If you have been through the design and construction process, regardless of the delivery method, you will at some point been presented with an add service from the design team, or a change order request from the general contractor. I am often taken aback by the client’s immediate insurgence that someone else should pay for the item in question, including ourselves, the owner’s rep.  I have found that those with the least amount of tolerance for any additional costs often look to design-build as a solution to mitigate this pain but it certainly won’t eliminate it. Why do owners feel justified in denying requests?

1. You made the mistake. Owners don’t understand why when someone makes a “mistake” on a project that they don’t automatically pay for it.  After all, it was the lack of coordination, improper documentation or lack of follow-through that was the cause, right?  Equally baffling is the fact that design teams from the onset clearly communicate that drawings will not be perfect and a contingency fund should be carried to cover  reasonable errors and omissions. The gray area is what is reasonable; is it quantity of items that were missed or value of the items? There are industry standards that can help, but the best advice is to document the changes and track them back to the root cause.

2. The Agency should pay for that. So often budgets we inherit are created without escalation and proper detail related to fire department fees, water tap fees and, most notable of late, erosion control and stormwater management requirements.  As a project progresses months or years into the comprehensive timeline, the effects of improper planning can lead to significant deltas in owner’s budgets. We have been requested to fight these increases from our clients time and time again. Certainly there is a process to dispute any of these charges with agencies but, essentially, that’s all it is, with little hope for a productive outcome.

3. Value Added. Having a design element missed on the construction documents as an oversight, for example, an external sunshade device, plays into the example of a value-add. The owner would have received the value of the sunshade if the design team would have put it in the drawings; hence, if they want the sunshade added the owner should pay for that value. Although we support this position, it creates a lot of tension on projects:

  • What if the sunshade pricing increased significantly as it has to be a rushed order in order to hold the schedule?
  • What if already completed has to be removed to allow for its installation and then reconstructed again?
  • What if there are remobilization fees?

Often the design teams will resolve the design-related scope of these such oversights at their cost, and if clearly documented, will cover the elements that are not a value add to the owner. The owner should be paying for the value of the added element, not the additional costs that occurred.

The industry has come a long way and we have found that ourselves and owners are more apt to work with a team to resolve issues when accountability is taken; issues are resolved in lieu of denial of any errors being made. Everyone always understands that nobody is perfect, right? Maybe not…

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative