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Working With An Architect [What You Should Know]

Updated: May 17, 2022

Signing the Contract

When you decide to hire an architect, you’ll need to sign a contract. The contract will typically include the scope of the work, what services the architect will provide, the schedule for the project, how much the architect will be paid, and when. AIA has developed standard contracts that many architects use.

Check to see if the fee you’re paying includes the cost of drawing up plans, or whether you’ll have to hire a separate draftsperson. This step can account for up to half your overall design costs ($800 to $2,800). Site surveys, 3-D modeling, and other services might incur additional costs. Make sure also that you understand how design revisions will affect the architect’s fee, or whether a certain number of revisions are included.

The contract also specifies who owns the plans—typically, it’s the architect. That won’t be a concern unless you and the architect part ways before the project is completed. In that case, you’ll want to know if you have the right to modify the existing plans and complete the house on your own, or with another architect.

I’ve Signed with an Architect. What Should I Expect?

Most residential architects follow a similar path when designing or remodeling homes. The following steps are typical.

  • Preliminary design phase. This usually begins with an initial consultation to determine the client’s needs along with a site visit. From that the architect can draw up a written program (the goals of the project) and develop rough sketches to confirm the general size and layout.

  • Design development. With the client’s approval, the architect will then add details to the design, continuing to consult with the client on materials, trim and other features. Computer modeling may be used to help both architect and client guide the project as it develops. The architect may help in obtaining permits, calling in consultants and structural engineers as needed.

  • Documentation. The architect’s office will produce detailed blueprints that can be presented to building officials, and to contractors to obtain estimates for the work.

  • FINANCING TIP: Once you’ve agreed on a realistic budget, you’ll want to stick to it. This can be difficult when you come up with inspired ideas in the middle of the project. Asking for additional work from an architect or builder, however, can quickly escalate your costs. Should that happen (and it frequently does), a personal loan can be a simple—and fast—option to bridge a budget gap.

  • Securing a Contractor. Armed with complete plans, the architect can help you obtain a contractor by meeting with builders interested in the job and answering questions about the project. They may also recommend builders they’ve worked with, but ultimately, the choice is up to you.

  • Construction administration. As the project progresses, your architect should be on hand to answer questions, resolve design issues, provide additional drawings as needed, and approve payments to the contractor. The job at this point is to make sure everything goes, literally, according to plan – and to help resolve issues when they don’t.

Help your Architect Help You—and Save Money

Once you’ve signed on with an architect, there are things you can do to make sure your project turns out just as you want it to.

  • Above all, be available. Review drawings and material suggestions promptly.

  • Be decisive. If you’re having trouble with a decision, let your architect know. He or she may have information or strategies that can help break the log jam.

  • Ask questions. The better you understand the design when it’s on paper, the less likely you’ll be unpleasantly surprised at construction time.

  • Speak up if there’s an aspect of the design you don’t like. It’s much easier to enlarge a closet or move a hallway when it’s on paper than after it’s been framed.

Architects will tell you that the more engaged their client is, the better the results. Successful projects don’t just happen. Finding the right person to help you bring your vision to life is an investment in not only your property but your happiness and satisfaction occupying it.

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