Living abroad comes with a certain aura of prestige to most people in Ghana and other parts of Africa, especially if the person is in Europe or the United States of America. It is often the dream of Ghanaians living abroad to build back home. The perception however, though not lacking grounds, is that relatives or individuals given the responsibility of managing the funds sent home for such projects mismanage these funds.
Unfortunately due to this phenomenon, most clients living in the USA or Europe have the perception that consultants and contractors also, always want to take advantage of them by charging exorbitantly. Architects and other consultants on the other hand believe they charge these clients fairly but they [the clients] should be in a position to pay with less complaint since they are abroad earning foreign currency. This potentially leads to a situation whereby negotiations between the client and consultant become a drag mostly resulting in one party not satisfied. If the client is the unsatisfied party, it makes it difficult for him/her to totally have trust in the consultant in terms of any financially related matters.
Some clients will go to the extent of having a dedicated family member or representative who will be ‘policing’ every movement or action of the architect or consultant. Although some clients living abroad might appreciate the professionalism of architects, those [clients] in the former category make it difficult not to generalize this phenomenon. Below are some experiences shared by architects from their dealings with clients abroad:
Architect 1: “I was supposed to do only 3D visualization for this client but realised the design had inadequate natural ventilation. I pointed that out to him and was told to leave it not knowing he had seen it done in Dubai so he wants the same design. I further tried to convince him that even if he uses air conditioners and extractors, the energy demands alone will not be sustainable especially in Ghana even with a backup generator. After all efforts to convince him failed, I gave up and carried out the visualization work for him because after all I have not been to Dubai so he does not see the need to listen to me I guess.”
Architect 2: “My clients in this regard live in the UK and they are knowledgeable because they knew what they wanted unlike some clients. They involved their family members who also had insights into construction. It was a good experience since I had a great working relationship which was made possible by the fact that they were informed and understood most of the issues without cause to doubt me. We still keep in touch and they even bought me gifts on one of their visits to Ghana.”
Architect 3: “All clients are annoying, clients abroad are the worse; they are the ones that will tell you to design a house for them exactly like a particular one in California but will end up not wanting to pay you.”
Architect 4: “I worked with a client who lives in Norway. He was not difficult because after his brief, we agreed on a 60% deposit and 40% balance payment plan. I had to show a bit of commitment of my part since I do not have a big reputation yet. A sketch design was sent for him to be sure of the spaces and when he was okay with it, I proceeded to complete the sketch design. After which I received the 60% of the fees charged. Working drawings followed which was completed, printed and stamped for him to pick it up upon his return to Ghana since he was already planning on coming around that time. The 40% balance was received upon his arrival and we have continued to work on other projects together and we still keep in touch.”
Architect 5: “The client lives in Japan and we started on a good note with an initial payment of 40% of fees received with less hassle. Subsequent payments have stalled over some months; although he likes the design and wants to pursue it. It does get annoying sometimes because in this case all drawings are ready and he is yet to fulfill his part in completing final payment for the completed drawings.”
Architect 6: “My case has been with a client who lives in London. I am supervising the construction of a design I did for him. The annoying thing is that he expects me to be on the site almost every day and all the time, to the extent that I get a phone call from him whenever his brother goes to the site in my absence. It gets irritating because architects do not live by one project alone.”
These are few of some experiences from architects and from our interactions, it is the duty of the architect or consultant to convince or educate the client why the services being provided are worth the fees charged. If possible, provide a breakdown of the various components that make up the complete charge; and if this is convincingly done it should bridge the gap of mistrust clients might have concerning fees. Should a client not get convinced, the architect can choose to walk off the project if he/she feels the client’s fee proposal is not worth the time and value. If the architect proceeds with the client’s proposed fee, he/she has no option than to deliver to the best of his/her abilities.
To end this, it has become obvious that clients become easy to deal with once they are informed about the processes and procedures involved in pre-contract and post-contract services of an architect. The onus lie on the architect once again to take the time to educate his/her clients to make them informed so they become easier to work with.