Starting From a Happy Place


Architecture & Art



I was speaking with a colleague recently and remarked that a number of our projects start out with a dissatisfied, unhappy or disappointed client. It was a sad realization that we talked about how to change.

We regularly get clients that have invested time and money on a particular project only to realize that either the services they were promised by the consultant were substandard or were not all that they needed in order to move their project through the permitting and construction stages. These clients come to us already having invested time and money into a project only to find that they need the services of a registered Architect or they need something fixed by someone who understands the process better.

So, we end up starting a project from negative emotional space and it is a process of working out of that in order that the client leaves happy.

In other instances, we are approached by a client that has recently purchased a property and has been promised by their real estate agent, broker, friend or family a particular size, type, timeline, or style of a project. Regularly a client will give us the address of the property and the size and say that they were promised a build-able square footage based on the single multiplication of the Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of the zoning by the square footage of the lot. This is quite common and is seen in most real estate listings. They state that an FSR of 0.7 is available for a lot and the client buys the property based on being able to build that size of home.

What they don’t realize is that this is just one small aspect of the calculations and research that are needed in order to assess how big a project can be. Or if it can even be built at all. The FSR stated in the zoning is a blanket guideline and a hypothetical number that is not based on reality.

The actual build-able area of a project is based on a number of things such as:

Property setbacks that vary based on the type of lot, which direction it faces, the neighbours’ properties, environmental issues, easements, future city developments and lanes to name a few.

Easements on the property

Rights of way

Future road widening

The type of zone. For example, some zones have strict stipulations on the maximum area of the second floor based on the size of the main floor and how it is related to the width of the lot. Other zones include certain aspects like decks and balconies while other zones do not.

Oddly shaped lots.

Rarely, unless the lot is a very simple locked in 33′ x 120′ with nothing out of the ordinary, the actual build-able area is different from the simple calculation of the FSR multiplied by the lot area. Building zoning bylaws are a complex set of documents. There are a great deal of “ifs”, “ands”, “buts” and “ors” in the sections that all require considerable cross-referencing and a good deal of use of the calculator. But this is essential if one is to get an accurate idea of what they can build.

So, given that so many properties are bought, built upon and then sold based on the projected sell-able square footage, many clients end up disappointed and confused when we explain that their build-able is smaller than what they were promised by their real estate agent.

Other issues that arise come from a lack of understanding and research into what they bought. Many times we have had to deliver the disappointing news that their property has issues such as some of the following:

  • Heritage property on the site
  • Heritage trees on the site
  • A culvert that is technically considered a watercourse so impacts greatly on the setbacks
  • Flood risk hazards
  • Odd covenants noted in the land titles
  • Part of a designated neighbourhood that restricts certain types of projects
  • Future plans of the City in terms of the Official Community Plans (OCP)

All of the issues I have noted above can have huge impacts on the viability of a project. And all of the issues could researched prior to purchasing the property. It is a very simple case of Buyer Beware.

Luckily, we are contacted regularly by some scrupulous buyers and real estate agents to contract us to do the necessary research on a property before it is bought so that there is less of a chance of surprises and disappointed clients. It normally takes a few hours but these clients understand that the peace of mind this due diligence provides is worth the small investment.

We would love to get to a point where not only do our clients leave happy but also walk in the door happy and excited to begin the process of designing their project. Starting from a point of disappointment, distrust or even anger takes a great deal of effort to rise out of in order to achieve the ultimate goal. A big part of avoiding this situation is to invest a little bit of time and money right at the beginning in order to be fully informed and ready to start on the rest of the journey.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.