If you are hiring an architect to build your home and haven't been through the process before, you may find the learning curve a bit higher than you expected. Here are eight things residential architects wished their clients knew from the start to avoid confusion and to help their projects go more smoothly.
1. Understand why you hire an architect in the first place.
When you build or remodel a home, you don't have to use an architect. You have the option of using plans for purchase and hiring a builder or general contractor to oversee the project. However, if you want a unique design or have special needs, such as historic preservation, an architect is the way to go.
2. The architect is the expert.
You may want a living room that is surrounded by a shark tank or a bedroom that connects by a zip line to your master bathroom. But if your architect says it can't be done, their opinion trumps yours, no matter how cool or unusual your ideas.
Architects study for years and have the benefit of experience in the field. They want to accommodate their clients' wishes, but if structurally, legally, or financially they can't accomplish what you want, you will have to look for other options.
3. Expect red tape, paperwork, and delays.
Building and remodeling takes time and often, a great deal of paperwork. You may need to obtain building rights or get a permit from the local historical society. Other professionals need to be involved (see below). Expect there to be normal delays along the way with ordering materials, making changes, and dealing with weather.
4. Other professionals will be part of the process.
Your architect will hire other people to be part of your construction project including potentially
- energy experts
- landscape architects
- interior designers
These folks are just as expert at what they do as your architect, so do your best to respect their opinions and work as a team, with your architect as the liaison.
5. Agree on the budget and fees up front.
You should have a budget in mind for your project, and make that clear to your architect. Your project will start with a schematic phase, then transition into design, blueprints, and construction. As you move into each new phase, it becomes harder and harder to make changes and stay within your original financial framework, so try to make any changes during the earliest stages.
Architects generally charge either hourly (with a cap, if necessary) or as a percentage of the total project cost. Make sure you are in agreement about fees up front and when payments will be due. Expect to pay a higher percentage for renovation projects versus new construction; renovations are typically more difficult because of unforeseen challenges once the work is in progress.
6. Be familiar with the architect's work.
Your architect wants you to be familiar with their work, not just have chosen them randomly from the phone directory. Most top residential architects have a personal style or niche, so it pays to ask around and get word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, neighbors, realtors, or contractors. You don't want to hire an expert in ultra modern design for your Victorian town house.
7. The architect owns the plans.
Unless you stipulate otherwise in advance, your architect owns the plans to your project. This means that they can use the same design elsewhere, although most would choose not to. If you decide to change architects midway through, however, you may have to start from scratch.
8. The architect isn't necessarily responsible for errors or changes.
Architects make all reasonable efforts to do things properly and as you envision. Usually, when a situation arises due to an unpredictable situation or miscalculation, a change order is issued, and the cost, if any, is shared between the home owner, the architect, and the contractors. If a construction error takes place, the contractor is considered at fault, not the architect.
Most people find working with a residential architect a pleasant and even exciting experience. Go into your project knowing what your architect expects, and your project will go that much more easily.