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Hiring an Architect: Everything You Need to Know Before Taking the Plunge

Hiring an architect doesn't have to be difficult or confusing.


[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Jun 12, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni
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When you set out to hire a reputable architect, it's not uncommon to feel apprehensive. After all, hiring an architect is a huge commitment of both time and money. It only makes sense to want to get it right. With that in mind, we've laid out an overview of what you need to know before hiring one of these professionals. Read it over so you can go into the hiring process prepared.

What is an architect's role in the building process?

The easiest way to explain an architect's role in a residential project is to describe them as the home designer. However, truth be told, there's no singular way to define how an architect contributes to the building process. Rather they will likely take on a variety of responsibilities over the course of each project.

With that said, here's an overview of some of the job duties that architects regularly perform:

Drafting the house plans

Drafting house plans is a key component of building a custom home. After all, these construction documents are blueprints. They serve as the road map for the entire project.

As the draftsperson, a good architect will be able to listen to your goals for your new home and help you get them on paper. They will also be able to assist you in brainstorming solutions to any problems that crop up and answer any questions you may have about the process.

Hiring the builder and general contractor

Building a new home takes cooperation from a team of qualified professionals. Some of the most important members of that team are the builder and general contractors. The contractor is the one in charge of taking the plan you create with the architect and using it to actually build the home.

To that end, it makes sense that many architects play a pivotal role in hiring the contractor. Your architect may help you conduct interviews or collect bids. They will probably even be able to make a few recommendations.

Overseeing the project

Though your architect will likely have the most involvement in the design phase of the project, they may also agree to check in on the work during each phase of construction. This will allow them to ensure that the home plan they created is being implemented correctly by the builder and any subcontractors.

Reasons you may need an architect for your renovation

Besides going over an architect's specific job duties, it can be helpful to take a look at the reasons it may benefit you to bring an architect on to your team for your renovation. To that end, below is a list of the ways that hiring an architect to work on your home can make the process easier.

They can help you avoid errors

There's no denying that when you're building a new home, errors can cost you an enormous amount of time and money to fix. However, when an architect provides a set of highly detailed and accurate house plans before the building process even starts, it significantly reduces the chances that you'll have to deal with any construction errors.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

They can help you problem-solve

Sometimes tricky questions can pop up during the design process. When that happens, a licensed architect is there to be the problem-solver. It's their job to come up with creative solutions to architectural design issues so that you end up with a home that suits your needs.

They can save (or even make) you money

Well-designed buildings are more efficient than buildings that are less carefully planned out, especially if you make the effort to invest in sustainable design. When a building functions efficiently, it often leads to less money being spent on bills on a month-to-month basis.

Not only that, but when it's time to sell, having a well-designed house can lead to higher resale values, with more money being put back into your pocket.

How to find the right architect for your project

Now that you have an idea of the services a registered architect can provide and why it may benefit you to use one, the next step is to learn how to go about finding one to work on your building project. Follow the steps below to ensure that you end up hiring the right architect for the job.

Do your research

The first step is to build a list of architects in your area. In many cases, it's better to go with a local architect because there's a good chance that they will be familiar with local building codes and permit requirements.

To do this, start by asking around. A referral from a friend or family member can go a long way toward you having confidence in the quality of their work. If that's not possible, consider checking out your local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

No matter where you get your list of names, be sure to do your own research into each one. Read online reviews about their work, and if you can, view samples from their portfolio. Use the information you find to build a shortlist of possible candidates.

Conduct interviews

Once you have a few options in mind, take the time to interview each prospective architect individually. Ideally, the interview will feel like a conversation where you tell them a little bit about your goals for the project, and you'll also have the opportunity to ask questions about their design style and relevant experience.

One thing to bear in mind is that some architectural design firms do charge a fee for initial consultations. While it's up to you to determine if you're open to paying for this service, be sure to clarify whether there's a fee before putting anyone on your schedule so you're prepared.

Ask the right questions

The questions you ask during each interview are important. After all, they're what will give you the most insight into whether a potential architect will be the right fit for you. Understandably, some unique questions will likely crop up during the course of each architect's sales pitch, but here's a list of a few questions to get you started:

  1. How busy is the firm? Does the prospective architect have the capacity to take on your project?
  2. How interested is the architect in your building project?
  3. Have they completed similar projects before? Where can you go to view a sample of their work?
  4. What are the steps to the design process?
  5. How often will you be meeting throughout the process? How can you get in touch if you have questions?
  6. How long does the potential architect think the project will take, including the design and construction process?
  7. How involved are they in the construction process?
  8. What do they envision for project cost?
  9. How does the architect's compensation work? Do they charge by the hour or by square foot?
  10. How do they handle fees when changes are made to the scope of the work?
  11. Do they have a network of contacts they can recommend, like an interior designer or engineer?
  12. Can they provide you with references?

Go with your gut

After you've checked with any references, it's time to make your final decision. This is one situation where it's best to go with your gut. Ultimately, it makes sense to go with the person you felt you had the best chemistry with, who was able to best answer your questions, and who you feel best matches up with your vision for the entire project.

The bottom line

Hiring an architect is a huge decision. After all, it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a custom home. You'll want to hire someone you know is capable of handling the job. With that in mind, use the tips above to help make your hiring decision a little easier. Armed with this knowledge, you should feel confident in your ability to find the right architect for the job.

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