Understanding Architectural Fees for Custom Homes

Home with Classic Revival Style Architecture

In the first part of this blog we looked at different ways that architects charge for design services (if you missed it, you can read it here). Today we’re going to take a deeper look at the way we structure our fees at KGA. For custom homes we typically charge based on the square footage of the project. At the most basic level, this means you’ll pay more for a larger home and less for a smaller home. In reality, there are a number of factors that will influence the final architectural fee for your project. This blog looks at those factors, along with some tips for avoiding additional service charges.


Pricing is based on the square footage of the home, and broken down further depending on what part of the home is being designed. For example, the garage and basement have a lower price per square foot than the main living areas of a home. Areas with different prices include:

  • New construction (main living areas)/home additions(in the case of remodels)
  • Remodel of existing square footage
  • Basement
  • Garage
  • Outbuildings (pool house, barn, etc.)
  • Patios/Decks/Outdoor living
Covered outdoor living space
Outdoor living spaces generally have a different price per square foot than main living areas

Budget Management

The architectural design process is divided into 4 main phases: programming, schematic design, design development and construction drawings (click here to learn the specifics of each phase). During the programming phase the homeowner will work with the architect to determine the scope of the project. This is the phase where the owner’s hopes, dreams, wants and wishes are listed.  A target for square footage is determined and the budget for architectural services is defined.

It is the architect’s responsibility to manage the budget for architectural fees and assist in monitoring the overall project cost, however it requires a team effort by the architect, homeowner and builder to ensure the project remains true to the budget defined in the programming phase.

Why Do Projects Go Over Budget?

From an architectural standpoint, change of scope is the single biggest factor that can cause a project to go over budget. This is why it is vitally important to spend time during the programming and schematic design phases to make sure you have a clear vision of what you want in your new home, and that your architect understands this vision. Changes made during the construction drawing phase will likely incur extra fees, and it is extremely costly to make changes to the design once construction has begun.

Fees for additional services will be outlined in your contract, and are normally charged at an hourly rate.

Other Factors to Consider When Planning Your Budget

Apart from your architect and builder, the services of various consultants may be required to complete your project. For example:

  • Interior Designer
  • Structural Engineer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Surveyor
  • Landscape Architect
  • Lighting Specialists
  • HVAC Engineer
  • Home Technology
  • Geothermal
  • Energy Rater

If you are doing a remodel, your architect will need a copy of the plans for your existing home. If you do not have a copy of the current plans available, your architect will need to create “as-built” drawings.

Rendering of modern rustic custom home
3D renderings are often used during the design process to help you visualize what your new home will look like.

Tips for Avoiding Additional Service Charges

Before we look at tips to help you stay within your budget, let’s get one thing out of the way. Custom home building and remodeling is an adventure! You will experience many ups and downs, and sometimes unforeseen obstacles will occur and going over budget will be inevitable. That’s just life. However, there are many things that ARE within your control that you can do in order to avoid additional service charges and stay within your budget:

  • Planning and organization – as with any large scale endeavor, preparation is critical.
  • Careful attention to developing a comprehensive program will go a long way towards keeping your project on track.
  • Read the contract! We can’t emphasize this enough. Understand up front what is included and what is not.
  • Allow ample time to review the progression of the plans. Ask questions early and often to make sure you understand what the architect is doing.
  • Avoid changes unless they improve the project.
  • Make changes during the design phase. Changes on paper are far less costly than changes made during construction.
  • And, for when all else fails, we always recommend having a contingency fund built in to your over-all budget.

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