In the 17 years since architect Fred Walovich opened his firm, Walovich Architects Group, his chosen specialty - construction litigation - has changed dramatically.
"The industry has gotten a lot more civilized. The insurance industry has radically changed how they write policies for general contractors and developers, and that has eliminated a great deal of confrontation," he says. "It really changed the nature of the business. It used to be the wild, wild west!"
Given the nature of their specialty, it is easy to understand how emotions could run high. Clients such as individual homeowners and homeowner associations having problems are defending their very homes, while developer and contractor clients are defending their professional reputations. The fact that Walovich and his firm have clients on both sides of the construction equation is an indication of their professional approach, where no conclusions are drawn until an investigation is complete.
"There is definitely an element of detective work in this industry. It's really a fascinating process," Walovich says. "The basic stages are discovery and site investigation into the alleged defects, construction expert exchange of information of information and findings, mediation, and when all else fails, a jury trial."
The initial contact from a new client usually comes through an attorney. "A law firm, on behalf of a client, retains the firm for our professional architectural and construction services. Our client may be a condominium homeowner's association or a project developer or general contractor," he says. "We listen to the client's complaint and investigate the validity of the claim, possibly building subsidence, structural or water damage from window or roof leaks. It is of critical importance that the parties engaged in the dispute have an accurate idea of what's wrong, how to repair the defect, and who is responsible to correct those deficiencies. The detective side of things come in to play with destructive testing, which is necessary to determine the cause, the extent of the damage and the best way to repair the defects. In practice, that means we get to cut open walls and roofs, dismantle windows, and remove/replace siding and stucco."
Walovich began his career as a draftsman in a small firm in Visalia before earning his degree in architecture at Cal Poly in 1980. While he had chosen the field for his career, the area that became his specialty was still unknown to him.
"It was pure chance that I started working in the [construction litigation] industry. I was working for an architect designing churches in Ventura during the 1990's. When the economy tanked, everyone closed up shop - everyone including my boss," he recalls. "My wife and I were lucky enough to have friends and family in Pleasanton, so when my friend in the roofing business referred me to a general contractor in the area, I jumped at the opportunity. This general contractor, Tom Anderson, was one of the founding fathers of construction litigation consulting in Northern California and he was looking for an architect to head up an office for him in the Bay Area. For my interview, I met him at a house in San Mateo where he handed me a set of drawings and we conducted my first site investigation to find out what was wrong with the house. And that started it."
In addition to construction litigation support, Walovich Architects Group offers a variety of other services which help ensure quality building, including architectural design and construction management, waterproof consulting, and both ADA and California Building Code compliance reviews.
The firm currently includes a diverse team of architects, planners, engineers, construction managers, and contractors which allow Walovich Architects Group to provide in-house expertise for any type of construction investigation and reconstruction project. Visit www.walovicharchitectsgroup.com for more information.
Also in this issue...