Each of the suggestions that I read from Chris and Paul were good and valid
advice. I would, however, ask how the owner of this business survived for 20
years specializing in "small jobs" at such low fee's. Is there this much
competition in the area for small projects or, as in my case, do you feel an
obligation to serve the community by taking small jobs that noone else will
Sorry to sound so harsh, but I have been in this position an allowed myself
to become stressed out by these clients who screw up in the field and then
expect the engineer to get them out of it for what ends up at less then
minimum wage (after business overhead).
Here is how I would address the issue:
1. I keep a list of all of my local competition and unless I absolutly have
the time to address this small project, I kindly recommend each of them with
a phone number for the client to call. I explain that I am too busy to do the
work in such a short period of time, but that I will try to fit it in if they
are unsucessful in obtaining help from my recommendations.
2. If they call back, I discuss the job with them and explain that no matter
how simple the fix appears, I must calculate, detail and have them obtain
approval from the local authority. In many cases this will require more hours
than the client originally expected, however, I will be happy to provide an
approximate range of expected fee's based upon a written scope of work. If
the scope of work is exceeded, the client will be charged an hourly rate for
3. If they require a Cap, I will be conservative and bid the cap on the high
side to allow for the unforeseen extra's that they don't mention.
4. By this time, I know that they came back to me because nobody else is dumb
enough to fall for their line and they have conceded to do the project the
right way and at a fair fee. If they walk, I count my blessings that I did
not have to deal with the headache at the expense of another client.
With all of this said, I still eat a lot of work. Sometimes there is no way
to get around the repeat client who throws in something that he believes
might be done in one hour. Lately, I designed a large custom home for my
client at approximately $1.00 a square foot. This is average to high in my
area. The home was a one story, 8,0000 sq. ft. home ($8,000.00) with one area
that was a two story with the garage below grade at a slope. Rarely do we get
two story homes in my area due to the restrictions which preserve a view of
the mountains for each homesite.
However, when the job was submitted for plan check the client stated that
there was a "Gazebo" entry (no raised floor) at the front gate of the
property that needed to be designed. This was a four pendulum column design
with grade beams an a conventional framed heavy timber roof only 10 feet
square. Still, it took me a full day to design and detail and my client
argued that he should not have to pay an additional $1,000.00 for what was
shown on the grading plan but forgotten on the architectural plan.
This is the way it goes. I either absorb the cost and look closer next time
or forget about more business from this client (my largest).
I also end up eating corrections to errors that contractors make in the
field. This happens when the contractor blames the architect or engineer for
his screwup even though he did not read the plans. The owner is responsible
for this fee, but when you are building a $1.5 million home, some clients
will fight to the death to avoid paying the engineer to correct a mistake.
The owner argues with the builder and then with the engineer and ends up
threatening to sue everyone for mistakes made on the project.
Lately, the client complained about a sqeaky floor (TJI's with plywood
screwed and glued). Trus-Joist came out and resolved the squeek with a fix
that cost the owner $400.00. At the final on the job the owner asked who
authorized the framer to screw the diaphragm down. My drawings called out
glue and nails, but the contractor, framer and I discussed screwing the floor
as a better alternative to reduce squeaks. Now the owner refused to pay the
additional $350.00 to the framer for screwing the floor. Looks like he know
how to screw everyone else.
You can't win for losin'
I still make a good living doing residential work which most engineers won't
touch. Most of my clients are great - however, I've learned to weed out the
problem clients - like those with "simple and quick fixes".
The greatest line I ever received was, "The building inspector only wanted
you to check the change I made with the post. He (the inspector) didn't even
notice that I had to reduce the shearwall down to 2'-0" wide in order to get
the wider door that the owner wanted in place. Why do you care if the
building inspector is willing to accept it?"
Dennis Wish PE