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Choosing an Architect

Tips to help you choose an architect for your renovation plans

By Sharon Johnson

Whether you're building a house from the ground up or undertaking an extensive renovation to an existing structure, you will benefit from the expertise of an American Institute of Architects (AIA) licensed architect. In some cases, the architect's role ends with the delivery of the construction documents. In other cases, the architect remains involved for the duration of the project, often working side by side with the contractor and interior designer. In either case, you want to hire a professional with the right design sensibility and working style for your particular job. Here are HomePortfolio's recommendations for how to do just that.

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Define the Project

Before you bring in the professionals, consider your motivation. Why are you undertaking this addition, renovation, or building project? Are you looking for more space? A better living environment? How do you envision the finished product? The more clarity you have about why you are taking on this project , the easier it will be to communicate your vision to others.

Specific questions to ask yourself include:

  • What are the goals of this project?
  • What is my timeframe?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I have any flexibility with either timeframe or budget?
  • What does a successful project look like to me?

An architect's services typically add 8 to 12 percent to a project's final cost.

Start the Search

Your own neighborhood is a great place to start your search for an architect. If there is a house you particularly admire, or if you come across a kitchen that has just the look you want, don't hesitate to ask the homeowners the name of their architect. They will likely be flattered by your interest. The AIA's Architect Finder, another great resource, will locate architects in your area with the specific expertise you want.

Planning on making your renovation a DIY:

Interview Candidates

Ernesto Santalla, AIA LEED AP

A few quick phone calls are an easy, efficient way to start the vetting process. Once you've narrowed the list to three or four candidates, it's time to begin in-person interviews.

We turned to the experts at the AIA for this list of interview questions to ask:

Questions about the Architect's Experience

  • What is your design philosophy?
  • What sets you and/or your firm apart from other architects with similar experience?
  • Do you have experience with the building type and size of my project?
  • What is your track record with completing similar types of projects within the original budget and timeframe? 
  • Will you share with me a portfolio of similar projects and provide a list of client references?
  • May I go on a few site visits to see your work first-hand?
  • Who at the firm will I be dealing with on a regular basis? Is this the person who will design my project?
  • Do you have experience with "green" or sustainable design?
  • Do you regularly integrate low or no cost sustainable design strategies into projects?
  • If sustainable design technologies are implemented, do upfront costs exist that may affect the construction budget? What are the expected pay back times?

Questions about the Project Details

  • What do you see as the important issues or challenges in my project?
  • What is your estimated timetable for my project?
  • What method will you use to help me to fully understand the scope and sequence of the project? Will you use models, drawings, or computer animation?
  • What do you need from me?
  • How disruptive will construction be?
  • Who is responsible for insurance, bonding and licensing?

Questions about the Fee Structure

  • What is your fee structure?
  • What is included in your basic services and what services would incur additional fees?
  • If the scope of the project changes, will there be additional fees? How will this be communicated to me?
  • May I have a copy of a sample contract?

Take notes. When interviewing multiple candidates over the course of a few days, it can be hard to remember who said what. It helps to have notes you can refer to later.

Dave Giulietti & Timothy Schouten

Make a Final Choice

It may be that there is one architect with whom you really "click," or you may feel torn between two. Either way, double check your interview notes before making a final decision. Is this someone who is experienced and qualified to do the job? Is this someone you could work well with, even under potentially stressful circumstances? If so, then you can be confident that you've found the architect that's right for you.

Tips on how to select and interior designer.

Make site visits. It's a great way to get a real feel for an architect's work and, if the homeowners happen to be about, it can be an easy way to have an informal chat about their level of satisfaction with the final product.

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