Choosing your architect isn’t a decision to take lightly. The person you select will be the brains behind your project, an invaluable problem solver, a good listener, and the one keeping your budget on track.
Here are seven questions to use as a starting point to get the candidate that's right for you and your house.
1. What Are the Biggest Challenges and Attractions of This Job?
Architects may have a beautiful portfolio and great references, but that doesn’t indicate how they’ll approach your project. During initial interviews, ask about their vision for your project:
- What’s working now, and what can be improved?
- How will a remodel blend with the rest of the house?
- What will be the challenges?
The answers are important, but you'll also want to use these early conversations to make sure you have a good rapport and that your personalities are compatible.
“You can hire any number of architects who’ll come up with creative solutions to your job,” says Pittsburgh architect Gerald Morosco, author of the book “How to Work With an Architect.” “The differences are in how well the architect matches his design to your taste and your lifestyle.”
2. Do You Have a Signature Style?
Most architects pride themselves on their adaptability, which allows them to tailor their style to fit each house and client.
But some have an overriding design sensibility that they bring to every project. For example, an architect might specialize in sleek modernism, a beach cottage feel, or reinterpretations of historic houses.
By talking about the architect’s signature style up front, you can decide whether it’s the right fit for you.
3. Who Will Design My Project?
Unless you’re hiring a sole proprietor, there’s a good chance the person you meet initially isn’t the one who’ll handle the actual design work.
That’s OK, as long as you understand it up front. Because good communication is crucial to a successful job, you need to meet the lead architect for your job before you hire the firm.
You’ll be interacting with this person a lot, so be sure to get necessary contact information, and ask to receive a schedule of meetings with mutually agreeable times.
4. What Project Management Services Do You Provide?
Architects can do more than come up with the design and blueprints. They also can:
- Manage the project
- Help you hire a contractor
- Check the contractor’s work as the job proceeds
- Make design adjustments as the work progresses
- Review invoices to ensure that payments never get ahead of the work
- Obtain necessary lien waivers from all contractors so no one can make a claim against your property later
Ask your architect which of these services he provides, and what they cost. Some services, like site inspections and revisions, should be part of your contract. Others likely will be a la carte.
5. How Do You Charge?
Architects usually charge a percentage of the total project cost, anywhere from 5%-20%, depending on the services provided, the complexity of the job, and the renown of the architect. Ask what percentage the architect will charge for your project, and when and how payments will be due.
Architects typically bill monthly, starting as soon as they begin work. But most up-front design work happens before you bring in a contractor and know the total project cost.
In the interim, the architect may bill by the hour or charge a retainer -- a fixed monthly fee -- with any necessary adjustments occurring once the real numbers are known. Each billing approach can work well. What’s important is utter clarity about the plan so you can manage your remodeling budget.
6. Can You Provide Three-Dimensional Drawings?
Reading a standard two-dimensional plan isn’t easy. Even if you can tell where the walls, windows, and doors are, you may not get an accurate feel for how the design will look in the real world.
Ask your candidate how the ideas and drawings will be presented. Most architects now use software to render 3-D images that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles. A lack of 3-D rendering capabilities may mean the candidate isn't up to speed on the latest building techniques and methods.
7. Will You Recommend Two or Three General Contractors?
Good architects can recommend reliable general contractors in your area and help you evaluate portfolios and bids. They may even recommend someone they've worked with before and set up some meet and greets.
That’s a boon to the homeowner, since it means you won’t have to do another big search to find the right contractor. But don’t stop your search with the first contractor you like. It’s always a good idea to get multiple bids, which may give you some bargaining power with the one you ultimately pick.