If you are considering a custom residential construction or a major remodeling/renovation project, there are countless moving parts involved: initial design, hiring and overseeing contractors and sub-contractors, executing change orders, sourcing materials and adhering to budgets, timelines and building codes. You may want to think about hiring an architect, a move that comes with both economic and lifestyle benefits for years to come.

An architect can serve as your advocate through all phases of the design and construction process, especially by ensuring the construction is executed according to the design specifications. He or she can provide crucial pre-design consultation, negotiate the best prices on building materials, and present a final design that will reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs over the life of the home.

Before you proceed, due diligence is required to find the best person, someone who'll help execute your vision. It’s a good idea to ask any friends and family members who have used an architect for recommendations.

As you begin your interview process, there are a multitude of questions you should ask a prospective architect. Some of the most important to consider include:

  • What does the architect see as significant issues of consideration in your project?
  • What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project?
  • What is the architect’s experience/track record with cost estimating?
  • Can the architect provide a list of recent references?
  • What services does the architect provide during construction, and how is the fee structure established also needs to addressed from the outset of the relationship?

It is also in your best interests to approach this business arrangement as a “relationship.” You should be upfront about your expectations and vision of what the final product will look and feel like. You must also ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand. Ultimately, you want to reach a comfort level that feels like this initiative will be a partnership between you and the architect you choose to hire.

Once that decision has been made, you should consult AIA's owner-architect agreement and get a signed contract prior to any work taking place. Expenses can range from a flat fee to an hourly rate to a percentage of construction costs.

Where to begin

When beginning to work with an architect, a good starting point is to share visuals that best reflect the vision you want. Consult design publications, share photos of residences you favor, or even point to examples from the firm’s own website.

Architects are trained as problem solvers and will approach your project with a number of questions to better inform their efforts. Beyond asking about the location of certain rooms and square footage preferences, an architect ultimately wants to tailor a design that represents how you and your family live on a daily basis. How do you have your family meals? What are your preferred weekend activities? Do you entertain often? Do you plan to live in this home through your senior years?

Once the project is complete, you want your home to provide the best combination of aesthetics and functionality. To help reach that end result, a good architect can navigate the pre-design planning and zoning ordinances to avoid costly changes later on, as well as ensure strong coordination and communication among the entire construction team. These efforts will make the vision for your home into a reality that you and your family can enjoy for years to come.

About the author: John Isch, AIA, is an architect and past chair of AIA's Custom Residential Architects Network.

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