Do I even need an architect?
If you’re building from the ground up, a process that can take at least 12 to 18 months, an architect is essential. As stated in the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) online resource Architects and the Public, "most building projects require design and construction documents, assistance in securing a contractor, and evaluation of the progress and quality of construction." Also consider that an architect has probably spent as much time thinking about how a home might look (not to mention how it should function) as you’ve spent sleeping.
Okay, so I need an architect. How much is this going to cost?
The cost depends on your project budget, the firm, their method of billing, and on the services the architect will perform. There are many different methods of bill-ing, but the standard is 15 to 25 percent of the total cost of the project (rates will fluctuate depending on the budget). Other methods of billing, such as hourly, square-foot basis, flat sum, etc., should be in the same range.
How do I know what services I will require? I don’t want to pay for what I don’t need.
Most projects require five key services: sche-matic design, design development, contract documentation, bidding and negotiating, and construction administration. You can add additional services or request only one or more of the above—it is entirely up to you and your architect. For a nominal fee, you can purchase from a local AIA chapter several intimidating but useful documents that will guide your understanding of over 80 possible architectural services. Two of these documents are of particular significance: B141, which will help set parameters in the discussion with your architect, and B163, which will help you reach an agreement on which services will be performed. The entire B-series of architect-owner agreement forms is worth reviewing (synopses are available at www.aia.org).
Sounds reasonable, but how do I find the right architect for me?
Plan on interviewing four to six architects. Feel free to ask as many questions as necessary to make you feel comfortable. As in any long-term relationship, trust is critical. Ask to see their entire portfolio, paying particular attention to projects similar in scope to yours. Be sure to ask for references. The most important thing to bring to the table is a solid grasp of what you want, what you need, and what you can afford. Be sure to clearly articulate each of the above. If you do, the right architect should be able to establish a design program that will help you understand the process, and the work ahead.
What if I’m not pleased with the design?
Speak up. It’s important to establish the number of design revisions expected and the time that will be given to review submissions prior to the outset of the project. This should help keep things on schedule and on budget. Make sure that any questions you have are cleared up prior to construction—changes made later account for a majority of budget and schedule overruns. This shouldn’t be a problem if you clearly articulate what you want. Also, most contracts can be canceled at anytime. While starting over can be costly, it’s better than ending up with something you’re not happy with. Good luck!