“Why is buying architectural and design services different than buying just about everything else?”

When we buy most things we are consuming them relatively quickly. A restaurant meal is gone in an hour, a piece of clothing may last a year and even a vehicle may only survive a decade. Buildings are different. They may last many decades or even centuries if they are built well. And unlike most everyday items, instead of decreasing in value, they can often appreciate in value over time. Over time, it has been my observation that this appreciation is linked to the scarcity and quality of the building location but it is also highly affected by the quality and character of the architectural design. For instance, here in New England, few people seek out a 1970s split level ranch but everyone seems to want a Gilded Age carriage house. The more authentic the design and character of the structure, the more buyers seem willing to pay for it on a square foot basis.

Real estate is in some ways the ultimate investment asset. You buy it, hopefully enjoy living or working with it each day and then, decades later, you sell it for many times more than you paid for it, hopefully pocketing an enormous profit. But what is the best way to maximize the short, mid, and long term benefit of the project?

Too often less experienced buyers, who have not been through the process previously, treat the design and acquisition of a building like any other ordinary commodity good or service. Their experience has been “If oranges are $1 at a store maybe they can they be found 20% off somewhere else.” But with custom design and construction this instinct works against them. Savings on insulation means more heating and cooling costs for decades to come. Cutting corners on materials means earlier repairs. Reducing the quality of the design means living in a less comfortable home or office every day and a lower sale price on the day the building is eventually sold to someone else. All the penny pinching, so valuable when buying groceries, clothes or a car, has now cost them significant monetary losses over time.

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Purchasing architecture design and constructing a building is more like investing in a stock share that you think will go up in value. The more you are able to purchase, the greater your profit will someday be. Of course you will be limited by your access to resources and you should not outbuild the value of the building location but you should also try to anticipate how the area is likely to change over the period you are expecting to own the property. When asked why he scored so many goals, Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is.” The same approach to architecture and building ownership is a good approach: design and build the project so that it is as forward looking and advanced as possible.

Buying architectural design and construction services can feel painful at the time because it is expensive, especially in comparison to commodity purchases. However, if you recalibrate your thinking to remember that you are putting investments into an asset that is actually appreciating, rather than decreasing in value you can hopefully give you a bit more of a feeling of serenity and relief. You are not SPENDING the money as much as you are INVESTING it, with a good expectation to get a fair return on your investment. Your goal should always be to maximize the VALUE of your investment, not the merely minimize your first cost to the cheapest acquisition price.


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