Your home is likely the largest investment you will ever make. It’s where you spend most of your time and where you raise your kids and celebrate those special occasions.
So when you make the decision to remodel or put on an addition or even do a tear down and build an entire new house, you need to do some research and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row so that the job is done right.
And let’s not kid ourselves, you’re also going to spend a substantial amount of money on your home project. So you want to make sure you minimize the surprises and additional cost that many homeowners experience.
So here are the 8 questions you need to ask an architect BEFORE you hire them to avoid any surprises and make sure your home addition project is smooth and affordable.
1) Are you licensed and fully insured to practice architecture in this state?
Licensing and insurance requirements vary by geography. So what is acceptable and legal in Texas may be completely different than the rules in New Jersey.
An Architect License and full insurance are the bare minimum that you should expect from any architect you hire. These are basic requirements for your architect.
Your architect being licensed and insured protects you, the consumer, in a couple of ways. In order to get a license an architect must pass an extensive exam, which is administered by the state. That ensures that they have a mastery of architectural principles and procedures.
Just like you wouldn’t want an amateur doctor doing your operation, you don’t want to leave the structural viability of your home in the hands of an amateur architect. Make sure they’re licensed in the state where the work is being done.
Your architect being fully insured just makes common sense. In case of a mistake, you will be covered. It’s just good business practice for any person you hire to carry insurance.
If they’re not fully insured, walk away.
2) Do you manage the actual day-to-day process?
Some architectural firms may have a super star architect who comes in at the beginning and wows you with their expertise and then hands your project off to some junior associate.
That isn’t necessarily a bad situation. You just want to understand if that is their typical procedure.
When you are dealing with an architect, you often choose them because of how well their vision syncs with yours and how they are to work with on a day-to-day basis. You will have a lot of interaction with your architect throughout the project so you want to make sure you will enjoy that interaction.
Make sure you get a clear explanation of how your potential architectural firm works before you sign any agreements. This will ensure that everyone has the same expectations for the project.
3) What is included in the architect’s services and what are their strengths when it comes to architectural abilities?
Again, it’s very important to discuss these issues before you hire so that all expectations are equal. That will go a long way towards a harmonious and successful project.
Ask for a detailed list of services and also ask them if there is anything they don’t do and ask why. You don’t have to have a specific architectural service in mind when you ask if there’s anything they don’t do. Just ask an open ended question and let them answer. The answer may surprise you.
The strengths question is a great one that will show you how honest they are. No one is the best at everything and an honest person will identify specific strengths that they have.
Some of the things an architect might include in their strengths are things like programming, spatial planning, conceptual and schematic design, construction drawings, detailing and specifications.
They should also be capable of working with township regulatory agencies and attending hearings – zoning, planning, historic commissions – and working with other professions that have their hands in an architecture project, engineers, surveyors, town and state officials, and attorneys. You can pick a few of those and ask how the architect usually interacts with them.
Having an architect you can trust to give you the straight scoop is extremely valuable. Anyone who’s hiding something won’t be great to work with.
4) What is your fee structure and when do we discuss money?
Money is often the white elephant in the room. Everyone’s afraid to bring it up.
Well, bite the bullet and don’t be afraid to have that blunt discussion right upfront. Even if your architect doesn’t want to discuss money upfront, get a commitment from them about when you will discuss it.
Money is important to everyone, those who are spending it and those who are receiving it. Make sure that discussion is not left to the end, after you’ve fallen in love with an architect’s style.
5) After the drawings are completed do you have continued involvement with the project during its construction phase?
No one wants to or should hire a hit and run architect. Your architect should be communicating with your builder throughout the project.
The perfect building project is a result of great design and great execution. Your architect needs to be available to work with the contractor to answer questions and sometimes to help solve unforeseen problems.
Every project is unique and you always can run into bumps in the road. So it’s important that your architect is not only available for questions but also communicating regularly with your contractor.
6) How will you help me fully understand the scope of the project?
Architects go to school and many have years if not decades of experience learning, refining and working at their craft. And that craft can often be a very technical one with lots of jargon picked up and used over the years.
It’s important that your architect has the ability to explain to you, in a way that you understand, all of the intricacies and special features and challenges that come with each project.
Some architects will use models, drawings or computer animation to help communicate the scope of the project. Make sure that you will be able to understand whichever method they employ. Communication is a two way street and your architect should work with you to make sure you understand.
Make sure you’re not taking a leap of faith.
7) What most interests you and what concerns you most about my project?
By asking these questions, you are looking to gauge the architect’s interest in your project. Look for detailed answers that sound like they have depth and that demonstrate a real understanding of your project and your vision for the results.
Don’t be afraid to ask the architect to expand their answers so you can fully understand and be satisfied with the answers.
8) What is your process for staying within my budget?
Again it’s all about the money. Well, not all about it, but money is an important factor. You don’t want to start out with a project budget and have the costs for your project spiral out of control.
Your architect can and should help with keeping the project budget to what was discussed at the outset. And if there is no budget known at the outset, then you cannot really expect the architect to stick to it! Do one of the biggest favors for yourself to contribute to a successful project; have a dollar figure that you want the construction cost to be. If you need help with that, your architect can help you target a ballpark figure.
Of course every project can have changes to the budget as it proceeds, but your architect should be able to help control the costs and contribute to the management of the project’s budget.
These 8 questions should help you better evaluate an architect before you hire them. Getting answers to them will make for a smooth project, a harmonious working relationship and should result in your dream home.