Why should I hire an architect?
I can just use a builder… architects are expensive, time-consuming and arrogant
The usual objections to bringing an architect onto any home improvement or new construction project revolve around cost, time and dealing with the whims of an artist. While all of these are areas where architects can be irresponsible and arrogant, it is not true of the majority of hard-working diligent, respectful, and engaging architects out there working in all types of neighborhoods on all scales of projects. Most architects would love to help you with your project, in a low-key, supportive way, if only you weren’t scared off by the intimidating myths about what architects do.
Some people just don’t have the time or interest in getting personally involved in the process of designing a home. That’s fine. Some people have a great relation with a builder who has done all their projects successfully, and prefer to stick with a good thing. Also fine. Some people however, have a little extra time in their day to devote to their home, are imaginative and have opinions, and would like to be able to achieve their dream house—or at least the best house their budget will allow—but aren’t sure how to best go about it. If it were in your budget and you could easily find the right architect to help you, would it be something you’d like to test out?
What if you could buy any common car, say a Toyota Corolla, and for 10% more you could have that car fully customized to your personal needs, without any increase in the cost of manufacturing. Would you do it? The same precise analogy can be used in hiring an architect to fully customize your home. That 10% (or whatever percent is determined necessary for the complexities of the project, be it 6% or 15%) is buying you expertise that will allow you, for the same construction cost, to rise from an ordinary, off the shelf house plan, to a personally customized home.
The Right Architect
If you are considering that this may be a wise investment, you next need to ensure that the architect you hire can and will take your vision—not their own—and make it a reality. The “right architect” will understand what you want, they will sincerely be excited about your project as you have defined it, they will have a personality that you feel comfortable with, they can provide unbiased direction on the best use of your building funds, and can help you find the “right builder.”
To find an architect, the general process is to go online, do some research, get recommendations from neighbors or friends who have used an architect, drive around the neighborhood and check out builder’s signs at interesting additions, etc. From this research it becomes easier to select 2-3 best candidates to contact. If they are available, set up an appointment to meet with them and discuss your project.
At an initial meeting you should be able to get a feel for how this particular person or office works, their style, scheduling, and general personality. Sometimes, even though everything looks great on paper, if your gut does not shout, “I really want to work with this person,” keep looking. Chemistry is key.
Reality TV has put a lot of great home renovation and building ideas out there for people to learn from. At the same time, as with all reality TV, there’s a lot of misleading or manufactured detail that is not really part of a typical renovation project. This can lead to disappointment when the architect doesn’t supply all the extras as part of the basic contract. So, from the beginning, get clear explanations of what the architect will be doing during each phase of the project, what your involvement will be and what the deliverables will include. You can usually get the architects to provide a variety of models, colored renderings, material boards, mock ups, etc., but many will be considered extra services, and billed hourly or at some agreed fixed price. The one thing that should be similar to reality TV is that when you go into a finished space, your heart beats a little faster, and you do in fact want to hug your architect.
Having dispelled a couple myths about the high and mighty architect, and suggested some down to earth expectations about what architects can do—plus described how, what appears big as a front-end cost, can add real value. For a nominal extra 10 %—would you maybe reconsider?
If you’d like more detailed information on the process most architects go through, check out our free 75 page Home Project Planner (PDF):
BEFORE YOU BUILD Wellesley Homeowners Pre-Design/ Pre-Construction Workbook Information for Everyone: from the Just Curious, to the Highly Organized, to the Completely Mystified… (Ten tasks, plus tips, to prepare you for any home construction project, before you call an architect, before you call a builder, and possibly even before you call your mother…) Includes local and general information.