How to Hire an Architect

pic-plan-roomAs a licensed Architect for almost 20 years, I sometimes lose perspective of what it must be like to hire an Architect for the first time.  Based on some phone calls and E-mail inquiries we’ve received recently, this article may be helpful to A LOT of people who must be asking:  How do I hire an Architect?

Let’s start with the obvious question:  Do I need an Architect?

While most folks probably realize that Architects design buildings and create spaces, they can also help maintain budgets, manage construction, evaluate energy costs, etc.  One of the more important aspects of architectural design is keeping the public safe while visiting, working or living in buildings.

State laws require architectural services in many instances.  They do this under the mandate of protecting the “health, safety and welfare of the public.”  This is stipulated in a state’s general statutes and building codes.  In North Carolina, for example, an Architect is required for most types of commercial projects and some residential projects.  Some small projects are exempt:  Residential structures with up to 8 units, very small commercial buildings, or projects with very small budgets.  The catch is that even those “exempt” projects still require a legal permit submittal, complete with a code-compliant design and proper documentation.  Often, those requirements (along with the many other benefits that an Architect brings to the project) make it necessary for an Architect to be involved.

So, you’ve determined (or you’ve been told by someone) that an Architect is needed.  How do you go about finding, interviewing and hiring one?  Good question.

We’ve put together a brief “How to Hire an Architect” package that provides a lot more detail than we can give here, it’s FREE for the asking (no strings attached).  You can request one via email HERE.

To start, here are a few recommendations of what NOT to do:

  • phonebooksDon’t start in the Yellow Pages with the “A”s and start calling until someone takes your call.
  • Don’t assume all Architects are alike, have similar abilities, or work on the same types of projects.
  • Don’t hire without meeting the Architect or checking references.
  • Don’t obtain several proposals and immediately jump at the cheapest.

Hiring an Architect doesn’t have to be difficult.  Most of it is common sense.  But just like anything you’ve done for the first time, you’re not quite sure how to get started, if you’re doing it right, and not quite sure if you’ve made the right decision.  If you follow a few steps, you can ensure success.  We recommend the following:

  • Seek recommendations from people you trust, ideally someone who has dealt with Architects many times before, perhaps as part of their profession.  Good sources can be real estate agents, developers, general contractors, etc.
  • Research firms online.  Review customer ratings and references found on the internet, in local listings and other directories.
  • Call the firm and gauge that experience.  Are you put on hold for a tremendous amount of time?  Are you bounced around?  Are you able to talk directly to a firm principal, or just an entry-level person?  Ideally, even the initial contact would provide a productive conversation with the main person you’d be dealing with should the project proceed with the firm.
  • Interview several firms.  It is possible to discuss the project with just one Architect, build trust during that interview, and decide no other interviews are necessary.  However, that is rare.  It doesn’t hurt to interview 2 or 3 or more firms.  Obtaining input from multiple perspectives can be very helpful.
  • For publicly-funded projects, it’s at this point that the Architect would be selected.  Public agencies are not allowed to base their selection on fees, so it is not legal for them to solicit fee information before a firm is selected.
  • For all other projects, however, part of your decision can be based (at least partly) on fee.  After all, you’re the one who has got to pay for these services (not the taxpayers).  So, once you’ve developed your “shortlist” (a list of 2-3 architectural firms), it is perfectly reasonable to request a Fee Proposal from each of the firms.  This usually takes a few days to a few weeks, depending upon the complexity of the project.  It will be a summary of services they will provide, and what those services will cost.
  • Now that you’ve interviewed the prospective Architects, checked references, and obtained fee information, you should be ready to select an Architect.  You will need to weigh the Architects’ experience and ability, and their willingness to service your needs, meet your schedule and stay within your budget.

Keep in mind, since this process takes time and effort on the part of the Architects, it is a reasonable, professional expectation that Clients inform all Architects of the decision in a timely, honest and open manner.  Making the phone call to the selected Architect is easy.  Telling the others they weren’t selected is nothing to be feared.  They may ask for some feedback, and it’s OK to be honest.

“Why weren’t we selected?”

“You have less experience with my project type than the other firms, and your fees were significantly higher.”

Personally, I much prefer an honest answer because it helps when I prepare future proposals.  Most Architects feel the same way.

Once you’ve successfully hired the Architect, now the fun begins!  If you’ve done your job and hired the right Architect, it can be a lot of fun.

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