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The Owner's Advocate: What is the role of the consultant

May 28, 2004

NJPA Real Estate Journal

as printed in Real Estate New Jersey, May 28, 2004

To bridge the knowledge gap, the owner should hire a construction consultant. The consultant speaks the same language as the architect, contractor or design-build firm, and other construction professionals, but his loyalties are with the building owners.

One of the traditional roles of the architect is to act as the bridge between the contractor and the owner. The AIA documents make the architect one part traffic cop, one part referee, one part team leader and one part wise old scholar. In addition, the architect acts as his or her own advocate in protecting design integrity, which may be contrary to the owner's concerns for cost or function, and the contractor's desire for better or faster construction. In some jobs, these traditional roles create difficulties because the architect wears too many hats. This situation is exacerbated in design-build construction because both the project's designer and builder are single source. For owners who are not well versed in the language and methods of a construction project, who speaks for the owner?

To bridge the knowledge gap, the owner should hire a construction consultant. The consultant speaks the same language as the architect, contractor or design-build firm, and other construction professionals, but his loyalties are with the building owner. The consultant should be engaged early in the project, so the owner can utilize the consultant's services in selecting construction professionals and contractors and in reviewing plans and budgets.

Construction consultants have varied qualifications. Some have an architectural or engineering background. Others come from the contractor side of the industry. Neither credential has an advantage over the other, as long as the consultant has hands-on experience reviewing plans, budgets and the various stages of construction on construction sites. Pick the candidate with the drywall dust on his or her shoes. Reputation is, of course, very important, and a consultant who is respected by the other members of the construction team is better than one who is well liked.

The construction consultant's role is to aggressively represent the owner and to lend practical expertise to the job. The construction consultant is not concerned with design integrity, and wants the owner to receive what the owner has contracted for from the contractors. Working on behalf of the owner, the consultant can identify and address potential construction problems in the design stages and, as an independent party, may be in the best position to suggest cost saving or time saving alternatives and to evaluate suggestions made by the other parties.

Some owners find it difficult to take antagonistic positions with members of the construction team, whether the issue is design, construction method, cost of change orders or scheduling. Instead, the construction consultant can wear the "black hat" or play the "bad cop" role and aggressively deal with the contractors and professionals on the owner's behalf.


Jeffrey M. Gussoff is a member of the West Orange, NJ-based firm of Wolff & Samson PC. Gussoff, whose practice consists of a broad spectrum of real estate matters, can be reached via e-mail at jgussoff@wolffsamson.com.