This blog was first posted on the Wall Street Journal’s website.
By Mark Demerly
During the housing boom, architects were spread thin and had project During the housing boom, architects were spread so thin and had project backlogs of several months. The prolonged downturn has changed that and it is now an ideal time to hire an architect. But there are plenty of factors to consider first. Be sure to take advantage of the resources provided by the American Institute of Architects.
The first step is to ask friends and family who have used an architect for recommendations. There is also a tool that allows you to search for an architect in your area. From there, check out firms’ websites and view examples of projects they have designed. Once you’ve narrowed it down to three or four firms, you can conduct interviews with each.
Whether you are looking for a custom designed home or a remodeling project, have a vision in mind that you can share with an architect; it’s also a good idea to show some examples from design magazines. Kitchen and bathroom remodeling jobs typically add the most resale value, but also enhance the quality-of-life for homeowners. In this economy, more people are investing in upgrading their existing homes rather than buying new homes so larger renovation projects and outdoor living improvements are also worth considering.
There are several questions to ask an architect before design work begins. Some examples: How will the architect establish priorities and make decisions? What is the architect’s design philosophy? What services does the architect provide during construction? Can the architect provide a list of client references?
Another key consideration is to ask how the architect’s fees are established. Whether it is a flat fee, based on hours worked or a percentage of construction costs, be sure to consult the AIA owner-architect agreement and have a signed contract before any work begins.
It’s also important to be candid about what you are looking for and what you expect. And by all means, ask for an explanation of anything you don’t understand. You want to approach this as a partnership and hire an architect who you have a good working rapport with. Personal confidence in the architect is paramount. Seek an appropriate balance among design ability, technical competence, professional service and cost.
Most people underestimate the value taking the time work with an architect on pre-design services before the architect puts pencil to paper, in large part because most people really don’t understand what architects really do. It’s much more than just drawing plans and elevations and selecting materials. Planning and zoning requirements could limit or define the uses; setbacks could scale back plans; and heights and massing and a whole host of community concerns can arise if you and your architect do not take the time to perform the needed due diligence.
But the upsides to following my advice are clear: Architects can produce a better design and help boost the resale value of the property.