Most homeowners report spending between $2,091 and $7,800 when they hire an architect.
An architect is an asset to any project requiring building a new structure or fundamentally altering a current structure. An architect can turn your vision into an actual plan and create blueprints for a builder to work from. They are not only skilled at building engineering, structural and spatial relationships and planning, but they also are familiar with applicable building codes and zoning regulations. They work as your agent and can help you in bid evaluation and selecting a contractor.
Architect fees are typically charged by the hour, as a percentage of construction costs, or by square footage. How an architect charges depends on the firm, the nature of the job, what part of the country you’re in, the economy, and your skill at negotiating.
How Much Do Architects Cost Per Hour?
If you hire an architect on a hourly basis, they might charge you between $60 and $125 per hour for their services, though it can vary. Charging by the hour is beneficial to the architect as some homeowners can find themselves constantly making changes to the design. However, if you tour model homes and settle on what you want, you can save money. With a good plan in mind, at $60 an hour the design fees for a 2,500 square foot house normally run about $4,000.
Some people hire an architect by the hour with a stipulation that the rate is not to exceed a certain amount. Of course, this means that once you hit this price cap, you either need to renegotiate terms or take over the project yourself. For some people, the compromise is to hire an hourly architect only for certain aspects of the job.
Typical hourly fees can depend on who in the firm is handling the work. There may be other levels within a firm, but these four are the most common:
Principal: $135-$175. The Principal is the overseer of the entire architectural firm.
Project Manager: $95. They usually have more than 10 years of experience and are usually responsible for a number of projects or teams, including client contact, budgeting, and scheduling.
Intern Architect II: $80. 6 to 8 years of experience, they handle the daily design or technical developments on a project.
Intern Architect I: $65. 3 to 5 years experience, they handle specific parts of the project according to parameters set by others.
An architect may charge by the hour if the full scope of a project is not known, such as if a client presents poor or incomplete plans.
How Much Do Architects Charge as a Percentage of a Project?
Architects charge 15% to 20% for remodeling projects, while new construction runs between 5% and 15%.
Some architects charge a percentage based on the construction costs. The percentage depends on whether the project is for new construction or remodeling existing construction. Remodeling existing construction often costs more because the architect and builder have to deal with whatever the previous architect or contractors did. In a very old house, they may be dealing with elements that aren’t up to code.
Where things can get confusing is when you try to figure out what counts as a “construction cost”. Not every decision affects the cost of construction. For example, what sort of lighting fixture is going in should have no effect on the cost; the junction box to hook the fixture into is the only thing the architect is concerned with. By contrast, when designing a kitchen, what appliances are going where will have a major impact on cabinetry, hook-ups, trim, etc. This will be included in construction costs. A rule of thumb is that if it’s going to affect the actual structural part of the house, it’s a construction cost.
How Much Do Architects Charge Per Square Foot?
Many people are hesitant to hire an architect on an hourly basis because they fear they will see surprises in the final bill. However, the unpredictability of the “per square foot” charge can make the hourly rate more attractive. An architect who charges by the square foot might have to produce more drawings and documents than his time and overhead may be worth. This leads to an architect either producing low-quality drawings or else cutting corners to save costs.
This method of charging does not work well with remodeling projects. As one architect put it, “There are too many moving parts.” However, for some custom homes the per-square-foot method is the best way to handle things. An architect who agrees to this method also often limits the client to a certain number of revisions to help keep costs from running out of control. If more revisions are required than are allowed, some architects will handle the additional changes on an hourly basis.
In the western part of Texas, the charge per square foot for an architect might be about $0.75, while in southern California you could pay $3.50 or higher.
There are some architects who use a combination of hourly and per square foot billing. When working with the schematic and design phases, the charge is by the hour. This provides incentive for the client to be available and to present changes in a timely manner. After the design is settled on, the project’s scope is better known and a more accurate per square foot fee can be assessed.
This works well for the client if the architect is ethical. However, an unethical architect can pad the bill by turning in poor drawings that require more documentation and thus more hourly charges. Unfortunately for the client, there is often no way to know an architect’s ethics beforehand. As with any service you seek to hire, find previous clients and talk to them about the quality of service.
An architect is not always a requirement for a project. For example, the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners offers a flowchart for building in the state of Texas that shows what does and doesn’t require an architect.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions below, then you may need to hire an architect:
Do you need a blueprint for bank financing, construction requirements or subcontractors to complete your project?
Do you require a permit for your project?
Do you need help designing your room/house?
Do specific areas of your project require an architect's seal?
Is the project anything more than a simple remodel or addition?
Are there special structural considerations, such as balconies, roof-decks, multiple fireplaces, etc.?
Do you want to maintain and/or improve the value of the house?
Blueprint for Banks
A bank may require a blueprint before it will finance a project. This is to ensure that the project they’re financing is viable economically.
Permits for Remodeling Project
Before a permit will be issued, the issuing department will require some kind of plan to be drawn up. The requirements for this vary. Some places want detailed plans while others are fine with a sketch on a napkin. However, large structures, especially if they are intended for public occupancy, may require a licensed architect before permits will be granted.
Help with Project Design
Some people may know exactly what they want and how to make it fit. Others may know that they need an extra bedroom but aren’t sure how to make it fit into existing construction. Or they may have a piece of land and know where they want the picture window and not much else. An architect can help create a plan that will fit what you want even if you didn’t know you wanted it until you saw it!
Architect’s Seal Requirement
Depending on your municipality, a licensed architect may be required to place his or her stamp, or seal, on your plans. What the seal does is it asserts that the person doing the architectural work was a legally licensed architect. In most places, single-family detached homes do not require an architect unless that home exceeds 2,500 square feet. Check with your state and local department that regulates architect licensing for requirements specific to your area.
Also, if your project is in an area with specific requirements due to seismic activity, high winds, steep slopes, or certain coastal conditions, the seal shows that a licensed architect has reviewed your plans for suitability.
How They Help with Remodels
Most normal remodels and simple additions don’t require an architect. However, if you plan to literally “raise the roof” and add a second story, add a wing to your existing house, or build an entirely new house, an architect can only help. They help with:
Making sure the design fits what you envision
Contacting the necessary consultants
Calling in structural engineers when needed
Making sure everything “flows” with the design of the house so the value of the house doesn’t plummet
Structural Considerations for Architects
Some design elements may require an architect’s touch to look good, others to function well, and yet others to do both. For example, the historic Decatur House in Washington DC was the first residence in the area. Owner Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. envisioned a Federal-style 3 story house which was designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. One of Latrobe’s biggest challenges was how to run the numerous chimney flues (multiple fireplaces per floor) through the walls to four chimney stacks without disturbing the symmetrical look of the house. Today, architects continue to tackle combining form with function.
How They Help with Your Home Value
Finally, the value of your home, as stated earlier, will suffer or benefit depending on how well your design fits the rest of the house. If you’re at all interested in keeping or improving the value or curb-appeal of your house, then hiring an architect is the best way to go.
Selecting an architect should be done with care. You’re going to be working with this person for a long time, so you have every right to be choosy. In fact, by being particular about who you hire, you stand a better chance of satisfaction with the end result. So you should look for:
Genuine enthusiasm for your project. Everyone wants their project to have the top priority, so you should look for an architect who can place your project at the top of the list.
Ability to work together. Meet the people you will actually be working with. You need to be sure you both communicate well with each other and get along.
Ability to handle the size and scope of your project. You may wish to consult a contractor first to discuss cost, feasibility and design coordination. Select two or more firms and ask for references from previous jobs similar to yours. Verify their expertise in your type of project and their ability to complete projects on time and on budget.
Licensing. A quick call to your local building department will help you confirm that the architect that you are about to hire has an active license.
As you get your bids, ask for everything to be in writing and understand the terms and conditions of the work to be done. See what kinds of warranties are offered and know what is included in the price of the estimate.
Questions to Ask an Architect
No two architecture firms are alike. Each will bring its own expertise, skills, values, and interests to a project. You want to find one that is most compatible with your project’s needs. According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) here are some vital questions to ask as you interview architects:
What is your design philosophy? Design philosophy is how the architect approaches the design such as organic, modern, functional art, or industrial. Basically, it’s their “style”. You want to hire an architect who is experienced with the style you want, or who can provide a design that you feel is the right fit.
What’s your experience with projects similar to mine? You want to be sure that the architect has the experience to handle a project of the size and type that you want. Someone skilled in one and two story residential homes might not have the experience to handle a multi-story custom home with extremely high-vaulted ceilings, tall windows, etc.
What challenges, issues, or considerations do you foresee? This will let you know where the architect is expecting difficulties and may require design changes.
What is the estimated time to handle this project? Times can vary quite a bit. The client is a major factor in how long an architect will take to handle a project. A client with a clear plan and no budget worries can see a result in a few weeks. However, a client without a clear and concise idea of what they want and who is very budget conscious may have to wait as many as four months or longer before seeing a finished design. Some factors can’t be controlled by either the client or the architect, such as weather, zoning reviews, and contractor scheduling.
How do you bill? Knowing how the architect charges, hourly, percentage, square foot, etc., will help you manage the budget. As you ask this question and establish your budget, be sure to add another 25% to account for any necessary extra expenditure. If you can’t afford the extra 25%, you may have designed more house than you can afford!
What are your basic services, and what would incur additional fees? Be sure you know what is included in the basic package. Additional services could include a survey of existing conditions to make sure that what you want is even possible on the site, 3-D modeling, interior design, and kitchen design. A good architect will make you aware of what is basic and what is extra, but you should always ask if you don’t see it listed. (Many architects today use 3D rendering so that the client can see the project from any angle. An architect who doesn’t do this may not be up to speed on the latest methods and techniques.)
There are more questions to ask depending on your project and preferences, such as if the architect has experience with “green” design and what fees may be incurred by certain design changes. It’s best to ask as many questions as you can think of to get all of the information you need.
Many people think that an architect designs a house according to the client’s wishes and budget, hands over the plans, collects pay and that’s it. In fact, most architects have about five or six phases that make up a comprehensive service:
Schematic Design – This is known by many names such as Preliminary Design, Initial Consultation and Design, Building Program and Site Analysis, etc. This is the first contact the architect has with the project. They will visit the site and analyze it, consulting with the client to get design ideas, budget information, and determine what the client’s needs are. This will become a written program defining the client’s needs and design goals. This is where the rough draft is created identifying key design concepts and sketches of the size and layout of the project. Some architects may present a couple of options at this time.
Design Development – After the client has accepted a plan sketched out in the first phase, the architect will turn it into a more detailed and technical plan. Through 3D computer modeling, some architects can show you a complete model that you can walk through on the computer. This is also where trim and design details will be created that give your project its distinctive character.
Construction Documents – These are the hard-copy blueprints that you can take to different contractors to get bids. Enough detail is included in these documents that a contractor can make a fair assessment of what it will take to turn the plan into reality.
Bidding and Negotiation – Not all builders can build everything. During this phase the architect can help you get bids from contractors who can perform the tasks needed for your project. You can also bring in your own choices, and the architect will interview each of them to work out any questions and details that the contractor may need to know. Some plan revisions may happen at this time especially if a design element is unsafe or impossible. After gathering all of the information and bids, the architect then turns the final decision over to the client.
Construction Administration – Though the architect is not the contracted supervisor for the work, he or she will visit the site to answer any questions and clarify any details. This phase may also include:
Preparing any necessary additional drawings
Approving the contractor’s request for progress payments (payments made at specified milestones in the project)
Handling any changes made to the plans
Negotiating disputes about payment for change orders (such as who pays for them)
Resolving issues caused by conflicts or lack of detail in the design
Change orders can come from a number of sources. Many times it’s a request made by the client, but other sources include having to use a different material for strength or availability issues, finding unexpected complications when excavating for the foundation, or a remodel discovering termite damage in the existing structure.
Once the architect has drawn up the plans and handed them over to you, who legally owns them? Who pays for design errors? What about construction defects?
Ownership of the Plans
After you’ve paid thousands of dollars to have your custom home designed, you might think the plans are yours. The standard contract from the AIA, however, designates the copyright to the plans as belonging to the architect. The client is granted a one-time use of those copyrighted plans. Your neighbor could hire the same architect and get a copy of your house made!
Where the ownership issue usually gets tested, though, is when a client and architect break up before the work is finished. Can you still use however much of the plan was finished and modify it as you see fit? This may be the case if you hired the architect only for the preliminary design phase, but discuss this matter up front and early in the first meeting so that you are both on the same page.
An architect is expected to know what they’re doing in the conduct of their profession, but even a very competent architect is not perfect. Some errors and omissions are only found out after the construction has begun. A contractor is expected to build to the specified dimension, but if the dimensions are faulty, who bears the burden? Even given that a contractor is expected to “check and verify all dimensions” before beginning the work, some errors can still get through. Fortunately, these errors are often small and can be worked out among the client, contractor, and architect.
An architect is not a building contractor. Though the architect may inspect the site and verify that the work is going according to plan, he or she is not expected to know the construction trade. He or she may inform the client about any apparent substandard work, but the liability for construction defects falls ultimately on the building contractor.
As with anyone you may hire for a project, be sure to get multiple bids. Ask to see several samples of the architect’s work to make sure they are skilled with the design you have in mind. (You wouldn’t hire someone who only designs log cabins to design a skyscraper!) Speak with former clients and ask questions about the process, how satisfied were they with the finished product, and how were problems resolved. Ask about if the plan stayed on budget or were there a lot of change orders that raised the cost. If they worked with a large firm, ask who they worked with directly.
Hiring an architect can be a serious investment, but it’s ultimately worth it to make sure you avoid even costlier home-building mistakes.