Monday, June 07, 2010
Choose your architect wisely
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
We have often touted the value of working with an architect on your home remodeling project.
However, before you can pick an architect, you have to know where to find one. You can begin by asking your family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances for recommendations.
Many architects work primarily by word of mouth, relying on referrals from satisfied customers rather than advertising heavily.
When looking for an architect, notice buildings and homes in your area that you like, then ask around to find out if an architect was involved.
When you see a new home under construction or a major remodeling project, check out the yard for a sign that will divulge the name of the architect and contractor.
A smart architect will make sure to advertise in this way. Even if that particular architect isn't available for your project, he or she might be able to refer you to someone else who does similar work.
The American Institute of Architects is a good resource for architectural references. Call the local office, as they have a list of architects who focus on residential projects.
Understand not all architects will take on a home remodel. Many large architectural firms turn away residential projects that are less than $500,000. Usually, they focus on commercial jobs and see home remodels as a side business in the slow seasons. Narrow your search to residential architects.
In addition, you can find architects by searching in your local phone book or online. A good website will tell you about the firm and its employees, as well as show you projects typical of their work.
Great "before and after" photos will help you understand the firm's scope of work, besides being fun to look at.
Once you've found three or four possible architects, you can begin interviewing. Meet with them in person. Ask questions about experience with home remodels, time availability, working procedures and fees.
Expect to see a portfolio. As you examine the samples of the candidate's work, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this person have a set style?
Does the portfolio reflect a variety of styles?
If he or she seems to work in just one style, is it a style that you would choose for yourself?
Discuss your budget, and make sure that you see examples of work within that budget range. A designer or architect who has only done high-end work might not be able to adapt to a lower budget.
You can also ask to visit homes they have done in the past. Look them over carefully. You will get a feel for the design when you are actually walking in the house. Ask the owners how satisfied they are.
Find out the candidate's design or architecture philosophies. How involved will he or she allow you to be?
Some architects will want you to stay on the perimeter of the process, whereas others will welcome your input and comments every step of the way.
It is important that you allow your architect creative flexibility; otherwise, there's no point in hiring someone else to design for you.
However, it's equally important that you speak up if you truly dislike a design decision, because you are going to have to live with that decision in the end.
At these early meetings, you will have to determine not only if you like the architect's design abilities but also if you can get along with him or her during what may be a long and stressful process.
One homeowner said it well: "Choose an architect that you feel is approachable, one who doesn't make you feel he or she is ''The Architect'' and that you need to be in awe. On the other hand, be fair. You can drive an architect (as well as his fee) up the wall by constantly changing your mind."
Architects calculate fees in several ways. Many of them will base the fee on a percentage of the project's construction cost. Others will bill hourly, and some will provide you with a fixed fee proposal.
It's a mistake, however, to base your choice primarily on the fee, which is a minor percentage of the total construction cost and is often outweighed by the architect's background, expertise, ability to communicate and the chemistry that exists between you.
Remember that you will be working closely with this individual for many months, and you will have to live with the creative decisions that he or she makes for many years.
Therefore, choose your architect wisely, and you will more than get your money's worth in a home that will look fabulous while functioning well for you and your family. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.