Design Professional Insights: Working with Owner Reps
It is increasingly common for owners to hire an individual or firm to act as an owner representative (OR, owner rep). The scope of services for owner reps varies widely. Some ORs simply act as a single point contact for the owner, while others do much more. They may help define the owner’s program or objectives and select the design team. They may hire the construction manager and coordinate the designers. They may be empowered to make cost decisions and schedule changes, and approve change orders. A few ORs even assist in obtaining funding for their clients.
But while the practice is increasing, so are reports from architects and engineers who have experienced difficulties on projects with owner reps. For architects and engineers (A/Es) working with owner representatives can be a positive or negative experience, depending largely on the knowledge and attitude of the OR. Several design professionals reported very positive experiences, noting that the right owner rep can bring much-needed know-how to a project. A/Es pointed out that a good owner rep can facilitate communication and help resolve issues between the owner and the design and construction team.
The most common complaint about working with owner reps is the loss of a direct line of communication with the owner. Many design professionals also object to the increased time and effort required of the design team when working with ORs as well as a tendency of the OR to second-guess design decisions. Lack of qualified people on the staff of some ORs is another concern, as well as the potential for adversarial relationships – both of which increase the likelihood of disputes.
There are some steps A/E firms can take to address many of these issues. The steps include educating owners on the risks and benefits of working with ORs; practicing careful project selection; understanding the importance of a team approach and enhanced communication and documentation; and coordinating contracts and workscopes with those of the OR.
Using information from interviews with architecture and engineering firms, XL Catlin’s Design Professional claims staff and practicing owner representatives collaborated and prepared a white paper – Working with Owner Representatives -- outlining some of the issues surrounding working with owner reps, and offering some thoughts on related risk management practices.