How Do You Hire an Architect?

So you have a project that needs an architect - where do you begin? Most people don’t have an existing relationship with an architect, but there are a couple ways to find one that will be a great fit for your project, or maybe even more important, a good fit for you and your project. Design of your building or home and the construction of it can represent one of the larger time and money investments you will ever make. You will want to make sure you mesh well with this person (and their team) as you share your hopes and dreams, and personal financial details along the way.

In the great book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (the founder of Zappos.com), he discusses how they interview people not only to make sure they have the skills and experience necessary for a job, but also that they are a solid cultural fit. The same goes for hiring an architect. They might be a great architect, but if you don’t get along with him or her, then it will add stress to what is already a stressful process. A couple ways to make sure you are a good fit is to find out who they have done work for previously and speak with them. Recommendations from people like you will go a long way. Now, we are not saying you need to be looking to become best friends with your architect, but you do want to make sure you start off with a healthy working relationship. You will want to feel heard and respected, and when inevitable bumps in the road happen, you can work them out together. You should walk away from interactions thinking “I trust these people.”

Once you are sure you are comfortable and can trust these people, you want to make sure you like the architect’s actual work. This is the “skills” part of the job interview, making sure they have a reasonable amount of experience that transfers to what you’d like to accomplish. By looking at their website and built work, you should get a feel for the common threads of design. If you have a historic building that needs a major remodel for tax credit purposes, you want to make sure you are hiring an architect that has been through that process. If you want a super modern home similar to a picture in Dwell magazine, you want to make sure that they dig that style. Or if you want to go off-grid with reclaimed water and solar panels, then you want to have confidence that your architect can accomplish that kind of project. Again, you should walk away from interactions thinking “I believe they can get this done.”

When you’ve found the firm you’d like to hire, it’s time to write up an agreement. This document isn’t just to make sure the architect gets paid fairly, although that is part of it…. The agreement is there to protect you as well. If for some reason you decide to stop your project, you should only have to pay for services already rendered, not for work that hasn’t been completed yet. If you add or significantly change a project, that generally means more work on the part of your architect and therefore increases the fee.

But again, before you sign any agreement, we encourage you to get to know the firm and the people that will work on your project.  Discuss honestly your project budget, scope, schedule, and any other details you find important to you. Ask lots of questions if the process isn’t clear. The firm should be able to gather enough details to write a proposal agreement for your project outlining your fees and the scope of work the architect will complete. We will talk more about fees in another post, but know that they should give you a pretty exact cost and what could cause the cost to go up or down. If you don’t understand - ask questions!  Good architects have no problem answering your questions. Once this agreement is signed, then we’re off to the races on architectural process.

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