But How Can I Afford an Architect?

…Or how can you get the design that you want without breaking the bank?  The key is really to understand whit it is that an Architect can provide and to have a full knowledge of how the firms you consider provide services.  Secondly, an architect’s fee is really about time.  Thirdly, you must have a full understanding of your own time availability and a thoroughly preconceived concept of where you are going with this project.  Know your budget and communicate it.  Know those spaces that you need in detail and provide a written “program” from which the architect can proceed.  Also, have some idea of

room relationships required.  Make a preliminary list of preferred materials, products, appliances, and finishes to be included in the project. 

            Architects tend to have a range and vast variety of service packages and agreements, yet they tend to boil down to two approaches.  An hourly billing may make sense for you if the services you choose are very limited such as a small project (i.e. kitchen remodel, deck addition, etc.); or a project with limited initial information such as remodeling an old house.  The other type of service approach is the fixed fee basis and this can be expressed as any of the following: sq. ft. basis, percent of construction cost, or lump sum fee.  Occasionally the two types may be combined where design phase is reduced only to a limited extent but the remainder of the process can be nailed down. 

            So how do you limit the Architect’s time beyond providing preliminary information?   Much of the critical decision making both in the planning and in the field must be made by you, the client.  Your willingness and availability to participate in the decision-making process will determine the need for architect, designer, draftsman, and contractor in this part of the process.  Be prepared to work hand-in-hand with the architect and to be available or at the site for hours each week.  Time saved for you architect should translate into and abbreviated design phase and move the project ahead into working drawings.  These drawings then can be produced in a more outline format for you to translate to contractors.  With this approach the architect’s time and services are reduced and limited, constructable contract documents are produced in less time with enough information for building permit, bidding.  The drawings provided give the basic building dimensions, and specifications are mostly provided on a wall section or other part of the drawing themselves.  On this scenario, the client takes on the role of interpreter of the drawings after permit submittal and must provide the builder and subcontractors with material and finish selections in a timely manner so as not to hold up the project.  Also this type of accelerated approach lends itself to early contractor involvement and encourages our clients to interview prospects and bring them on board as earl as preliminary design.

            The standard full service fee approach includes an involved design process, design development with product and finish research and selection, working drawings to include engineering, bidding and/or negotiation, and construction phase, shop-drawings and contract oversight.  This type of full fee will often run from 12% to 15% and higher.  Although it is anticipated that a creative design process will be undertaken, hours saved during drawing phase and with only “as-needed” participation during the field phase, and architect’s fee could end up in the 4% to 7% range.

            If you know what you want from the onset of architect involvement, and if you are willing to make endless regarding all aspects of the design that are not put to paper, and if you are willing to answer questions at the jobsite at the drop of a hat, you can save as much as half of the fee!