Architectural Articles

An Architect's Fees

"How much do you charge?" Answering this question may be the most difficult challenge that I face at the beginning of any architectural project. Considering new clients who I have just met and particularly clients who are building for the first time, I do not want to put them into shock. But I also know that the tasks before me will take many more hours than anyone could possibly imagine. And of course everyone wants a deal.

Architects do not have predetermined fees. You should expect different firms to charge varying rates. Most architects price each project individually. The question "How much?" is answered by a question the architect asks in return: "For what services?" A typical new building project will go through five phases: schematics, design development, construction drawings, bidding or negotiation, and construction administration. The architect can be hired for some or all of these services.

In schematic design, the architect develops a building concept in sketches and models to determine its size, shape and position on the property. In design development, the building is refined in more detail to finalize its design, structure, and materials. Then comes the bulk of the work in construction drawings and specifications. Once the drawings are complete, the negotiation phase with the contractors takes place. During construction administration, the architect observes the progress of building construction as the owner's agent.

The architect may offer a not-to-exceed fee or to do the work on a time and materials basis. A dollar amount will be arrived at based on the presumed complexity and size of the project, his/her experience in similar projects, the number of consultants required (such as structural engineers or landscape architects), and the variety of government agencies that have jurisdiction over the project. A combination of pricing methods is sometimes best, such as hourly rates for working with public agencies and a fixed sum for construction drawings.

Architects can be contracted for specific services. For example, an architect may be hired on an hourly basis to analyze a building site or to create a design concept for a new house. Architectural drawings for smaller additions to existing buildings are not necessarily less expensive per square foot than new construction; it depends on the age, condition, and complexity of the building.

Ask questions to clarify the architect's fee structure for your particular project. And expect to sign a written contract, now required by law in California. However, I do not recommend that you use fees as the sole determinant for selecting an architect. There are many other important considerations such as trustworthiness, experience, talent, and personal chemistry. Choose the architect who will ensure the best results for you at a fair price for services rendered.

Published in The Home Edition, Carmel Publishing Co.

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