In July 2017, I spoke with John Wolters and Cady Chintis of Architect & Developer WC Studio in Tacoma, WA. See more information about DDG at their website.
John Wolters: What we look for are the properties that typical developers and builders are bypassing. We look for properties that prove to be somewhat difficult or require cooperation with neighbors through easements or restrictions on development. They might have something in place that makes it really difficult to put a building on.
Since we finance the projects ourselves, we often have to pursue the smaller lots and figure out how to creatively build something on it. We pick up small lots for under $100,000 and then design the building and go through permitting. We manage the construction ourselves. We hire the sub-contractors, and we hire all the required help. Sometimes we end up doing some sub-contracted work ourselves. Then when the project is complete, we continue to own the property
and rent it out to tennants.
We’ve developed two projects so far here in Tacoma, Washington. The second is just starting construction. Each has four residential units. We own the buildings and rent out the apartments. In some ways, it is a retirement plan for us.
James Petty: Originally you guys were doing traditional architecture through commissions. Are you still doing that while developing your own work?
JW: Since we don’t have income generating right away with the development projects,
we have a healthy client list that we continue to work with to pay the bills until we can get three or four of these projects up. That is always the challenge, to be able to manage the design and developments of your own work while at the same time taking care of clients. There are a lot of working evenings and weekends. Our goal is to eventually only develop our own projects.
JP: Are you guys building these projects yourself as an Architect-Led Design-Build (ALDB) business structure? What led you guys to that?
JW: Yes. We felt like we could add a lot just by being on site. We could learn a lot. We could design better buildings because we knew how to build.
JP: When you are building a project, do you work on one at a time? Is this the pace you prefer to work at?
JW: Yes. Since we are a two-person office, if one of us is out of the office on the job site, fifty-percent of our workforce is gone. In terms of workload, it is really not possible to take on more than one at a time. Even then, it is really a stress on the office to try and keep up with the office work.
If we design and build for ourselves, we don’t have to be licensed or bonded as a general contractor. If you build for somebody else, that is when you need to be bonded and licensed. If you build for yourself, you can build anything: a house or a multifamily building without actually having to be a general contractor. The license and bonds are there to protect the people that you are working for.
Cady Chintis: It is a little bit hard to experiment when someone else is financially
responsible. It is difficult to convince them to go along with something new. We are learning as we go and we want to push boundaries. It is a little bit easier when it is just our money in the process versus representing someone else.
For more on WC Studio, see upcoming book Architect & Developer: A Guide to Self-Initiating Projects.