A year or two ago, at the height of the recession, Alfred Wojciechowski, a principal at CBT Architects in Boston, says he would get a project from a developer that would lead to a quick feasibility diagram on a site. But it hardly ever led to anything more substantial. “When something came in, we worked on it for a year or two and then it went quiet,” Wojciechowski says. “We would do these very quick feasibility concept diagrams on a site and then it would just go quiet.”
For Wojciechowski and other architects, there weren’t many projects that came to fruition in 2009 and much of 2010. Manny Gonzalez, a principal at Irvine, Calif.–based architectural firm KTGY, says he’d do a lot of studies for developers, looking at how to maximize density in a wood frame. But the projects never panned out.
Mark Humphreys, CEO of Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects saw the same thing, though he maintains he was able to secure work for developers going through HUD’s Section 221(d)(4) program. “We’d do schematic designs for people and then they’d go out looking for financing,” Humphreys says. “We’d close their folder, stick it in a file cabinet, and go onto the next deal because we didn’t know when they’d come back.”
Instead of seeing clients disappear as they gave up their dreams of a new development or got stuck in quicksand as they sought financing, architects are now seeing their customers reappear with realistic goals of starting projects.
Wojciechowski thinks its about time. “Construction costs are hitting all-time lows,” he says. “It’s a reasonable time for people to make moves to get back in the development game.”
That’s meant that some architects can bulk up their teams again. KTGY is now seeing enough new work to hire 50 new associates. Gonzalez says local developers, REITs, national firms, and even homebuilders are fueling this multifamily growth.
“There seems to be a lot of movement and good positive things out there,” Gonzalez says. “Six months ago, things looked like they were getting better, but I was dubious about whether it was really happening or just a little blip. But it just seems to keep coming. Now the phone is ringing again, which is great.”
Humphreys has also added talent, picking up 12 new employees (and adding new regions) this year. For him, the pickup started last summer. He’s sending out contract requests for deals all cross the country, but places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, El Paso, Memphis, Tampa, New Orleans, and the Eastern Seaboard (from North Carolina to Boston) are the busiest.
“We’re seeing a higher percentage of contract requests go through, and we’re seeing them go through faster,” Humphreys says. “Within the last two or three months, we’ve seen the process go from three months on conventional financing to less than a month.”