The high cost of low fees

This month we talked to Chris Young, SGA Principal, about low fees and getting what you pay for.

My grandfather told me “You get what you pay for.” It seems like that always came to mind when something I got a deal on didn’t last, and I’m a sucker for a “good deal.” Always shopping clearance items and bargain caves, I’ve purchased my fair share of low-cost pieces. I’ve also had my fair share of disappointment when items failed. I guess I got what I paid for.

Being in the professional services business, I have seen this same principle play out, but with much higher stakes. Competition is good. It drives innovation and efficiency. However, as long as I can remember, there has always been someone who would do it for less. Low fees are tempting to the decision makers accountable for the spend. However, there may be a reason the costs are so much lower. Is there a discrepancy in scope? Are corners getting cut? Will service be sub-par?

It’s hard to quantify the value of thorough due diligence until “unforeseen conditions” arise. It’s hard to quantify the value of obtaining timely permits until you have a GC ready to start and no permit. It’s hard to quantify the value of a well-coordinated project until you have one that isn’t. It’s hard to quantify the value of teamwork and a collaborative spirit between design and construction until you have finger pointing and accusations.

While no one is perfect, technical competence should be a baseline expectation in our profession. The real separation comes with some of the less tangible qualities of project management like foresight, collaboration, and trust. These are professional service attributes that are hard to quantify but are generally worth every penny.

If you’re going to get what you pay for, you need to ask yourself what you want. What are your realistic expectations for the long term? To get exactly what you want, it may be worth spending a little more.