Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Architect
July 1, 2019
How does your fee structure work?
In plain English: how will I be charged for your work?
There are 3 main fees architects use:
- Hourly (sometimes referred to as “time and materials”): architect charges by hour, plus billed material at an agreed upon rate.
- Fixed fee: architect will give you a flat cost for the entire project.
- Percentage of construction cost: example – contractor will charge X% of construction cost
Some architects will charge differently through each stage of the project. For example: designing the project (size, scope, plans) will be billed at an hourly rate, but once construction begins on site, they’ll charge a percentage of the construction cost or a fixed fee for total project.
What role do you play in the sourcing and purchasing of finishes, fixtures, and additional items?
Sometimes the architect has a team that will handle the sourcing of everything from the materials to build the foundation to the chandelier that hangs from the ceiling, but often, they only handle structural components. It’s important to understand how far into the project the architect goes, so that you can determine if you need to hire additional designers – such as interior designers or landscape architects – or take some parts of the projects on yourself.
What responsibilities do you handle – and what do you expect me to handle or hire someone else to handle?
This goes hand in hand with question #2 and will allow for clarification for additional items throughout the process.
Do you work with one general contractor, or do you provide options? Will you work with a general contractor that I provide if I have a preference?
You may already have a GC in mind for your project and solely need an architect for design and planning, or you may want to “shop around” for a GC without committing to one. Or, of course, you may just want the architect to handle it all, without your input. Remember, these questions aren’t just for your architect – they’re also to help you get a crystal clear view of what’s happening on your project!
Are your projects typically completed on budget, and if not, how much do they stray, on average?
Think about this: the architect is generally 15-20% of the project’s cost, and it’s a good idea to always have about 10-15% of “wiggle room” for any additional issues you may encounter. But, if an architect can’t prove that he/she consistently stays on budget without going past said wiggle room, or without advising you prior that your budget may require an increase to meet your goals, you may want to consider the firm’s practices; if they are experienced in the craft, why is it that he/she can’t plan according to the restrictions of the project at hand?
Who will design my project and have actual hands on my project? AND who will I be dealing with on a regular basis from the architect firm? Is this the same person who will design my project?
Oftentimes you may meet with an architect who ends up leaving all the work to another team member, an intern, or maybe even a subcontracted client. You want to be sure that the person whose portfolio/work you are seeing is the one that will truly be on your project, and that you always have clear communication with that person/those people.
Do you have references I can contact?
Tip: actually contact them. Asking for them is reassuring, but contacting references and having a conversation with the people who worked directly with the person you’re about to work with will help you determine if it’s a good fit for you.
What is/are the most important aspects or issues for consideration that you see in my project?
An architect is trained in form, function, and everything in between when it comes to designing your home. Therefore, he/she may catch things you’ve never even though of, so asking this question assures there will be no surprises in budget when the project starts moving along.
What is your estimated timetable for my project?
Throughout the project, you’ll want to consistently ask for updates on your project’s timetable to ensure all parties are properly engaged, especially if you have additional contractors working on the job that you are managing directly, such as interior or landscape designers.
How soon can the project be started?
If planning permissions are required, actual work (by the GC) cannot be started until permissions (such as permits) are obtained, which can take up to 8 weeks, as building approval is regulated by your local municipality authority. If you’re working around budget constraints or life constraints (such as a job, a growing family, et cetera), these are things you need to take into consideration and communicate with your architect.
They’ll ask you questions such as:
- What are your short-term and/or long-term goals? For example, are you a growing family in need of additional space?
Do you have a style or example of what you’re looking for?
- If you’re using an example image or work from someone else, what is it about the design that you like specifically?
- Are the changes you are making to increase value, or solely for personal benefit?
- What’s your budget?