Planning a Project: Tips for Hiring an Architect

Congratulations, you've decided you need an architect! Every architect has their own style, techniques and strengths, and whether your project is large or small, it's important to find one that's right for you.1. Decide What Your Project Is: First things first — clarify what your needs are, and make sure you're on the same page as your family/business partner/etc. Also decide how much of the work you will be doing, and to what extent do you need the architects involvement. It can be helpful for you, and your prospective architect, if you clearly define the scope of your project. Making lists, prioritizing and pulling images of what you do and don't like will be incredibly helpful for you and the designer.
2. Determine Your Budget & Timeline: This might include the cost of the land, construction costs, architects and consultant fees, and permitting costs. Architects will sometimes have minimum budgets that they'll work with, and their fees will in some way be based on the cost of your project. You should also decide when you'd like the project to be completed — are you on a deadline or can you take your time? The architect may or may not be able to meet these requirements.
3. Seek Out Referrals & Visit Your Local AIA: Your local American Institute of Architects (AIA) chapter is a great start to finding qualified professionals. They have a list of all AIA affiliated architecture firms, so you can quickly browse their websites and narrow down a list. Even better would be to get referrals from friends, family and acquaintances. These can go a long way to finding an experienced and recommended designer. On the flip side, they can also steer you away from bad news.
4. Browse The Firm's Website: Make sure their portfolio includes projects similar in size and scope to your own. Look at their design style — does it match your own? Do they have a signature style, or are they able to provide a variety of looks? If your project requires some level of expertise, such as historic preservation or LEED certification, make sure that they have experience in these fields.
5. Contact & Interview Prospective Architects (Ideally at Least 3): It's a good rule of thumb to meet with at least three firms to make an even comparison. Meet them in person, perferrably at their office. You'll be working with them closely for an extended period of time, and they'll likely spend a decent amount of time in your home. You want to make sure you click not only with them, but also their employees. Is their office chaotic, or calm? This may be a good indicator of their work ethic.
6. Good Questions to Ask:

• What is their design philosophy? • Do they incorporate sustainable design, and if so, to what extent? Are they, or anyone else in the office LEED accredited? (Important if LEED certification is desired) • What is their design/school background, and what type of certifications do they hold? (Make sure that they, or someone else in the office, are licensed in the state that the project is located) • Who will be managing the project? • How long would a project of this size and scope typically take? • How would they prioritize and balance your project with their other work load? • Do they have a standard group of consultants and contractors that they work with? Will they let you bring in your own?

7. Get a List of References & Visit a Few Built Projects: Talk to the architect's previous clients and ask them tons of questions — make sure to find out both the bad and good of their experience. Visit a few of the projects that are similar to yours, and judge the quality of the design and skill for yourself.
8. Find Out How Fees Are Established: Be aware that often an architects fee is based on a percentage of your budget. It can be hourly, fixed flat fee, or based on the final construction cost. It is important to be clear to the architect what your budget is, and what that does and doesn't include. There are often additional fees for travel, materials, 3-D models, overtime, significant changes to a design, etc. You may also be required to provide a retainer (similar to a down payment) at the start of the project. You don't want any of this to be a surprise later down the road.
9. Ask to See an Example of their Standard Contract: Often this is usually some version of the AIA's B101 Owner-Architect Agreement. Make sure that you understand and are comfortable with the terms of the agreement. Before you sign on the dotted line, it'd be advisable to have your attorney review the document.

GOOD RESOURCES:
AIA Architect Finder
You & Your Architect
How Design Works

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(Image: Janel Laban/Apartment Therapy)

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