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9 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Architect

Selecting an architect is an important decision. Most people interview 2 to 3 architects before making a choice. We are all familiar with the basic questions to ask, such as for references and portfolio examples. But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know! In order to help you dig a little deeper, we’re here to give you an insider’s perspective on important questions to ask when hiring an architect…

1. How does the design process work?

The architectural design process is normally divided into 4 phases, which you can read about here. Each architect has their own way of managing the design process though, so it is useful to understand how your chosen professional works.

2. What is the estimated timeline for my project?

With today’s hot market, setting realistic timelines for architecture and construction is more important than ever in order for a project to run smoothly. Find out when your architect is available to start on your project, and how long they estimate it will take to complete.

3. What experience do you have working in my area? (City? County? Subdivision?)

Each city, county and even subdivision can have their own zoning and design guidelines. Permitting processes and the length of time needed to get a permit can vary greatly depending on the area. Certain subdivisions have strict design guidelines and new homes must be approved by a design review committee before being built. Talk with your architect about their experience in the area you are building in. While this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, it can be helpful if your architect already knows the ins and outs of working in your area.

4. How do you charge?

While cost shouldn’t always be the primary factor in selecting an architect, architectural fees can be confusing, so it is very important to understand your architect’s fee structure before signing the contract. There are 4 main methods that architects normally use to calculate their fees: time spent (hourly), stipulated sum, percentage of the cost of the work, or based on the project’s square footage. Read more about architectural fees here.

5. What is and isn’t included in your fees?

Different architectural firms offer different levels of service, so it is important to understand what is and isn’t included in your contract. Examples of levels of service include: builders sets, full service and design/build. Each method has its own unique pros and cons. Selecting what is right for you is a personal decision which involves looking at your budget, project scope, and desired level of involvement, among other things.

6. How do you manage the budget?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how your architect will manage the budget. Managing the budget is a team effort, so find out what measures your architect will take and what measures you can take to make sure you stay within your allotted budget.

7. Do you stay involved during the construction process?

Find out if, and to what level, your architect will stay involved during the construction process.  Depending on your needs, the architect will have varying degrees of participation while your project is being built. Plans are sometimes handed over to the owner at design completion with no further time spent, while some projects require the architect’s oversight during construction. Plans are not always perfect, so questions may arise. Have the conversation up front so that expectations are clearly defined.

8. Who will be managing my project and how will it be managed? Who is my main point of contact?

This comes down to a question of horsepower. In today’s market, all good professionals are busy. Make sure they have the staff on hand to be able to manage your project and make it a priority. It is important to make sure that your architect will be accessible not only to you, but to your contractors.

9. What builders or contractors would you recommend for my project?

If you don’t already have a builder selected, an architect’s recommendation can be particularly helpful in narrowing your search. Most architectural firms work with a variety of builders, and are familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to recommend professionals based on the needs of your particular project.

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