9 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Architect

Image of modern farmhouse home at dusk by KGA Studio Architects

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: programming, schematic design, design development and construction drawings. You can read more about the architectural design process here. Each architect has their own way of managing the design process though, so it is useful to understand how your chosen professional works.

Whether or not you will be using the design-build method is an important consideration for the design process. In a design-build environment, you select your architect and builder first, and both are involved from the beginning of the project. If you plan to work with an interior designer, we also recommend including them from the start. At KGA, we prefer the design-build method because we believe it leads to a higher-quality home and a better experience for everyone. Learn more about the design-build process here.

2. What is the estimated timeline for my project?

With today’s hot market and ongoing supply chain shortages, setting realistic timelines for architecture and construction is more important than ever 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.

When you review the proposed timeline, it’s important to understand that meeting this timeline is a team effort. How much time is built in for you to review plans and give feedback or approval? Will there be a project manager and drafter on your project, or is your architect a one-person shop? If you take longer than expected to provide feedback, it will push out the timeline. Similarly, if your architect is a one-person shop and suddenly goes out of town, that can also cause a delay. These are just a couple of things to consider when reviewing your timeline. Open communication is a must, and we encourage you to express any concerns regarding timing from the beginning.

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. It’s very important to understand your architect’s fee structure before signing a 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’s important to understand what is and isn’t included in your contract. Typical levels of service include builder sets or full service. 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.

Builder sets are what we typically deliver for design-build. The drawings include the floor plans, elevations and sections required by the city or county for permit. What they don’t include are specific materials and finishes. Builder sets have two main advantages. First, they save you time and money during the architectural design process. Second, they provide flexibility for you and your builder to adjust pricing based on what specific materials and finishes you use. This is especially advantageous with the ongoing supply chain and material shortages we are currently experiencing.

Full service is when the architect designs and specifies everything going into the house. Full service plans are more expensive than builder sets, and take longer to create. They also do not leave flexibility for the builder.

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.

This is one of the reasons we recommend a design build approach. By involving the builder and interior designer as early in the process as possible, the whole team can work together to manage the budget. Involving the whole team throughout the design process to review the designs and offer feedback is a great way to make sure we are designing to meet your 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, and unforeseen circumstances can come up once construction starts, so questions may arise. Have the conversation up front so that expectations are clearly defined.

At KGA, we always remain available to answer any questions related to our drawing sets without charge. Construction observation is optional, and an additional service. With a quality builder, it usually isn’t necessary.

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. Throughout the architectural design portion of your project, you will work with an architect and project manager. Your architect will be your main point of contact during programming and schematic design (SD). Once your project moves into design development (DD), your project manager becomes your main point of contact for the remainder of the design process. Both your architect and project manager will be available for any questions that might come up during construction. It is important to make sure that your team will be accessible not only to you, but to your contractors.

Once construction begins, your main point of contact will be your builder or superintendent on the project. At this point, apart from answering any questions that might come up during construction about the drawings, the architect’s role is typically complete, unless you have hired them for construction observation.

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. For more on how to hire a builder, we discuss the top questions to ask when hiring a home builder in this blog.

Set yourself up for success

Doing your due diligence and asking the right questions when hiring an architect is one of the best ways to set your project up for success. We encourage you to assemble your team early and involve everyone from the start. Choose people you are comfortable communicating with, and who will keep the lines of communication open throughout the project.

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