How Much It Costs To Work With An Architect

If you're getting started on a home renovation or constructing a new house, considering the expertise of an architect is a smart move.

These experts do more than just draw up plans; they can manage many aspects throughout the entire construction process, which frees you to focus on other aspects of your life.

But, what should you expect to invest when hiring an architect?

Architect fees tend to vary depending on your project’s complexity and the typical rates for these services in your area. They can fluctuate based on the project's complexity, the scope of work, and prevailing rates for architect's services in your locality.

To get a snapshot of the range, the team at Houzz interviewed 11 architects around the U.S.

They found that most architects structure fees around deliverables like detailed drawings and architectural plans, but they also often factor in everything from land surveys to site visits and design revisions.

What Does An Architect Do?

Good architects bring your home visions to life, and great ones will often exceed your original expectations.

When you begin working with an architect, the process generally begins with an initial project consultation. This consultation involves discussing your ideas, expanding on them so the architect has a clear understanding of what you expect. 

If you decide to move forward after the consultation, your architect will handle many different aspects of the construction process. Below are the typical responsibilities of an architect.

Design Homes And Handle Remodeling Projects

Residential architects specialize in designing homes, both from scratch and as remodels or additions to existing homes.

To get started, your architect will ask questions about how you live, why you want to remodel or build and, if you're remodeling, how you live in your home and what's currently not working for you. Your pro will likely also want to see examples of homes you like.

“I tell every single person … to start a Houzz account and do an ideabook,” says Rick McDermott of RDM Architecture in Kansas City, Missouri. The architect will use all this information to come up with ideas that ultimately become a finalized plan.

Visit And Analyze Your Construction Site

Architects conduct detailed evaluations of potential building sites to determine the optimal placement of your home. This analysis makes sure your project meets requirements established by local building codes.

This work is called a site visit, or a site analysis. During a site visit, architects assess several different aspects of your property:

  • Topography and Geology: They examine the landscape’s contours and identify slopes, flat areas, and geological features that could make completing the project challenging.
  • Vegetation and Ecology: Many architects consider how to preserve native plant and animal life with minimal ecological disruption.
  • Soil Quality and Stability: Understanding the soil types on your build site helps plan the foundation and landscaping, which must be done properly to create structural stability and help with long-term construction cost management.
  • Climate and Orientation: They consider factors like prevailing winds and sunlight, which are vital for planning natural ventilation and positioning outdoor spaces to limit your exposure to harsh weather.

A strategic assessment helps to make sure that the design process is informed by a clear idea of the land’s characteristics, so you end up with a custom house plan that is both functional and harmonious with its surroundings.

Document Your Home's Features (For Remodeling Projects)

Before initiating a remodel, it's important to fully which structural elements your home contains as well as where they are. Your architect will determine the locations of key systems like electrical wiring and HVAC before moving forward with a renovation project.

Architects meticulously record the existing layout and condition of your home. They do so by producing comprehensive architectural drawings that include both interior and exterior details, and by providing cross-sectional views to pinpoint crucial structural elements.

This thorough documentation makes it easier to obtain a building permit, to make sure changes adhere to building codes, and to stay within construction cost estimates provided by senior architects.

These drawings also make avoiding construction defects simple while serving as critical references throughout the entire project that help manage budget and project scope effectively.

Provide Construction Documents And Building Plans

Architects are pivotal in creating detailed construction documents that serve as blueprints for your building project. The process starts with an initial design concept and progresses through to comprehensive plans verified by a structural engineer.

In designing a home, architects pay attention to both the broad strokes and the small details, such as the endpoints of moldings or the transitions between different flooring materials.

These plans include precise construction drawings for elements like kitchen walls, cabinetry layouts, and backsplash tiles, so you know that every detail will connect seamlessly.

As architects navigate through this intricate design phase, they'll help you understand the depth of these plans before finalizing any agreements.

Select Building Materials And Finishes

An architect plays a crucial role in specifying the types and exact products used throughout your home. This ranges from essential technical components, such as roofing materials, to aesthetic choices like wall paint and finishes.

Architects meticulously choose everything that forms part of your home's interior and exterior environment. They ensure that all materials meet your desired quality standards without sacrificing elements of your design philosophy.

On top of selecting fixtures and finishes, architects may coordinate with interior designers to choose furnishings if you request them to do so. Some architects have designers on staff, while others prefer to collaborate with independent experts.

Allowing your architect to recommend or select building materials keeps your custom house plan functional and helps control actual project costs when all is said and done.

Negotiate With Contractors And Provide Recommendations

Your architect plays a key role in helping you select the right contractor, offering recommendations for firms that can help keep your total project cost within your budget. The architect ensures the process is handled with precision and clarity, whether overseeing competitive bidding or managing negotiations with a specific firm.

During competitive bidding, your architect directly compares and reviews each bid to find discrepancies between their costs. Their experience in construction management allows them to offer insights into which contractors deliver efficiency and minimize paperwork.

Should bids exceed your initial project budget, your architect can make strategic adjustments to your home plan to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of the final product.

Some architects prefer to be involved in every step of contractor selection. Others might encourage you to choose a contractor early in the design phase and then the architect will work out the details.

Construction Administration And Project Management

Throughout the construction phase, an architect is crucial in ensuring that everything progresses according to plan. They may regularly perform site visits, liaise with builders, and carefully review contractor invoices to be certain they accurately reflect the work completed.

Do Architects Handle Building Permits?

Yes, architects obtain building permits for both new constructions and remodeling projects. Their deep understanding of architectural drawings, building code, and construction cost estimates leaves them well-equipped to manage this aspect of the building process.

How Much Does An Architect Cost?

Architects bill using a variety of methods that may change based on the type of work being performed. Here's an overview of the most common fee structures you might encounter when partnering with an architectural firm.

By Percentage Of Total Construction Cost

It's common for architects to charge a percentage of the total construction costs.

This percentage typically ranges from 6% for basic plans to 20% for full services on smaller projects, with most falling between 10% and 15%.

This method is typical for new constructions, because it allows the fee to be adjusted as the project's details become more clear.

Initially, an architect might ask for a retainer or deposit to start the design work, so that they know their effort in the early stages is fully covered.

Hourly Fee Structure

For projects that are more variable, like remodels, architects often charge by the hour.

Rates can vary dramatically—from $45 an hour for an intern in regions with a lower cost of living to $315 for a senior architect in major cities.

Typically, you'll see hourly rates ranging from $110 to $200.

Architects might set different rates depending on the task. You may not be charged less for something like a simple measurement than you would for a detailed plan drawing. And they often provide an estimate of total fees upfront.

Some even set a maximum cap on their fees to avoid budget surprises.

Retainers And Deposits

When you decide to move forward with an architect, they might request a retainer. These can sometimes be up to $20,000, though typically it’s between $2,500 and $4,000.

Fixed Fee Structures

Some architects prefer a fixed fee for their services. Fixed fees can apply either to specific parts of the project or cover the whole job. This can simplify budgeting and ensure clarity on costs from the start.

By Individual Project Phase

Following the American Institute of Architects (AIA) standards, some architects break down their billing into project phases: schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiation, and construction services. They may bill different rates for different phases of the project.

When Do You Pay An Architect?

Typically, after the initial retainer or deposit, architects bill monthly. It's important to discuss with your architect what happens if the project is halted, so you know whether any preliminary work or drawings remain yours.

Do You Need To Hire An Architect For Your Construction Project?

Deciding whether to hire an architect for your construction project involves several considerations.

But if you have a clear vision and are comfortable overseeing the construction process, then hiring an architect might not be necessary. You might find that a builder alone can meet your needs, particularly if your primary goal is to maximize square footage while minimizing costs.

That said, it's smart to look through all of the services architects provide that are listed above. If you need more than 3 or 4 of them, then it's probably worth reaching out to a professional.

When considering an architect, think about the scale and complexity of your project. Architects are particularly valuable for projects that require detailed architectural drawings, adherence to local building codes, or navigating challenging land surveys. Plus, their expertise means more accurate cost estimates.

Ultimately, the decision to hire an architect will depend on your project needs, your budget, and how much directly involved you wish to be throughout the process. If your project involves complex elements or you're looking for a totally unique and bespoke design, the expertise of an architect might just be the investment needed to bring your vision to life.

Can You Afford An Architect?

Understanding whether you can afford architectural services is crucial before beginning your project. If the cost to hire an architect to manage your entire project stretches beyond what you're comfortable with, consider working with one on a more limited basis.

This approach can be cost-effective while still leveraging the architect’s expertise where it counts most.

Building a custom home is a significant investment. That’s why you deserve to work with a team of professionals committed to guiding you through every step of the process – from initial design to the final touches.

Schedule a call today to discuss how Dunn & Stone can bring your dream home vision to life. Our expert team will work with you to ensure that your dream home meets your budget with zero compromises when it comes to quality.

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