How To Pick An Architect

by Steve CookAugust 24, 2016

Working With An Architect

A good architect can turn your new home into a structure that does more than house your family. He or she can make it into a work of art that makes a statement about your lifestyle, the building’s physical setting or the neighboring structures.

An architect’s role can vary. They can create the design, do the drafting, select the materials and supervise the entire work process. An architect can help you keep an informed eye on the builders and make sure the project stays on track. For other projects, the architect’s role may be limited to drafting the blueprints. If you engage an architect, you will usually end up with a better end product.

However, engaging an architect can add anywhere from 8 percent to as much as 15 or even 20 percent to the cost of the project, depending on the architect, what services you will need and the size of the home. However, a good architect can also save you money on big projects.

Using an Architect

You have alternatives to hiring an architect. You can purchase stock blueprints and use them as is. However, the architects who design stock building plans have never met you and do not know your tastes and needs, nor can they take into account the nature of your building lot or the climate in your region. You can tailor a stock plan to reflect your needs by hiring an architect or designer for a reduced cost, but the final result may seem like a compromise.

You can hire a custom builder who offers design services. Design/build firms offer start-to-finish building services and employ architects or designers as well as skilled builders and tradesmen. A design/build firm makes more sense if you have a very clear idea of what you want and also don’t feel that you need help overseeing the construction process.

Finally, you can hire a home designer rather than a licensed architect. Architects are licensed by states and must fulfill certain academic requirements, such as completing architecture school, and passing state licensing exams. Most states also require candidates to work for months, if not years, under the watchful eye of a licensed architect. Home designers, on the other hand, are not licensed and may have less education and experience. Unlicensed designers may charge somewhat less than licensed architects, though when you hire a design professional, it doesn’t cost much more to hire the one most likely to give you what you want with the fewest unpleasant surprises.

How to find the right architect

    • Get recommendations from friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Search the website of the American Institute of Architects chapter in your area. Many architects have their own websites that give you a good idea of their capabilities and design style.
    • Take a look at the finished work of each architect you are considering. Some may be too traditional for your taste; some too contemporary.
    • Ask for references, and check them out. Did the project come in on time and on budget? Was the architect easy to work with? Did he or she listen to what you wanted and communicate well when there were differences?
    • Shorten your list and meet with several finalists for at least an hour. Make sure the chemistry is good. Like your contractor, you will be working with your architect for months and living with their work for many years.
    • When you meet with them, give them a brief of the work you want done and a rough budget. Ask whether they are available to do it (the good architects are often the least available). The clearer and more precise your brief is for the architect, the less likely you are to be disappointed by the outcome.
    • Ask them directly about their fees. Different architects charge not just different amounts, but in different ways — they can charge by the hour, a flat fee (usually for smaller jobs) and as a percentage of the total build costs (usually for larger jobs); with a payment upfront (30 percent) to cover initial design work. When comparing quotes from the architect you interview, compare like for like — fees compared to level of service that will be provided.

Working with An Architect
Once you have decided on an architect, designer or build/design firm, instruct them about what you want. Be precise about the work you want them to do, timing, budget, the payment schedule and any penalties for missing them. The architect or designer should then send you a detailed appointment letter. It should include a detailed breakdown of the work, preliminary budget estimates with fees and payment schedules, and a contract setting out terms and services.

“Buildings should serve people, not the other way around,” said John Portman, the Atlanta architect who designed the Peachtree Center. When making the right design decision for your project, be sure it’s the one that will best serve you and your family.


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About The Author
Steve Cook
Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and writes for several leading Web sites, including Inman News. From 1999 to 2007 he was vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Realtors.
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