HIRING AN ARCHITECT ?
Whether you’re redoing a room or planning a whole-house remodel, an architect can be a sound investment.
Does a new addition to your family have you thinking of a new addition to your house? Has your home business outgrown your kitchen table? Or maybe you need to open your home to an elderly relative who can’t navigate the stairs of your centre-hall colonial. The fact is, our lives change—but our houses don’t, at least not on their own. If you want to stay in your home as your life progresses, you’ll probably consider remodelling.
Whether you’re adding a bath, enlarging a kitchen or doubling the size of your house with an addition, remodelling usually involves money, lots of planning, and often more than a little stress. It can also raise many questions beyond design and other choices, such as what tile to use on the new bathroom floor. One of these questions usually is: Should I hire an architect?
In this DIY world, an architect is often seen as a luxury—and can be a costly one at that. You can certainly complete a masterful remodel—even a large one—without an architect’s help. You typically can, that is, if you or your builder have a talent for design, if you have a clear idea of what you want, and if you (or your builder, or someone you know) can produce plans that satisfy your local building authorities. In all these situations, you could get by without an architect. But then there is another question you might ask, ‘Do I really want to?’
What to Ask the Architect
Come to the interview prepared with questions to help you understand fully what you can expect from this partnership. These might include:
What is your design philosophy? You should already have a sense of this from your research, but here’s the chance to talk about the vision this architect will bring to your project. Is their focus on sustainability? Preservation? Low cost? Whatever is important to you should be important to your architect.
What is your process? Most architects follow an established path for each project, although that process varies a bit from firm to firm and project to project (more on that later). Typical phases include initial consultation, preliminary (or schematic) design, design development, document preparation, bidding and negotiation, and construction administration.
What projects have you done that are similar to mine? You want to make sure the architect is comfortable with the size and complexity of the project you’re proposing.
Who will I be working with? If it’s a large firm, you will want to clarify who will be designing your project, and who your contact person will be.
Do you foresee any problems with this project? If you’re dealing with a difficult site, a limited budget or other complications, be upfront. How the architect reacts to these challenges will tell you whether they’re suited to the project.
How much time will the design process take, and construction itself? Be sure the architect has the time to devote to the project and can bring it to completion in a timely manner. Remember the architect can account for his or her time, but not delays caused by your indecision or a contractor’s scheduling conflicts.
Can the architect provide references, particularly for projects similar to yours? It may even be possible to view similar work they’ve done on other houses. If so, take advantage of that opportunity. When you call references, ask specific questions. How did this architect save you money? How did he or she handle conflicts? Was the project completed on time?
How will plans be presented? Will you be able to view your project on a computer screen in 3D, or do they rely on paper? Neither is an indication of a “better” architect, but if you’re more comfortable with one than the other, bring this up.
What will you be responsible for, and what will I be responsible for? Designing a major remodel is a partnership. Make sure both of you understand what is expected of the other.
What is your fee, and how is it structured? Don’t leave the interview without a firm understanding of what the architect’s fees are, what they are based on, and how and when you will be billed. For example, will you pay for all services at the end of the project? Or pay for half at a predetermined midway point?
How to Find the Right Architect
Once you’ve decided on hiring an architect, you need to find the right one. You want an architect who is not only skilled in designing the type of remodel or addition you want, you also want an architect with whom you communicate well, and whose cost model works for you.
Ensure the cost of the architect is factored into your overall home remodel budget. Many people use and consider fixed-rate personal loans to cover all or a portion of project costs, including the architect. Lenders like Discover, for example, offer personal loans that don’t require collateral, which means you don’t have to put your house on the line to secure the loan. Plus, funds can be sent as soon as the next business day once you are approved and accept the terms of the loan, which is critical when unexpected project costs come up or you go over budget.
Help your Architect Help You—and Save Money
Once you’ve signed on with an architect, there are things you can do to make sure your project turns out just as you want it to.
Above all, be available. Review drawings and material suggestions promptly.
Be decisive. If you’re having trouble with a decision, let your architect know. He or she may have information or strategies that can help break the log jam.
Ask questions. The better you understand the design when it’s on paper, the less likely you’ll be unpleasantly surprised at construction time.
Speak up if there’s an aspect of the design you don’t like. It’s much easier to enlarge a closet or move a hallway when it’s on paper than after it’s been framed.
Architects will tell you that the more engaged their client is, the better the results. Successful projects don’t just happen. Finding the right person to help you bring your vision to life is an investment in not only your property but your happiness and satisfaction occupying it.