Residential Drafting/Design business


jmyers
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Is there enough residential new home construction and remodeling work in Indiana/Midwest for a one person residential drafting/design business to earn $80k+ per year after being in business a few years?  The assumption should be made that the individual is good at what they do and is willing to put in the time and effort to be successful.  If not, what could someone expect to earn with these assumptions and the current residential construction industry economy?

 

I have a very extensive construction management background. Due to some unfortunate unforeseen events, I may need to make a professional change. 

 

Thanks to all who respond!

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Depends on where you are working in Indiana. I do more work from out of state than I do here to be honest. There are a great many local building department here in the great state of Indiana that do not require home plans in order to pull permits. Heck, my local building department has stopped even requiring commercial projects to get a State Design Release before allowing them to do work. In the past, the local building department required plans for commercial, but now...nope. New pet shop, 2 new pub/eateries, and an updated set of office suites have been completed in the downtown portion of where I live. No drawings, no permits = NO INCOME. 

 

Residential, and especially remodeling, forget about it. Napkin sketches, or some scribbles on graph paper from a "contractor" and all 7 of the building departments within an hour of me will give you a permit. Indianapolis and Hamilton county are the only jurisdictions that require drawings to get permits.

 

I now teach full time, but have my office open to do a project now and then when it comes along. I also do some teaching for the NAHB. Do I think you can make $80K? If you are in Marion County, Lake County, or Allen County maybe. Anywhere else, not without some connections from outside the state.

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13 minutes ago, joey_martin said:

...... No drawings, no permits = NO INCOME. 

 

......

 

 

How ironic,  we in Cali complain about the hassles we go through to secure a permit,  but Joey is spot on.....  the hassles create income for us.

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34 minutes ago, dshall said:

 

 

How ironic,  we in Cali complain about the hassles we go through to secure a permit,  but Joey is spot on.....  the hassles create income for us.

Legislation creates opportunity. Makes one appreciate every time the code gets a bit more complicated.

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6 minutes ago, robdyck said:

 

Legislation creates opportunity. Makes one appreciate every time the code gets a bit more complicated.

As a builder and land developer I don’t like this sentiment.  Canada is the champion in over legislation and an invasive environmental department. I always envied the general American sentiment of smaller government and less legislation. 

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16 minutes ago, Michael_Gia said:

As a builder and land developer I don’t like this sentiment.  Canada is the champion in over legislation and an invasive environmental department. I always envied the general American sentiment of smaller government and less legislation. 

I find it hard to believe that  Canada is more invasive than California., I really don't think so ,.but I have never drawn a job in Canada ,and if so I would never want to..

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18 minutes ago, Michael_Gia said:

As a builder and land developer I don’t like this sentiment.  Canada is the champion in over legislation and an invasive environmental department. I always envied the general American sentiment of smaller government and less legislation. 

I absolutely agree with you. It was a statement related only to how I earn a living, nothing philosophical or political.

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I live in Hamilton County, IN.  It is dominated now by Production Builders...who have their own plans and subdivisions and money to lend to prospective buyers.  

 

Custom home building still exists but only in the 850K and above market.  The most successful  subdivision near where I live has been a place called "Chatham Hills"(https://chathamhills.com/).  Most of the homes are custom built for owners...there is some spec building but not much.  There has been at least 150 homes built in this subdivision in the past 3.5 years...all custom.  So...there is some work if you can get in the loop with a builder or two.  

 

Making 80K could take some time.  I think you could charge between 7-10K for a design and plans for a typical house in Chatham Hills. A friend of mine built his own home in Zionsville and the designer he used charged him 10K.  His house was about 7,000 sf....but the design was so basic it was almost laughable. For the plans and design he received I'd say he got taken...but, it's all in the eye of the beholder.  

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6 hours ago, joey_martin said:

Residential, and especially remodeling, forget about it. Napkin sketches, or some scribbles on graph paper from a "contractor" and all 7 of the building departments within an hour of me will give you a permit. Indianapolis and Hamilton county are the only jurisdictions that require drawings to get permits.

Even if drawings are not required for permits, good design is needed and should be valuable to clients. Perhaps market and sell design solutions with 3d visualization. Also, construction documents for remodels and custom home design help convey what is to be built so builders can provide clients with more accurate pricing and be included with the contract. Potential clients and builders may need to be educated and shown the value in having professional designed solutions. It's not always about just what's needed for permits.  

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14 minutes ago, DianneDSC said:

Even if drawings are not required for permits, good design is needed and should be valuable to clients. Perhaps market and sell design solutions with 3d visualization. Also, construction documents for remodels and custom home design help convey what is to be built so builders can provide clients with more accurate pricing and be included with the contract. Potential clients and builders may need to be educated and shown the value in having professional designed solutions. It's not always about just what's needed for permits.  

 

I agree with you but if its not required by the city only people with deep pockets will pay the high cost for a designer or Architect. You have to advertise it the right area's. 

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@DianneDSC you are preaching to the choir. After 20 years, 2 national awards, many great projects in my portfolio, there simply is zero interest or respect for the profession if the people that homeowners turn to don't show respect. Local builders and building officials will not "inconvenience" (their words not mine) prospective clients by needing to spend money for an architect or designer. I have set up booths in spring home and garden shows, been featured in magazines, heck, I even have some of my work used in a college of architecture text book!! All of this interests no one in my area. 

 

I love teaching and working with kids. I also love(d) traveling for the NAHB and teaching classes for them, but I would much rather have a thriving design office. I simply could not afford to be ignored and still provide for my family. When the new local building official stopped requiring plans and State permits for commercial jobs, I was doomed. We could have moved down to Indianapolis, or up closer to Chicago and I would have had more opportunities, but we simply love the small, close knit community we live in.  

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9 hours ago, robdyck said:

British Columbia is probably pretty close to California type requirements. Alberta is 10 years behind BC.

 

Vancouver, BC (which has their own, separate building code above and beyond the BC building code) is by far the worst... especially if it’s on a conditional lot. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If the local authority doesn't require plans, or there is no local authority, builders will simply build from the designs their clients find online, with changes. One county over from me, there is no building dept at all. You can build anything you wish. If good design is needed, the homeowner will just rely on the online pictures and the skill of the builder to make it look right, and to be livable and safe. It's a rural area and you live or die by your reputation out here. Good builders will thrive without 30-page plan sets.

 

As a design/build custom home builder, none of that matters to me. I connect with clients who want what I provide, and I go far beyond what my local authority requires, in order to impress and serve my client, and because I enjoy it. But I make my living building the house.

 

I sometimes dream of designing full time but why not also build the house? I'm a one-stop-shop for custom home clients from design to vacant ground to hands-on construction, and they really appreciate that. I rarely charge a separate fee for design work. There are a few full-time designers around here but their plan sets are not much more than stick drawings on graph paper, which is all the county requires. Considering the local requirements I wouldn't want to have to rely on design only for my livelihood.

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There has and always will be differences in permit requirements and oversite due to regional economic and demographic variances. High density urban areas require far more oversite than low density rural  areas. A significant concern in the code is not just related to the homeowners safety but also the safety of others. In high density urban areas should your tar paper shack home catch on fire it could also burn down your neighbors home. We all know from history that many cities have had disastrous fires that spread for block after block.

 

There is also the economic issues where areas of low prosperity will relax requirements in order to attract development. This can also be applicable in low income rural areas where the additional cost is considered an unnecessary financial burden.

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It is interesting hearing about different peoples opinions and from different areas of the country.

If you really want to make the money in Architecture and/or Design (I say design because that is what unlicensed people call themselves) California is the place to be but as always California go's to the extreme with regulations and the homeowners pay for it. The cost for plans and permits and all the other red tape I find to be about 10 to 20% of the building cost. To me that is crazy! Before you would even begin a $100,000.00 job it will cost the homeowner 10 to 20k. I can handle 10% but anything more then that seems to be a total waist of money.

Example of waist of money:

The latest in the wonderful world of Whittier, CA is that before you can submit a plan to the building department for a room addition they make you pay a sewer camera guy to inspect your sewer line from the house out to the city lateral. The camera average cost is about 500.00 and the city charges you $280.00 for them to sit and watch the 10 minute long video of your sewer line. If they find damage to the line you have to fix it before you can submit plans to the building department for the work you want to do. Sewer line replacement or sewer liner cost start out at about 6k and go up from there. The job I am currently doing is 8k. And if the lateral out in the street (city property!) is damaged the homeowner pays for it and not the city!

It gets worse:

A contractor has to have a special license to work in the city street where the lateral is located and so there is another 6 to 20k depending on how far and how deep.

 

If you decide to go with a liner thru the pipe its easier but more expensive unless you are doing it out to the lateral and that is were you save the money. But!, If a plumber ever comes out and jets that line in the future or runs a snake through it you can damage the liner.

The inspection of your sewer line may not be a waist of money but the city fee of 280.00 is!

 

Not only the Architects and designers can prosper from all this, the contractors can also if they play their cards right. General contractors can have their hand in all of it

Ethical? You decide!

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25 minutes ago, builtright3 said:

Not only the Architects and designers can prosper from all this, the contractors can also if they play their cards right. General contractors can have their hand in all of it

Ethical? You decide!

 

Prosper?  Maybe...if there is any work.

 

The entire process discourages people from doing anything to improve their homes. Who's going to add a room if the total cost for that room exceeds the value of the home when the work is completed. How can people get lending institutions to loan them money...is there really any equity?  We've been down this path before...remember 2008?  

 

California is one crazy place...but, the weather is sure nice.    

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6 minutes ago, Ridge_Runner said:

Until the place goes up in flames and the mudslides start!

Or you can live in the fire safe areas along with the "Brown Cloud" (smog). LOL

As much as I don't like the congestion of CA I love the weather and resources are unlimited!

Mountains, lakes, oceans, deserts…. All close traveling distance

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2 hours ago, SNestor said:

Prosper?  Maybe...if there is any work.

 

The entire process discourages people from doing anything to improve their homes. Who's going to add a room if the total cost for that room exceeds the value of the home when the work is completed. How can people get lending institutions to loan them money...is there really any equity?  We've been down this path before...remember 2008?  

There's the rub. On the one hand, more regulations weed out some competition. On the other hand, whenever costs go up, the amount of development goes down. Where I live, there's been no real housing market since 2008. The rich still build of course, but entry level and move-up housing development is virtually nil. And when developers' costs increase they invariably push back against the one negotiable item...labor. 

So while some may benefit from increased rules and regulation, it's probably safe to say that most lose. I'd rather spend more of my time designing instead of reading, interpreting, discussing (with officials) and then explaining (to clients) the constantly changing codes. 

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On 2/8/2019 at 10:26 PM, joey_martin said:

@DianneDSC you are preaching to the choir. After 20 years, 2 national awards, many great projects in my portfolio, there simply is zero interest or respect for the profession if the people that homeowners turn to don't show respect. Local builders and building officials will not "inconvenience" (their words not mine) prospective clients by needing to spend money for an architect or designer. I have set up booths in spring home and garden shows, been featured in magazines, heck, I even have some of my work used in a college of architecture text book!! All of this interests no one in my area. 

Joey, since using Chief and seeing your work, I've admired what you do. It is so unfortunate that builders in your area, as well as many areas around the country, do not understand the value we can provide for them and their clients. Working in Tennessee, there are many rural areas that do not require drawings for permits, nor do much, if any, site inspections. I'm fortunate to be in Nashville, so most of our work is in this and surrounding counties. We have provided home design and construction plans for rural areas though, even if not required for permits. It's usually the clients seeking our services because of unique site considerations or not finding stock plans that fit their needs. We've had some builders in rural areas refer their clients to use as well. They understand that if they do not have a clear understanding of what a client wants, it's hard to give them a price and negotiate a contract with them. I know that this is not the normal thinking for builders in rural areas.

 

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Dianne makes a very good point. If you see your primary value as just "to get a permit" or (as many Architects unfortunately see their own value) "to provide good design," then you have a very tough sales job, because these values are not necessarily held in very high esteem, except by a very few.

 

On the other hand, if you see your value as making the contractor's life a whole lot easier in documenting the client's expectations so that construction can proceed smoothly, creating a set of CONTRACT documents that don't have a lot of loopholes (less liability for both parties), or maybe even making takeoffs a lot easier so contractors can get out more bids, then you start having dollar signs attached to your value. It may require massive education, though.

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