A couple years ago my wife and I set off on the journey of building our first home together. It was going to be our dream home.
To say that the process was a bit stressful is a slight understatement.
We both had an idea of what kind of house we wanted, but the location and the layout of our lot made it a bit more challenging.
We scoured through dozens of home books and on-line guides trying to find the perfect house plan.
We came very close, but never could find “the one”. That's when we realized that we needed to hire an architect.
We were lucky that we knew a local architect Steve May of D.A.R.T Design so the decision process was very easy. If we hadn't of known him, I could only imagine how difficult the hunt would be to find the perfect match for us.
To better assist you in selecting the right architect for your home building experience, I decided to interview him to find what things you need to know before you hire an architect. First, a little on his background (and a shameless plug):
Steve May has over 20 years of experience in the field of architecture, and has been a licensed architect for over 11 years. Steve began D.A.R.T. Design, Inc. in 2004. Prior to serving as the Owner and President of DART Design, Steve was a partner with Huff-May Architectural Group. Steve has extensive building code knowledge and is a member of the International Code Council.
1. What did you do to become an architect?
Once I received my degree in architecture I started my internship with an architectural firm. With my bachelors degree I was required to intern for 5 years prior to taking the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE). Degrees such as a masters only requires 3 years of internship but it takes and additional 2 years to get your degree.
So in essence it takes about 9 years of schooling and internship to apply for the ARE. The ARE, at the time I took the exam (there have since been changes) was 4 days long, had 9 parts and was given once a year in Chicago.
2. Are there any special credentials that one should look for in hiring an architect?
Some architects specialize in certain fields of design. If you are looking for an architect to design your hospital you would not want to hire one that specializes in airport design. Although this is not always the rule, there are exceptions where a particular firm may work in many areas from schools to sporting venues.
When looking for an architect for your particular project you want to look for someone who has experience with projects of the same scope, and possibly an architect that has the same vision or style of building that you desire.
Most architects can provide services for simple projects of any size.
When the project starts to become more complex, then the owner should start looking for an architect that has experience with projects of the same scope or similar in complexity.
3. What would one expect to pay when hiring an architect?
There are many variables that effect fees for projects. Some factors are, but not limited to, location, size, complexity, scope of services and bidding process.
Generally fees are based on a percentage of the construction costs and can vary from 3% up to 15%. A large project of simple complexity would be at the lower end and a small, complex project would be at the higher end. Once you have a scope of work you can negotiate fees with your architect and those can be in the form of a percentage of construction costs or a fixed fee can also be requested.
Residential architectural fees can be altogether different depending on the location. In some areas the law does not require an architect to provide drawings for residential construction. There are areas where the municipality requires that all buildings including residential are required to be designed by a licensed architect. Fees can increase when residential drawings are required to be stamped by a licensed architect.
4. What are some telling signs on when to avoid hiring the wrong architect?
When an architect is not willing to listen to the client and utilizing their ideas that would be a good time to back up and reevaluate your architect.
Your architect should know what questions to ask their clients to gather the information they need to put together a schematic design for the facility.
Our clients are the most important part of our company. We strive to provide a facility for our clients that will suit their needs for today and into the future. Whether it is a home or manufacturing facility the client and their ideas come first. We pride ourselves on retaining our clients and the only way to do that is to provide them with exemplary service.
5. With so many books and websites offering house plans, when would it be wise to hire an architect?
For residential your right, there are so many choices, and that can be confusing to lots of people. Most of my clients have come to me with a couple different floor plan ideas and some pictures of some houses they like and ask me to mold them together. They just cannot find one plan in a book that is what they really want. Taking these ideas and producing a home that meets their ideas and personal tastes is usually the hardest part of the process. A process that provides us with the most satisfaction.
When you hire an architect is really up to the individual and the type of project, although I would say the sooner the better. The architect can help from the very start, even when it comes to picking out the best site for your home.
The sooner you pick an architect, the better I think the project will go. The architect will not only help in the design and drawings of your facility but with the bidding process and selection of contractor. The architect can also be involved during the construction process to make sure that things are being built to the plans and specifications that were provided.
6. Is there anyway to do any background checks on architects before you hire them?
I am unaware of any “background” checks that you can do for architects. There are many associations out there such as the ALA and the AIA that a licensed architect can be a member of. This of course does not make them a good architect because all you have to do is be a licensed architect, in good standing, and pay your dues to join.
An individual can go to the licensing bureau of their state and check the license of the architect they wish to hire and make sure there are in good standing with the state.
The best way to choose your architect is to make sure they have done similar projects and check their previous work.
7. What should you do when you realize that you've hired a bad architect?
I would hope that this would not happen but there are architects that may not want to really listen and give the client what they want and instead push them towards what the architect wants. It is all about what makes the client happy and if they already have an idea of their needs than the architect should listen and design around those needs.
If you find yourself dealing with an architect that does not “get” what you are looking for than that is the time to cut the cord. Pay them for the time they have invested and move on.
Don’t hesitate and hope things get better, they most likely won’t. You want someone that will work with you and guide you in the design process and make good suggestions not push you in a direction that is not comfortable. This is a large expenditure for you and you want something that you will be happy with.
8. What sort of information should someone already have before working with an architect to make sure they get the house they really want?
I have seen all kinds of things come through my door, some better than others, but most have an idea of what they want. I would say that some of the main things to discuss with your architect would be; budget, site plan, list of wants/needs.
If you have these items than you have a good start. Most people come in with a floor plan that almost meets their needs but needs some modifications. This is helpful in some cases and a hindrance in others. I like to have a clean slate and mold the client ideas into the house that they really want.
Before going to talk with an architect do a little research to get an idea of what an architect can do for you. There are many blogs, including mine, that can give you many ideas of what can be expected. From just doing some floor plans and elevations, to helping pick out the site, to finding a contractor, to construction observation and everything in between, there are many services that we as architects can provide.
9. What do you charge to do house plans?
This is the biggest question people ask me. All that depends on the level of services that the client chooses. The more services that the architect provides the less headaches the client has.
Thank you Steve for the insightful interview! I hope that helps someone in their quest in building their first home and finding the right architect for the job.