Choosing an Architect/Draftsperson

nostalgicfarmOctober 29, 2013

I have assumed that we would spend about $5,000 on a plan from an architect. Made 4 phone calls today, two of them were much more high end and charge 10% of the build, and the other two sounded more like quicker drafting type places. Those were both under $5,000 for what I wanted done. One of them I didn't like and the other one I did. I'm not sure though that it wont just be "punching" my photos in to make them work in the spaces? I would really hope to get some creativity on the other end. Otherwise I'm not sure I shouldn't just play with sketchup for the next year and consult them if I am not happy with what I come up with? We won't be building until 2015, and I had hoped to have a year or so to work on the plan. I am probably just wanting to get more than I pay for, but I would really hope to get something extra for not using a stock plan. These guys did not mention coming to my location to see the site, so maybe I don't even need to shop locally. I know I am wanting a 1 1/2 story plus full basement in a traditional/craftsman/country sort of style. Nothing too crazy, but I really am hoping that my final product is something special!

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Annie Deighnaugh

If you want special, you have to pay for it, and a good architect will be worth every penny. Ours not only worked with us to design a beautiful home that is also soundly built, and functions well, he made very frequent site visits to make sure his plan was being executed properly. We did a lot of work on the layout and floor plan and energy efficiency, but he is the one who made the house as special as it is, from trim to massing to siting on the property. He also helped us with the hardscape.

Fundamentally it would simply not be the same house without him.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 7:41PM
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Thanks for your reply Annie! The first architect I spoke to said she works on 500K min build at a cost of $50K. The last person I spoke to was less than my estimate, but thinking I'd be doing most of the work to get the home I want. Not really sure where the happy medium is? If $5K is too low, then it is too low...just not sure where I should be for something more than just an architect being a draftsman? We have some limitations already in the design, such as the garage being at an L to the house, and the master suite being on that same side of the house. Also, not a square shape, as we have quite a slope so wanting to be more long than deep :)

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 7:57PM
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What Annie said: you get what you pay for. When you need a knee replacement or spinal surgery, where do you seek expertise?

Of course, if all you have is a head cold or a sprained ankle, that's a different story and a different need for assistance and aid.

So, what's your situation? Is it simple or complicated? Or do you know for sure? What do you think your budget is for land acquisition, regulatory approvals, site improvements, house construction and landscaping? How long do you think it takes for the quality of project you envision?

Your answers are a guide to where to seek professional assistance. Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 9:33PM
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I'm having the same issue,I want something unique but most architects are wanting 10-15 percent,while I think that's reasonable for most it's just not for us,only considering my budget is less than 220,that will still get you a decent 2-2200 sf home in my area,most firms seem to not even be interested,maybe because we own the land already and would like to contract it ourselves and no mortgage.

I'm looking for someone that might be interested in designing a small barn type home with a modern interior in the Tulsa area?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 10:06PM
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Virgilcarter-Good points and I agree with you completely. I am estimating 200-300K for the home build, plus about 12K for utilities/permits/septic. We already have 60 acres and have picked the spot we want to build on and know it requires some specific things, such as an L shape garage, walkout basement (sloped) and a less deep home (because of the slope, lay of the land). We will back the home up or move it to a side based on the total depth and width of the final floorplan. I am also trying to take advantage of the views from a particular corner of the home, so want the dining/living/kitchen to be on the left. I have had a hard time finding stock plans that are similar to many of them have more than just the master bedroom on the main. We will be doing a lot of the labor ourselves, which is why I have such large variation in my construction cost. We will be doing preliminary excavating/tree removal ourselves and have the equipment to do that. We also have mosu of the equipment that we will need for nearly every part of the building process, buy will likely invest in a Hugh quality router and more detailed table saw to do cabinetry/moulding/etc. We will not figure these tools into the home cost as they can be sold after but will probably be kept. We will be putting up and modifying a barn when the home is done and adding a quanset and pond. I am not figuring landscaping into the house cost either as adjusting my home by several hundered square feet will not make a difference on the mass plantings we will be doing. This spring alone we will be planting at about 300 trees :). We will be moving into a rental in January and already have a contract on our current acreage, so that step is nearly done! I am thinking we will be trying to break ground spring 2015, but everything else has moved so quickly that it may be much sooner! But I have time to think about what I really want and adjust plans accordingly. I figure the home will take 6-9 months to be nice in ready and then need some things finished up like closet cabinetry/painting/basement finishing/crown moulding/etc.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 10:18PM
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I would (and have) happily paid the 10% or whatever it costs to get something unique that fits us and our site. As I read somewhere a long time ago "architects are the only profession that works for tips" -- a play on the 10% model-- it's not even a very good tip if you think about it that way.

To me, that is worth downscaling square footage or even a "feature" or two. But a lot of people don't want to compromise on either of those. You will figure out what is most important to you, but yeah, you don't get a great, creative, original and custom design for the same price as just getting plans drawn that will allow you to get a permit. It's just not the same thing or the same process.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:15AM
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Lori-That does really put it in perspective. I was more just shocked at the pricing that I was quoted in comparison to what I had figured. Also not really sure that I will get what I am looking for from the other party that was less than I figured. Thankfully I have time on my side, so I will see where I can find a happy medium. I am also willing to spend more than I budgeted, but am not building in the price point where a $50K floorplan makes sense :). Thanks everyone, and would love to hear from anyone who found a good compromise!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:54AM
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While that may be a decent general rule it is simply not true. You do not always get what you pay for.

Unfortunately there is a huge variation in home designers and the majority are mediocre. A lot of them actually have architecture degrees or like myself, been interested in architecture since I was young. Others are just drafters or builders who expect you to tell them what you want.

I am actually somewhat offended when someone suggest that my lack of a license prohibits me from being creative or providing something special. And I think that my work demonstrates that there are few people out there who are more creative.

Most of the difference in cost has to do with construction management. In other words do you want the designer or architect to work with you during the entire build and keep a third set of eyes on construction. Architects generally include this service designers generally do not.

While this may provide some additional security it is primarily a luxury that the majority of people do not want to purchase.

Most people come to the designer with fairly set ideas and meager budgets whereas they are more likely to come to the architect with grand ideas and large budgets. That is the primary difference between the two and not lack of ability.

Not every architect is equal either. I have seen mistakes that you would just not expect a trained/licensed person to make. Their training and licensing typically revolves around commercial construction and many have very little experience with residential.

So anyway my advice would be to shop around.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 9:30AM
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We went through one draftsman, one bad architect, and one good architect on our custom home design.

The draftsman would have been fine if we didn't want something different.

Bad architect designed an externally beautiful house with internal layout issues and left us hanging when the arch review committee rejected the initial design and asked for changes.

Good architect is a small firm that primarily does residential. It took 9 months, mainly because we had a couple of one month pauses while he pondered the best solution for a problem or want. Ended up with a striking design that packs the maximum functionality into the space. Was less expensive than the bad architect.

Good arch was fixed price per sq foot and didn't include any building oversight as we don't need it. Ended up around $8k for 4000 sq feet with oversized garage.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 11:08AM
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"You get what you pay for" should not be taken literally. Think of it as an easier way of saying "you don't get what you don't pay for".

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 1:43PM
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That is also not true. Sometimes you get way more than you pay for.

We do not pay anything to use this forum but it is a valuable resource.

You can find very good architects that charge much less than starchitects. Sometimes you are simply paying for popularity.

It is a good sound bite. And it expresses the idea that high quality generally cost more than low quality.

This post was edited by ChrisStewart on Wed, Oct 30, 13 at 14:33

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:14PM
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I think we all understand the value of spending more on certain things to get better quality. I also understand that I could spend 5-8K on an architect for a floorplan and have a neighbor buy a 1K stock plan online and have a better end product. I could also spenk 30K on a truly custom architect and have them just not produce what I had in my head. I realize now I will just have to do a lot more legwork finding someone who can produce what I want at a price I can justify :)

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:26PM
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I think that the main thing is that you need to make sure you are communicating what you want.

If a drafting person says that they normally charge 50 cents a foot, that does not necessarily mean that they are not willing to spend more time giving you options as long as they are being paid for that extra time.

Look around their office -if you do not find a lot of books on design (not just technical drafting and code text) than turn around. If they are not interested in aesthetics than they are a draftsperson.

If an architect says they charge 10% of construction cost that does not necessarily mean that they won't negotiate.

This post was edited by ChrisStewart on Wed, Oct 30, 13 at 15:29

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 3:26PM
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Very good points Chris. I likely will meet with several people...thinking a designer may be more what I am looking for. Since we are planning to GC ourselves and do a lot ourselves, 10% would actually be much more as a total percentage of what we spend! I also think given my linger timeframe that I may be best off playing around with some plans myself first. The harder thing with my location is the master wing needs to be on the same side as a courtyard style garage with the kitchen/living/dining on the other side positioned for better views. Most plans I have liked, I would need to swap so much!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 3:53PM
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Consumers "playing around" with some plans sounds both logical and fun!

Unless the consumer is a trained and experienced professional designer, however, who understands not only "plans", but also the many other implications of the composition and arrangement of a "plan" (spatial aspects, circulation net vs. gross, exterior aesthetics, use of light, energy conservation, zoning regulations and building codes, construction costs and time, etc.), then it's often a wasteful use of time by the consumer.

Why wasteful? First, consumers who spend a lot of time on making "plans", often get attached to their own ideas! Secondally, it's wasteful for the design professional who subsequently has to take additional time and find diplomatic language that illustrates why there may be better ideas, approaches and techniques. After all, many consumers do their own "plans" once in their life, while many professional designers design many homes each year.

This distinction in experience and judgment is why experienced professionals infrequently comment on plans posted on this forum--it's simply too difficult to respond to many of the consumer-generated plans in a simple printed answer. There's just too many things to improve and/or correct.

One of the best uses of consumer time, therefore, is to compile a list of "must haves" and another list of "would like to haves" that husband and wife fully agree on. Lack of full agreement just means it takes more time and money for find a design that is mutually agreeable. Sometimes photos are also helpful, as long as consumers recognize that there has to be a lot of give and take to arrive at an appropriate design solution. Insisting that the design professional produce an exact likeness of your photos is a sure way to an expensive project.

A useful analogy is one's health. If one has a health problem--an injury or an illiness--one can read on Google about all the symptoms one may have. Thereafter, one may go to a medical center and demand treatment for the symptoms based on what Google says. After all, Google is a good source for information, right?

On the other hand, trained and experienced medical professionals know the questions to ask, the information and tests to gather, and know better than most consumers how, to diagnose and treat the medical problem.

Thus, at the end of the day, one has to decide about the design of their home--does the consumer know more than the design professional? If the answer is yes, then do your own thing and accept the responsibility for the result. If the answer is no, then find an experienced professional to work with. It's really that simple.

Finally, the issue of a licensed architect vs. unlicensed "designers" and drafters. Architects have a legal responsibility and liability for their services, while "designers" and drafters do not, unless specifically identified in law and regulations. Consumers assume all responsibility for building a home from a "designer" or drafter, while architects must legally comply with all applicable legal requirements, ordinances, regulations and the like.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 7:18PM
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This post was edited by Renovator8 on Wed, Oct 30, 13 at 19:31

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 7:26PM
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I understand what virgilcarter is saying but on the other hand it seems that a client who has been playing around with a plan for some time is likely to have thought about it more than someone who simply grabs some plan off a plan site and wants a few modifications.

That process of playing I would think would not only be fun but if you bounce your ideas off this group you can get a great diversity of different points of view. (good and bad)

We all suffer from the possibility that we are biased toward our own ideas.

Their is no adult that does not have liability. But many architects and a few designers do carry liability insurance and others do not. Both are required to comply with all applicable legal requirements, ordinances, regulations and the like. Architects have a few extra requirements -continuing education, license fees, stamp requirements, etc..

Architects do have the extra pressure of being able to loose their license but I do not know if that is any more an effective deterrent. I suppose it is more likely that someone who has a nice insurance policy will get sued than someone with no money. Builders assume most of the liability.

The flip side of higher liability is higher building costs. From a liability standpoint it makes since to specify twice as much beam as is actually required because people probably never get sued for over doing it. That is no problem if you actually have more money than you need -but that does not apply to most people.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:26AM
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