Help! Architect fee mess..

homesweetnestJanuary 6, 2014

We planned a substantial reno within the existing shell for a 1/4 of a 2000 sq ft house and an addition of about 800 feet. Just walls, roof, no built ins, no special lights, heating, regular windows etc.

The architect estimated about 80 hours of his time at 110 an hour to get drawings ready for a permit. We essentially needed a draughtsperson to put on paper the designs we sketched out, and we are doing all the buying of interior stuff, down to paint, fittings, electrical and so on. No electrical or plumbing plan- we and the contractor do this.

Our contractor suggested some architects, we went with one and now we've paid him $40,000 and counting. This means we can't build part of the house - not enough money.

The not paying attention is partly our fault- a double family emergency happened in the middle of this and we received bills and paid them without counting up how much we'd paid so far. But now we feel terrible.

Some would say, tough luck. But is there any argument I can make with the architect to get some money back? (half) He is a decent person, a bit disorganized, and I suspect he doesn't know himself what he's billed us in total - he probably just marks hours down and shoots off the bill.

I don't know how he could have counted up 363+ hours of work..from the 70 or so he estimated.

Construction has just started and there was nothing unusual about foundation pouring or anything else we've done so far.

Needless to say we've not called him since getting the last bill, but this is hanging over our heads. We've told the contractor not to call the architect without calling us first and he's OK with that and is himself shocked at the fees.

Could the architect have billed us twice by mistake? We are ok about going over his estimate by a couple of thousand, but not 4x more! How do I bring this up?

Anyone have any respectful negotiating tactics or have been in the same situation?

If the house isn't completed it doesn't look good for him either but it just can't be at the moment as we don't have enough money.


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Only way to find out is to call and ask. Unfortunately your going to have to be blunt and ask him to a) either double check his math or b) ask him for his billing records. It is the only way you will find out.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 11:37AM
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You should contact the architect and discuss the situation with him. An in-person meeting is what's needed, where everyone maintains a professional and positive demeanor.

Nothing wrong with respectfully asking for a discussion of expenses.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 11:45AM
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Sorry to hear this. This doesn't sound right. Just hope there is some mistake in the bill itself.

Is there a cap in the contract?

To me, an architect shall seek the owner's approval when the design hours/fee exceed the estimate. In your case, it is tripple! I wished you had not paid him yet. It is easier to decline the payment than ask money back I guess.

Good luck!

This post was edited by jeff2013 on Mon, Jan 6, 14 at 11:55

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 11:46AM
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Thank you all - am dreading talking to him but sounds like I just have to..

Does anyone know any AIA guidelines about this.

Jeff2013. To me, an architect shall seek the owner's approval when the design hours/fee exceeds the estimate. this sounds almost like something from the AIA so you gave me an idea and I might poke around their website.

I just don't know on what legal basis I might sue him.. he presented a bill, we paid. If he says well I did x hours of work how can I contest that.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Just remind the architect of his original fee proposal and ask him to give you a written record of the work he did for that fee. If he didn't double bill you, he is certainly expecting you to ask that question so you shouldn't feel shy about asking it. Was there no time record with his invoices? Did he do all of the work or were staff involved?

I know someone who was double billed by a contractor and later was able to force him to pay the over billed amount back.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 6:25PM
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Well, if you want to get to the legalities surrounding the architect-owner relationship, you must look at the terms and conditions of the agreement you signed to commission your architect.

Is your agreement a standard AIA form of agreement, or something else? You do have an agreement don't you?

Frankly, the terms and conditions of your agreement are the only valid thing in this situation. None of the comments on this thread, no matter how well intended, will substitute for the language in your agreement.

Before you call your architect for a meeting you may want to go back and re-read your agreement.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 6:43PM
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Even a car mechanic, by law (in my state), has to get approval for work in excess of a certain % of the original estimate. Certainly there must be something similar for an architect in a "professional" role. (I'd be furious!)

Good luck; as Virgil is right--only your contract terms are what matter in this situation. But you are absolutely right in asking why/how the bill is so high.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 7:44PM
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AIA Owner-Architect agreements for small projects say virtually nothing about compensation other than to leave a blank space for Payments and Compensation to the Architect to be defined, a place to show the Initial/Minimum Payment, a place to show any markup on expenses and a place to show any interest rate on overdue bills.

The only wording in an AIA agreement that might affect this situation is the requirement that the architect's design be based on APPROVED project requirements and to not proceed with Construction Documents until the design has been APPROVED.

Auto repair laws address only that situation. I know of no restrictions or requirements for a professional services contract between a homeowner and an architect.

But it seems pointless to be discussing this online without telling us the specific terms of the contract or, better yet, asking the architect directly what happened.

When approaching a difficult negotiation, it is wise to make the other party say as much as possible first. I would ask in writing for a detailed breakdown of the architect's billed time to date. Make him be specific.

The overcharge may have been a mistake but if it is not, you should gather as much evidence as possible before your lawyers start writing each other letters and sending you bills.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:48AM
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