Kathy HarringtonOctober 17, 2012

We are getting ready to build a house in Colorado. We have not designed and built a home from scratch before and are trying to get educated before we dive in. We met with 2 architects and have received 1 preliminary proposal. He outlined his proposal into 4 different phases with a resulting fee of $8 a sq foot for architectural and structural plans. In addition this does not include geotechnical, topographical or civil engineering. Also the 3-d modeling, lighting plan and submission to HOA is also extra. My brother in Texas has an architect only charging .85 a square foot for architectual drawings. This seems like such a hugh discrepancy. Wanted to hear from architects out there what we should be looking for in terms of services and prices

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Prices are local, but $8+++++ per sf is standard for architects in my neck of the Dominion.

brother in Texas has an architect only charging .85 a square foot for architectual drawings

An architect or a draftsman? And perhaps a draftsman converting designs by the homeowner into something readable and to Code.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:16PM
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No one can make a living or even break-even on expenses at $0.85/SF. Could you? What does this buy? One (only) drafted plan? It certainly is not comparable to the services provided by the $8/SF fee, which likely anticipate changes you request from design studies, final construction documents, including structural drawings. These are probably sufficient for building permit.

That proposal, and the itemized exclusions, are certainly reasonable and fair for what you will get.

Are you comparing apples to apples with what your brother is getting; licensed architect to licensed architect--services to services?

One gets what one pays for!

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 7:21PM
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Kathy Harrington

Thanks for your responses. Just responding to a little sticker shock especially compared to what my brother is paying. To be fair, I'm not sure what his price entails, and I'm not even sure what mine entails as I'm not sure yet what exactly I'm looking at or what I really need yet. Need to dig a little deeper and get a fuller understanding of my proposal. But it's nice to know I"m not that far out of the ball park

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 7:39PM
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We're paying about $1/sq. ft. for our architect but we're not getting the same kind of service from him that you describe at all. He's our builder's architect, really, and he's taking our very simple house floor plans and turning into something that can get the necessary permits and be built. He won't be our representative at the building site, and we didn't start with talking about all our hopes and dreams and I don't expect special custom details. He's doing a nice job for us-- more than just drafting, he's fixed some details and made the house nicer, but it's not the same as what I would expect if we had gone the route you are and had hired an architect directly.

I suspect that if we hadn't come to them with a very specific idea of what we wanted, they'd have had us choose among existing plans to tweak.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:47PM
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A lot depends on the desired level of quality, originality, special services and dite observation you want as well the nature of the firm. $8/s.f. would be cheap for a large well-known architectural firm and expensive for a sole-practitioner.

It's a matter of the scope of services and the architect's overhead so there is no way to compare projects where those things are different.

I've never known an architect to charge by the s.f.; it seems like something only a draftsman would be able to do.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:50PM
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The old fee approach for architectural services used to be 6%-10% of estimated construction cost for full architectural services.

I always thought a fixed fee for services made more sense, based upon a mutually agreeable scope of desired services.

In a sense, that's what a $/SF fee is--a fixed fee based on what the owner wants the architect to do.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:33PM
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A s.f. fee rate would be fair if only if the floor area of a house was a reliable indicator of the scope of an architect's services. To me it would be the least reliable indicator; no project is the same.

I can estimate the hours I will need to do a project by comparing the work to other similar projects and making adjustments and additional services at an hourly rate would be clearly defined. If the owner wants to divide my fee by the s.f. of the house that's OK but it wont change the fee.

Using this fee method my rate per s.f. for recent projects would have varied between $4 and $12 per s.f.

Would the garage be included in the floor area? If not would it be designed for free? Is the area gross or net usable?

The only appropriate use I have seen for this method was for preparing condominium documents or existing condition drawings.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 11:01AM
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Renoivator8, you comments are good ones: be successful in business and staying in business means not only providing a high-quality service/product, but also having a clear understanding of the time and expenses connected with providing that service/product.

Providing 1 preliminary floor plan sketch is very different than providing schematic design, design development, construction drawings and specifications, bidding assistance and construction adminnistration. Experienced architects should be able to reasonably estimate these, and limit them by defining a reasonable scope of services.

Providing drawings for architectural review/planning commission hearings and attending those meetings; HOA submittals and hearings; filing for building and required permits; plan check revisions, etc., are all extra service most times in as much as the time and effort for these is unpredictable and in the hands of others.

The average home owner, I have found, has little idea of the time, materials and expertise required for all of these "normal" services. Add to that the changes from home owners once they begin to see drawings and what some of the possibilities/limitations may be.

It takes a lot of experience, enjoyment in working with others and a strong sense of humor to make the process work and enjoyable from start to finish.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 12:24PM
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When we built our house in Texas 2006 we started with a very reputable custom builder in the Houston area who offered service with a good architect that he worked with and the price was $1.00/foot. We did not choice that path so can't attest to what the ultimate cost would be. I have seen results from their work together and it is first rate - I do not know why costs are so much less in Texas for an architect, but I believe they are.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 2:27PM
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Maybe I should get my plans drawn in Texas. Add in the P.Eng.'s fee for the structure and I'll be way ahead. (But, then, we don't do much adobe here.)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:01PM
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Another way to level set is through stock online plan prices. Our plans were $2,000 for a 3,800 sq ft house. We found them on a website, saw the architect logo and then went to them to make changes (20 of them) and buy the rights and plans for $3,000 total on our 4,000 sq ft final plan. That was without structural or HVAC plans, just basic lighting. We paid another $2,000 to a local engineer firm for a foundation and framing plan with engineering stamp.

To go from blank paper to full blown engineered plans, I would expect a pretty big number. I'm guessing it would take (even with CAD) 2 or 3 weeks to create a house plan from scratch and a few more weeks after client revisions. So 4 weeks on the low end, that's 1/12th of the architect's year. I think an architect would make over $100k? so let's say that's 10,000 of his/her salary... but there's the overhead of the office and benefits and getting the structural plan.

For a house of 3,000 to 5,000 sq ft, I'd guess the bill would be $25,000 easy for what you described in the inital post... or $5-8 per sq ft.

Truly custom homes are EXPENSIVE.

But that's just my $0.85 per sq ft... :)


    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:16PM
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At $1/SF vs. $8/SF vs. any number, just be sure you are comparing an apple to a similar apple.

The old saying still holds true, "if something seems to good to be true, it probably isn't!"

There's another old saying, "if it works for you it isn't stupid!" So whatever floats one's boat satisfactorily.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:18PM
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The issue we are skating around is that the Design-Build approach is very different from an Owner-Architect-Builder approach and that it is very difficult to compare the services and the costs.

In the latter process an architect works for an owner as his representative, designs the house, prepares the drawings, bids the project competitively with several builders, observes the work during the construction phase, and signs off on the work before the house is occupied. This process puts the owner in control of the project and the costs of the design and the construction parts of it are clear.

The Design-Build process puts the contractor in charge of the project and the design and construction documents are prepared in-house or by an associated designer for a token fee with the true cost covered by the negotiated Design-Build package price. Often the designer is not an architect since a stamp is rarely required for a home but that designer might be referred to as the "architect" or the "architectural designer" not to mislead the owner regarding professional capacity and training but for lack of a better word since the designer does what an architect would do...

Shifting most of the design fee into the construction price and giving control of the project to the builder are not necessarily the best ways to ensure higher quality work and lower project costs.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Reno8 has just succinctly identified why builders can refer clients to "their (builder's) architect", who probably isn't, but who will do the needed drafting work for a token sum, since all of the real money is built into the construction cost and invisible to the owner.

But it feels so comfortable to the owner: one stop, one shop, one cost. In fact, the owner is surrendering much of the decision-making to the builder and his normal and comfortable ways of building things.

It is very difficult to compare the two processes, since one is an apple and the other is an orange.

What to do? It pays to do one's due diligence, investigating both approaches and getting lots of references to see which best fits one's individual situation.

In the end, it's really about a tailored, one-of-a-kind house with a site-specific and personal fit vs. an existing house, with some modifications and a different color paint (or other finishes).

Each approach is appropriate for different folks. Without due diligence, however, it's simply a case of, "You pays your money and you takes your chances!"

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Epiarch Designs

We do either fixed fee or sliding fee based on dollar amount of total construction. You can not really compare $/sqft numbers. There are too many variables.
Also BIG difference between an architect and a draftsman and "designer". Being around builders every day, most do not understand the differences. If they design and draw, they are an "architect". Now to be fair, I know draftsmen that that know way more about construction than other architects I know. I also know "designers" that are good at it, but have 0 concept of construction and how to detail their ideas. My opinion, a good architect combines all of the above...good design, good construction concepts and details, good drawing, etc.
Scope will typically always drive fee. When a client wants to lower their cost, I have to reduce scope and services. 3 areas of costs: time, quality, quantity. To lower costs, one of the 3 items has to give. If you want high quality, you add to the time, thus reduce quantity of drawings/details. You want it faster to reduce cost, quality will typically suffer. You want quantity (large sqft house) then time and quality has to increase or decrease.
As states, you typically get what you pay for, but not always obviously. (like apple products :) )
Good luck in your design and build, if they are charging $8, I am sure you will get good service and design, without anything too over the top.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 10:18PM
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