 times) is an attorney as his main profession and a builder of spec homes “on the side”.  Normally, we’d run kicking and screaming from that scenario as well, but he is obviously of a different cut of fabric.

    Also, each time we decide that someone’s gut spoke incorrectly, we end up paying for it either early on or eventually. :)

    Any chance of forwarding a printable version so I can share with my design team?  Great post!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’ll take care of this through dm - 

      cheers

  • Alex

    fun way to start my day thanks for the humor….maybe you can write about the response side of the red flags that is if… aahh you did not aah… have somewhere you needed to be right now

    cheers

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think the opposite side is when you play the role of realist and bad guy and tell them what they don’t really want to hear. Eventually you learn to recognize the people that are at least receptive to your “experienced” opinion. It’s okay when people make the wrong choice but something else all together when they don’t bother listening or collecting enough information to make an informed decision – right or wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/FCNewsmag Floor Covering News

    I can’t really afford this sort of thing but…

  • http://www.2pm-architects.co.uk Mathew Byron

    We just have a few minor changes ….

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      that statement is wrong on so many possible levels I wouldn’t know where to begin. That one should have a siren to accompany the red flag

  • Ed

    How about, “I’m getting my contractors license so once you finish with the drawings my husband and I can take over the construction.”
    Or, “This is the plan we like but we want to shift these rooms and take this one on the first floor out.”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      yikes!

  • Ed

    How about, “I’m getting my contractors license so once you finish with the drawings my husband and I can take over the construction.”
    Or, “This is the plan we like but we want to shift these rooms and take this one on the first floor out.”

  • http://mjvala.tumblr.com Mike Vala

    Excellent post as usual. I’ve made the mistake in my short (so far) career of not recognizing those words & phrases… But, I generally don’t make the same mistake more than once… Especially when there’s a handy list such as this one.

  • http://www.chicmodernvintage.blogspot.com Tonia (@chicmodern)

    It’s amazing how people try to cut corners. I worked for an architect years ago and it the same exact thing that people would say.  Even when I freelanced my drafting to a builder it was the same…..I guess I didn’t have the patience for it because I no longer to any drafting or nothing like it.  I tired of hearing all the excuse or should I say red flag words and phrases.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      after a while, you learn your lesson and realize what your boundaries are – everyone eventually learns them

      Cheers

  • Anonymous

    “We have to get our first draw before we can pay you”

    “We got the plan off the internet and it only needs a few minor changes”

    “That vinyl double lap siding is great stuff”

    “Our budget numbers are lookin’ good. For example, we got a great deal on this drywall from China”

    “All we need are permit drawings. After all, our contractor is a design/build guy. It says so right below the lumber rack on his truck”

    “Any fool can install E.I.F.S.”

    Once again, a great post Bob. I could go on and on and the Sun’s not even up yet on the east coast.   Doug

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I knew that this list could become one of those that just constantly grows and grows – way to kick it off!

      Cheers

  • Kaśka

    I sadly have heard more than one of those. I’ve got one (or few) I heard
    myself and now I  know to be careful about those sentences:

    ‘Yeah, I like it, but I must talk to my wife first.’ She never likes it.

    ‘I’m no architect, but my construction foreman tells me that’s not done this way normally.’

    ‘I’m not an architect, but I can read construction drawings and there’s
    no ventilation chimney. And what this arrow with “V.C.” mean?’

    ‘Since we’re family, you do this for free, right?’

    ‘Sorry, the dog pissed on your floor and we will leave it up to you to clean it.’

    The scary thing is I’m just starting in this business.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ooo – bringing the family in on this one right out of the gate! You are a brave person (some things even I won’t say!!)

      • Kaśka

        You call it courage, I call it insanity ;)

      • Mark Mc Swain

        “It’s for _your_ cousin!
        Besides, it’s /only/ an addition, it;’s not like you have to draw the whole house or get permits or all that!”

    • http://twitter.com/MundyColon Edmundo Colón

      I’ve done the family thing. A 10,000 sq ft house, with all the “goodies”. Not cheap or easy to design.  Even with a signed contract, I’m still waiting for a check in the mail…

      …after a year!

      Never again!