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Three Key Questions for Qualifying Owner Representation in Construction Projects

Plenty of projects in our area have had Owner Reps—or people claiming to be—crawling out of the woodwork with the promise to represent owners at every stage of the project (design through construction). Until now, there have been no baseline qualifications to even dictate who can call themselves an Owner Rep—and who shouldn’t at all. I have been working actively to change that, but in the meantime, it’s critical you protect yourself. I’ve been in this industry long enough to know what you need to watch out for when seeking owner representation, and I want to share that with you now.

Before you start your next project, be informed. The first and most important litmus test you can give anyone you’re considering for an Owner Rep role on any construction project is simple: They must be completely independent and distinctly able to protect you from the rest of the industry. Believe me when I say “you need Owner Representation” – the process is extremely complicated! Ask these questions to make sure you’ve found an Owner Rep who can truly put your interests first.

1. Does Your Owner Rep Have the Necessary Experience?

Just because an Owner Rep truly does operate independently from any design or construction firm, that doesn’t mean they’re prepared to represent you at every stage of your project. Each construction project has multiple facets (design through construction). You need an Owner Rep who can clearly illustrate deliverables at every phase of the Project Delivery Process. A qualified Owner Rep should have no less than five years of practical experience with every discipline. I know what you’re thinking: “How can they have experience in every aspect of the Project Delivery Process?” It is rare, but it is out there.

2. Can Your Owner Rep Manage Industry Relationships?

If your Owner Rep is truly there to serve your needs and has the skills to back it up, they also need to facilitate critical conversations with professionals and report their findings confidently. The job of the Owner Rep is to put everything under intense scrutiny, but this is an industry that thrives on inside deals and close relationships. The Owner and taxpayer pay significant cost and quality premiums for these relationships and deals. A qualified Owner Rep will be able to clearly illustrate, by example and naming names, past project deliverables where transparency and accountability resulted in value received.

I’ve been doing this successfully for 20 years now. There is a formula for creating a level playing field, holding professionals accountable and being respected. There are three winners in the Owner Rep business: The Owner, the Designer and the Contractor. The formula is a delicate balance of power and, for me at least, there are few casualties. This is to say, all things considered fair and equal, the professionals you are working with should want to work with you again. An important byproduct of this formula is value that is received by the Owner and taxpayer within a budget that many times has been predetermined.

3. Will Your Owner Rep Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

By now, you might be thinking: Right! This sort of perspective is critical for any project. But how much is this going to cost me? The short answer: We are already in your budget. I have logged 20 years of Owner Rep services delivered not as an additional expense but as an expense that is already in the budget. In the design and construction industry, a qualified Owner Rep will earn their fee under the established budget, not as an add-on cost.

A qualified Owner Rep should offer you justification for the representation made that they’re in your budget. Ask for justification from past jobs, specifically when it comes to their delivered value. Ask past clients about their job performance. Construction projects are a significant investment, so it’s worth all the time it takes to make sure you have a qualified Owner Rep.

Also, keep in mind that the presence of an Owner Rep shouldn’t disrupt the project process. Your Owner Rep should have the ability to work with any professional already selected and without disrupting your budget. At the end of the day, if they are qualified to do the work, the formula that includes transparency and accountability will prove itself out.

To an outsider, construction might seem like a simple thing; someone wants to build something, so they hire people who know how to build and, voila! A new project appears. But the reality is anything but simple. Like an attorney in a trial, the Owner Rep fills a vital role for anyone undertaking a project. Just as you wouldn’t want to represent yourself in a legal hearing, your top priority in kicking off a new project should be to find representation with the experience and the skills you can count on—and an extensive database proving their track record. For your sake, for the sake of the taxpayers who may be financing your project, and for the sake of everybody who will enjoy your project for years to come, find qualified representation so you know what you are getting into.

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