Hiring an Architect: A Cautious Approach can Save Money
Note: This article, written by Lorianna Kastrop, was originally published on Angie’s List on Sept. 23, 2011.
Here are some suggestions to save money on remodeling by taking a cautious approach and understanding what to expect from your architect. You can request a no-obligation consultation with a licensed architect. Some architects will charge a nominal fee for the consultation, but many will do it for free.
After the consultation, you will be provided with an estimate for services and an outline of the scope of work. Carefully review the contract so that you understand exactly what is included and what is not. For example, will you be given one design option for the price or a few different designs to choose from?
The cautious approach would be to commit only to the first phase of the design process (existing conditions through preliminary design). That is the less expensive first step. You can make sure that the architect understands your needs and desires and that you work well together without a huge financial commitment up front. The preliminary design may only consist of sketches, or incomplete computerized drawings.
Once you have a preliminary design that you like, ask your architect to work with a trusted licensed general contractor to provide you with a preliminary bid for construction costs. This helps you to determine whether the design can be built within your budget. If not, the architect can revise the design easily at this stage to take advantage of any cost-saving suggestions from the contractor.
Once you approve the preliminary design, have the architect provide you with an estimate of the services for construction documents and construction administration. This is typically the more labor-intensive part of the architectural process. The construction documents are what you need to get a building permit as well construction bids from contractors. These documents can be extremely thorough, especially for custom details and finishes, or they can be more basic, relying on the general contractor to use standard construction techniques. Be sure that you know what type of document set your architect will provide, appropriate to your job and budget.
Get at least three construction bids from licensed general contractors to compare. Have at least one of them come from a contractor that your architect trusts and has worked with before. Have your architect review the bids with you to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples and that nothing important has been left out or been underestimated in the bid. Sometimes a “low-ball” bid is given to get you hooked, but does not include enough allowance for items that you need. You will be charged for them later as “change orders.” This is a danger that your architect can help you avoid.
Once you start construction, your architect can provide what is called construction administration on an as-needed basis. This involves answering questions from the general contractor and sub-contractors, inspecting or checking on the quality of the construction, going to the site to deal with any unanticipated situations, providing clarifications on the construction documents and additional details upon request, checking for suitable substitutions of materials if something is unavailable, etc.
It is important not to skip this step. The architect will protect your interests. Many construction problems can be avoided with proper construction administration. Ultimately, the best projects are created by supportive teamwork between the owner, architect and contractor from start to finish.
Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc.