How Do I Choose an Architect?
When choosing an architect, it’s important to look at their experience, the kind of work they do, and their services and fee structure. But one thing that most people don’t consider when selecting an architect is the X-factor, the personal connection. Designing a home is a very personal experience. Not only will you spend a great deal of time with your architect, you will also share the intimate details your life: how you eat, sleep, entertain, relax, and play. Yes, your architect needs to know those things to make sure your home is designed to help you live the way you want. So add some questions like these to your architectural selection criteria. Does he relate to me? Can he communicate? Does he listen? Does he hear what I am saying? Will I enjoy working with him?
Now where do you start? The American Institute of Architects website, http://www.aia.org/, lists the profiles of member firms in your area. This will give you a general idea of firm size and how much of their work is residential. It will also have a link to their website which is a great place to see their work, approach, and the services they offer. After you narrow it down to those that interest you, it’s time to set up an interview.
If you don’t want to search the web, you can talk to architects at a home show. Home shows are a great opportunity to investigate all kinds of construction products, contractors, and architects. You will be able to talk with different architects, see examples of their work, and discuss the fees and services they provide, all under one roof. More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to gauge the X-factor and see on a personal level if they are the right architect for you.
All architects are not the same and we don’t always offer the same services or fee structures. After you have determined that a particular architect does the quality of work and has experience in the kind of project you are planning, it is time to discuss specific fees and services. Some architects have a one-size-fits-all approach while others offer more flexibility. It’s important to understand the differences to determine the best choice for your priorities.
Hourly fees are good for small projects or a starting point if you aren’t really sure what it is you want to do. It can allow you to develop a design concept and get ball park cost estimates before you go through the entire design process. Percentage of construction cost fees can allow you to enter into a contract without determining the scope of the project in advance, but the fees are tied to actual construction cost. With this option you may not know how much you are spending on architectural fees until you get to the end of your project. Fixed fees for a specific scope of work can give you peace of mind that the fees will not go up if the process takes more time or if you select more expensive finishes.
When talking to architects about their services you should discuss your priorities and be realistic about your expectations. If you are very detail oriented and want to get multiple construction bids, more detailed services will give you the best results. If you have a good relationship with a contractor and don’t mind working out the details as you go, you can get by with less detail. It is important to know yourself and communicate your expectations to your architect before you start your project. The relationship you develop with your architect will not only be critical to the outcome of the project, but will also determine how much you enjoy the process along the way.