hire an architect south florida architectureIf you’re unfamiliar with how to hire an architect, it can feel like a daunting task! Especially if you don’t work in the design or construction industries. Whether you’re a future homeowner looking for a custom design or a business seeking out a creative professional to help you bring your vision to life, it pays to do your research. Knowing how to scout out the right architect for the job can mean the difference between satisfaction… and wasted money.

Quality matters, both in design and construction. To make sure you hire the right architect for the job, South Florida Architecture has put together a step-by-step guide to help you narrow down your options and select the best professional for the job. There are many things to consider, from establishing whether your project is budgeted for an architect, to determining which design approach and style is best for your project.

Step One: Determining Whether You Need to Hire an Architect

architect definitionDefinition sourced from Google.

An architect is not the builder of your project. He or she is trained to create constructively sound designs that contractors use to build your commercial or residential building. The architect may supervise the construction to ensure their design is properly executed, but a contractor is always hired to complete the construction phase.

Not all projects require an architect. If it’s a small project such as simple home updates or minor aesthetic renovations, a contractor may be better suited to help you. These projects include new paint jobs, installing new lighting, building and installing cabinetry, or replacing your flooring.

Architects are called in when your construction or renovations will make changes to your original blueprints. Knocking down walls, adding new rooms, or changing the overall floor plan of a room or residence are all within an architect’s specialty. They’re also the professionals you call when you’re building a commercial or residential property from scratch. Architects are also hired to provide:

  • Permits for Remodeling: Some projects require a plant to be drawn up before a permit can be issued. The level of detail required may vary. Permits are often required for public structures. An architect will either draw the plans up for you or offer their seal or stamp of approval on plans you’ve drawn up but need permit approval.
  • Bank Required Blueprints: In some cases, a bank may require that you provide a blueprint for your project before they help finance it. These can be drawn up by an architect.
  • Unique or Complicated Designs: If you need an eye for design and the know-how for construction to be able to create an addition on your home or commercial building, an architect can help bring your vision to life and connect you with a contractor that can execute it properly.
  • Projects with Special Structural Considerations: If you’re building an addition to your home that requires a meticulous knowledge of architectural design to ensure structural integrity, hire an architect. This can be anything from roof-decks and balconies to multiple fireplaces.
  • Your Renovation is Aimed to Increase Home Value: If you’re looking to completely renovate a home in order to increase its value, your best bet is to consult an architect to ensure your design is profitable.

Step Two: Establishing Your Budget and a List of Architects to Consider

Determining your budget before you start shopping for an architect will help you decide which professionals are within your price range. On average, most residential homeowners report spending anywhere between $2,084 to $7,927 on a home design created by an architect. Think whittles down to anywhere between $60 to $125 per hour (Source: Homeadvisor). The lower end of that hourly fee is typically reserved for interning architects while the higher fees are typically for the expertise of a project manager or principal.

It pays to determine during your interview process how an architect charges. Some work on a fixed cost while others charge by the hour and cost of materials, plus an additional percentage. If you choose an architect who goes by the latter method of charging its clients, make sure you establish a price cap within your contract. That way the team you’re working with stays within budget.

Other architects may charge both hourly and per square foot. For an ethical architect, this process works out well for both the professional and client. However, you have to make sure you’re working with the right person.

Next, begin researching local architectural firms available to you. Don’t rush this process. Make sure you take the time to do your homework and build a solid list of candidates that appeal to you. Keep in mind that architectural firms will have access to more resources than individually contracted architects, such as on-staff designers and contractors. If you don’t already have your contractor in mind, we highly recommend approaching a firm like South Florida Architecture to do the legwork for you.

Step Three: Screening Your List of Architects

Never take an architect on word alone. Always, always validate their credibility and compatibility through reviewing an architect’s past projects, ensuring their licensed, and asking for references. This rule of thumb goes for both individual architects and architectural firms. You want to know the team you may be working with prior to offering them the job. After you’ve validated that they are credible and licensed, review their budget, style, and their chemistry with your team.

Start with websites and phone calls first. If you haven’t already reviewed their website and online portfolio, do so before you pick up the phone. Once you feel like you know a bit about the firm, what you like, and what you may feel is questionable, give them a call. Explain the scope of your project, inquire about pricing to confirm they’re within your budget, and ask any questions that you may have come across so far. Especially if any of those questions are deal-breakers. If you like what you hear, schedule an initial meeting.

Chemistry and understanding between you and the architect are also important. Make it a point to get to know the individuals you’ll be working with in that initial meeting. Ask them specific questions to see if their vision will align well with yours. We recommend you set aside an hour for this discussion. If you have trouble communicating or getting on the same page with one another in your first interaction, don’t expect it to get better after you hire them.

A few relevant questions to ask include:

  • How busy is your firm?
  • What kind of timeline can you assure me for the completion of this project?
  • Who would handle my project? (Make sure he or she is present at the meeting)
  • What is your fee structure and is your estimate for my project within my budget?
  • What is your architectural process?
  • Can you show me previous projects you have completed, especially those that are similar to mine?
  • Can you provide me with references from past clients? (The answer should always be, “Yes!”)
  • Do you have a signature style, and is it the right fit for my project?
  • What kind of challenges, issues, or special considerations do you see in my project?

That last question is one that you should seriously consider as you’re reviewing the candidate’s portfolio. For example, you don’t want a strict modernist creating the design for a traditional cottage or colonial home. Make sure that the architect, no matter how talented, is capable of adapting to what you want.

Step Four: Proceeding with an Architect of Your Choice

Once you’ve narrowed down your selection and you’re ready to start working with an architect of your choice, you will be expected to sit down and sign a contract. This contract will detail fees, billing, architectural phases, and legal details.

Make sure you read and review your contract carefully. Processes and fees vary from professional to professional. The time to ask questions is before you sign—not after. If you haven’t already reviewed these details, do so now.

Once you’ve come to a signed agreement, the process of developing your design comes into play. Many new clients often believe that once they sign a contract, their role is complete. This is inaccurate. Most architects complete about 5 different over the scope of a project, and check in with the client periodically throughout the process.

The General Architectural Process

Below is a summary of the 5 basic phases an architect will go through during the design process:

Preliminary Design

A project always begins with a Preliminary Design. Consider it the rough draft. Some professionals also refer to the preliminary design as the “schematic design.” The architect starts his or her project with a collection of information. This typically begins in the initial meeting with the client where a budget, preferred styles and design ideas, and specific needs are established. A visit to the project site is often arranged as well so that it can be analyzed prior to the design being created.

The building site holds a lot of influence over an architect’s design. Good architecture aims to create synergy with its landscape. Everything from optimizing on scenic views and natural lighting to creating resolutions for difficult terrain will be considered when the architect visits your project’s future location.

After the architect has a clear picture of the project and it’s expectations, a rough draft will be drawn up. This mock up will include key design concepts, size specifications, and general layout. Because the preliminary design is a form of brainstorming, you may be presented with multiple options. This is done to help pinpoint exactly what the client is looking for before investing too much time into a specific design.

Design Development

Once the client reviews the preliminary sketch and approves its design concept, the architect will move forward in developing a clearer picture. This includes a detailed, technical plan developed through computer programs that create a 3D concept model. The advantages of this creation is that the architect can give his or her client a virtual tour of the design, both inside and out.

The design team can also add detail to the 3D concept to help bring character to the design, such as trim and other detail. This process also includes collecting all the necessary data for building requirements and site requirements, as well as the mechanical and electrical systems that will be needed to give the structure functionality. By the completion of the Design Development phase, the architect will know all the specifications needed to begin construction drawings, including materials and any additional work that may be required to bring it to life.

Construction Documents

Construction Documents are the physical blueprints of an architect’s design. They are used to get bids from contractors on how much it would cost to bring their architectural design to life. The details included in these documents are catered to contractors to help them assess the costs and timeframe needed in order to build the outlined design. These must be completed before approaching contractors, which leads us to our next step…

Bidding and Negotiation Phase

Once the construction documents are completed, you have to find a contractor willing and able to build your design. Not every contractor can do it. Depending on what type of building you’re creating and any special considerations needed, you will need to bring a contractor on board who is capable of getting the job done. You can also bring in your own personal choices for the architect and his or her team to interview them in order to work out any questions or details prior to the contractor accepting the job.

As stated before, architecture firms like South Florida Architecture will already have a list of capable contractors for bidding and negotiation. They can handle this process for you. However, if you choose to have your design completed by an independent architect, you must be prepared to do this process on your own.

Once a selection of bids have been received, they will be turned over to the client who will ultimately choose which contractor to use for his or her project. Input can be provided by the architect and his or her team to help you make your decision, especially if you aren’t sure of the pro’s and con’s of the listed offers.

During the negotiation phase of your project, some revisions to your design may occur. If so, these are made out of necessity. For example, if after careful consideration between the architect and contractor, a design element is considered unsafe or implausible, it may be altered or removed from the design.

Construction Administration

When it’s time to bring your design to life, you can opt to have your architect supervise the contractor’s work throughout the building process. However, even if you do not decide for your architect to play such an involved role in the construction phase, he or she may still be called upon to answer any questions or clarify any details for the contracted team.

They also may be expected to prepare any additional drawings when necessary, facilitate any changes made to the plans, resolve any design-related conflicts, clarify any design details, approve a contractor’s request for payments expected after each milestone, and negotiate payment disputes should they arise.

When a request for changes are submitted, they are called “change orders.” These can be made for various reasons, including resolutions for unexpected complications, discovery of an existing problem or damage within the structure, conflicts with material availability, or other problems related to the construction process.

Have Questions about Hiring an Architect?

Ask the professionals! South Florida Architecture Inc. is a reputable architectural firm located in Bonita Springs, Florida. You can contact us by phone at 239-777-0616 or visit our office at 9990 Coconut road, Bonita Springs, FL 34135. We will be happy to discuss your project with you, along with any questions, concerns, or clarifications you may have regarding hiring an architect and bringing your vision to fruition!