• Melissa Sanabria

WHAT TO ASK WHEN HIRING AN ARCHITECT

Building or remodeling your home is a very exciting, but daunting, task that comes with a whole host of questions. How much will this cost? Who do I need on my team? Where do I start?


We love being the first call a homeowner makes because it gives us the opportunity to educate them about the process and help them think through their goals for the home - and for their lifestyle - and who they need on their team. On many occasions, our clients need an architect on the team to bring their vision to life and we love partnering with architects to help shape, refine, and realize that vision. There is no doubt that our clients benefit from having multiple disciplines at the table.


Because we get so many questions on how to get started and who should be on the team, I thought a blog post was in order.


Where do we start? Do we talk to a general contractor (GC) first or an architect or other design professional?


We get this question all the time and it makes perfect sense because there is a bit of a chicken and egg thing happening here. Homeowners often want to know how much a potential project will cost so that they can determine if it’s even feasible so they start with a GC. But it can be difficult to get consistent quotes from GCs without a clear set of plans. But who wants to pay for plans if you don’t know if you can afford to do the project in the first place?


There are a couple of routes you can go to determine the best path forward. You can reach out to a design professional to schedule a discovery call. We like to use this time to get clear on the homeowner’s project scope and determine if we are a mutual fit and who they need on their team and many design professionals offer something similar.


Another option is to ask a GC for a feasibility assessment for your project. You should expect to pay for this service (I would expect about $250 but this will vary depending on where you live).


When do I need to hire an architect?


If you have to solve complex design problems, are adding an addition or pop-up, or want to make a statement, you want to have an architect on your team. If your project is not complex and focuses primarily on the interior without any (or very little) structural work, your project may not require an architect. An interior designer or an experienced general contractor may be all you need.


What does an architect do exactly?


Architects understand what is possible from a structural perspective while holding natural light, symmetry and proportion are their guiding principles.

Architects can wear many hats and it’s important to know that not all architects offer the same level service. The good news is that you have an opportunity to find the right fit for your project, budget, and personal preferences.


Below is a summary of some of the services an architect can provide. I am not an architect so this list is not exhaustive, but these are the services that we see offered the most for our residential projects and where we get the most questions.


  • Schematics - These are the drawings where an architect may show you a few different options based on your vision and limitations. They are not fully fleshed out, but they communicate the concepts. Most projects start with schematics.


  • Permit Set - If you’re working with an architect, you likely need a building permit. An architect will create the drawing set that is required as part of your application for a building permit. Typically, he or she will be the owner of the “permit set” and work with other professionals as required to obtain the drawings and stamps you need for your project. For example, they will obtain the drawings from a structural engineer, if required. It is important to note that while many architects will create your permit set and be available to answer questions from the permitting office, not all architects will assist you with the permit application itself nor will they obtain your building permit for you. This is an important distinction.


  • Bids - Once you have a plan, you need to obtain bids from builders or GCs. Some architects will assist you with obtaining bids for your projects.


  • Finishes - Drawings are a start, but there are still a lot of decisions to make. There are some architects who assist with selecting finishes. Interior designers also assist with this part of the project, but if you are not hiring an interior designer but need some support in this area, you may find this service appealing.


  • Construction Administration - Architects may serve as project managers. As the project manager, they are overseeing the work to ensure that the design is being executed per the plans and they also act as a point person to handle the inevitable problems that arise.


Most of the time, homeowners don’t understand enough about the process to know what questions to ask. As you consider hiring an architect, get clear on the services they offer and the level of support you need and make sure they align. Ask specific and direct questions about their services so that you understand the architect’s service offerings and the value they bring.


Carmel Greer is the founder and principal at District Design and her podcast, On Time, Under Budget, With Love, is a treasure trove of information. Check out Episode 11: Hiring Your Architect and Episode 14: What to Expect From Your Architect (and how to be a great client).


Carmel has some great suggestions around the hiring process including:

  • Hire local if you can. Local architects are more familiar with the permitting requirements in the area.

  • Get familiar with an architect’s past projects. They will be a good indicator of how your project will turn out.

  • Hire someone you trust, and like to be around. You are entering into a long-term relationship with this person so make sure you like and trust each.

  • Check references.

  • Understand who they have on their team. This includes contractors and all other professionals and trades they partner with.


I hope you find this helpful! Thanks for following along and if you have any questions about any stage of your project, just ask! We are here to support you in whatever way we can.

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