The second installment of our series on architectural fees finds that increased competition for even the smallest of projects is leading firms to slash rates. But have things gone too far?
When a major New York financial institution asked three architecture firms to submit bids for a high-end office renovation last year, it was a relatively small project, but one that was eagerly sought by the bidders to keep revenue flowing in tough times. What transpired reflects the cutthroat nature of the industry these days: Two firms came in at around $175,000, while the third offered a bargain-basement price of $100,000, according to one of the participants, who asked to remain anonymous to protect client confidentiality.
Not surprisingly, the low bidder won, prompting an angry response from one of the other bidders. “If we went in at $160,000, it would have been low-balling—and dangerously low—but not impossible,” says this person, principal of a small New York design boutique that specializes in interior renovations. “But bidding $100,000 is impossible. … [T]hey won’t make any money.”
The recession has wreaked havoc on the architecture industry in many ways, from a rollback in projects to staff layoffs to declining revenue. One of the most devastating aftershocks, however, has been the practice of fee-cutting, as firms struggle to survive by meeting client demands to save money and tighten budgets.
While no exact numbers are available, architects say fee-cutting is widespread. Scott Kuehn, partner at Denver-based H+L Architecture, an 85-person firm that specializes in healthcare, education, science, and technology, had one long-term client ask for a 10 percent cut on all future work. This client, Kuehn says, “indicated that economic pressure and uncertainties … were driving similar requests to all business partners, suppliers, and vendors.”
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