As soon as you decided to build your custom dream home, you probably started scrolling through architect portfolios and now have a few names in mind. While an architect’s style must suit what you are looking for in a home, there are some more pressing questions that you’ll want to address before you start thinking about signing a contract.
Interviewing several architects is essential to ensure you partner with the right designer. At Dream Home Studio, we believe that putting together your design and build team is one of the first and most essential steps in building a custom home on time and on budget.
So, what questions should you ask an architect to ensure you’ll achieve the home you want for the price you expect?
You will want to ask twelve essential interview questions before making your final selection.
1. How will you ensure your design work doesn’t exceed my expected budget?
There is something so fundamentally exciting about beginning to design your dream home. However, that excitement will turn to disappointment if the cost to build your wish list is well beyond your expected budget. One of the most important questions you can ask a potential architect during the interview is whether they have a provable strategy for staying on budget during the design process.
This reality doesn’t necessarily mean that architects are bad actors or bad at their job. On the contrary, many are passionate, talented, creative people who love designing homes.
The issue is that custom home design is the core of an architect’s job experience, not knowing the cost to build it. This means they can design a wonderful dream home, but the cost to build the design is the builder’s daily experience, where the actual reality of the cost becomes apparent.
It is all too common for the joy of building one’s own home to be transformed into dismay and shock when the actual costs are revealed. This is why you must work with an architect or designer who implements a provable on-budget strategy before design even begins.
By asking this question, you can determine whether the architect you are interviewing has a system to ensure your design work stays within your budget. If they have such a system, they can explain the effective cost controls they intend to use before you sign their contract.
2. What is the fee basis for your design agreement?
There are two standard options for an architect’s fee structure– a percentage-based fee or a flat fee. Other pricing frameworks include a price per square foot or an hourly rate.
The percentage-based fee means your architect’s fee to design your home will be somewhere in the range of 10% to 12% of the eventual cost to build your home. As you can imagine, this fee structure creates no incentive for your architect to keep the building cost low. In fact, it creates the incentive for architects to create the most expensive design possible based on your parameters in order to make the most money from the job.
Signing the correct agreement with your architect is essential for the design process to meet your expectations and stay within budget.
Therefore, do not sign percentage-based contracts. Instead, you should only sign fixed-fee or dollar-per-square-foot design agreements.
But there’s more to this! You will want to ensure that the agreement is based upon a scope of work that you have clearly defined. Creating a clear and complete scope of work to include your design and budget expectations is imperative to ensure the architect’s agreement will generate the home design and cost you have in mind.
Our Custom Home Guidebook and Workshop outlines how you should structure your design agreement to ensure you don’t run into costly surprises down the road.
3. How do you work with builders to ensure that the design process stays within my expected budget?
Architects aren’t home builders, which means that they won’t be able to meet your budget without closely collaborating with builders; this means you will want to seek out an architect with a long-standing relationship with a qualified builder or a group of builders.
Signing on with an architect with a different connection with the building process and industry will likely result in a design based on an unrealistic understanding of the actual cost of materials and building.
4. Should I engage in the bid process with several different builders? If so, why is this a good idea? When should it happen as a part of the process?
Asking this question will give you insight into the architect’s involvement in the building side of luxury home construction. It’s best to start working with builders before you even begin designing the home, as well as while the design is underway; this gives you an opportunity to learn more about builders before the foundation is laid, as well as the actual cost of designing your home.
You don’t want to rely on the bid process to create an outcome where you get the exact home you want within your budget. Instead, you’ll want to start working with builders before the design process begins and involve them in your vision and budget so that adjustments can be made on the design side.
5. Do you offer 3D modeling and visualization?
Computer-generated 3D modeling and visualization actually aren’t the industry standard in the world of architecture; this is because it imposes a high cost on operating overhead, so many architects and firms won’t offer this service.
Though it might cost more in the form of your flat fee to find an architect who offers 3D modeling and visualization, you’ll save money on the other end, making it worth the extra upfront cost.
There are many benefits to seeing your home in 3D rather than 2D when you’re in the design phase. You’ll be able to identify essential elements of your design that would have been practically impossible to recognize when you could only see your home in two dimensions.
On top of that, computer-generated 3D modeling allows you to place your home with precision in the perfect spot on your property.
3D modeling also helps create accuracy when it comes to the pricing of a design. When combined with a long-standing relationship with qualified builders, this capability can ensure that an architect can keep your design on budget.
6. How many homes have you designed? How can you assure me that your design will meet the requirements of the Architectural Review Board?
Of course, you also want to know that the architect you’re hiring has ample experience designing homes. Beyond the number of homes they’ve designed, you will also want to ask where you can access their portfolio and if they’ve had experience building homes of a similar style or in the same community as your dream home.
Additionally, it’s also essential that your architect has a system in place for meeting the requirements of the Architectural Review Board. Suppose you’re building a luxury home in a high-end community. In that case, there will be an Architectural Review Board that ensures a high level of design quality is maintained.
Your construction documents will need to be submitted by your architect so that they can be reviewed, adjusted, and approved before construction begins. As we discuss at length in our Custom Home Guide Book, there are some Must-Have Contract Clauses you’ll need to include in your agreement to ensure that you are protected from the disaster scenario of your home designs being rejected by the Board.
7. Do you have references I can reach out to?
Any reputable architect will have a list of past clients you can call to confirm their answers to these other questions. On top of that, you can verify that their design approach is centered around staying on budget by learning more about the experience of previous clients.
There is a lot of priceless information you can learn by talking to other people that have worked with the same architect. Beyond their ability to stay on budget, you can ask their opinion about their communication style, what they would do differently if they were starting from scratch, and whether the client would use the same architect again if they were to design another home.
8. Who will design my project? Who will be my point of contact?
This question is unnecessary if you’re hiring a sole proprietor, but you will want to remember this one if you’re hiring a firm with more than one person. There’s a good chance that the person you’re initially meeting with won’t be the person who will design your home.
Few things are as frustrating as a design firm that doesn’t return your calls. On top of that, you’ll want to make sure that you will be assigned one person as your point of contact. You can also ask if another staff member will be available to promptly communicate with you if your point person is unavailable.
9. Do you plan to be involved during the building process?
You’ll find that some architects consider their job done once the designs have been approved by the Architectural Design Board and passed off to the builders.
As we’ve stated earlier, you’ll only want to work with an architect that has a close network of qualified builders that they work with, and you’ll also want to make sure they don’t duck out just as construction begins.
10. Do you offer any project management services?
Some architects solely deal in design, but many others offer a suite of services that complement their standard services. They might offer to manage the project, help you find the right builder, assist in property selection, and adjust the design as necessary as the process progresses.
Related to the previous question, you’ll want to work with an architect committed to being involved in the home-building process. Some services, such as site inspections and revisions, might be included as part of your contract. Others might cost extra, so you’ll want to inquire about the pricing for each service you’re interested in.
11. What does your design process look like?
Before you hire any architect, you’ll want to envision what each step of the design process will look like. After you have interviewed several architects, there will hopefully be a shortlist of options that meet the necessary criteria of having an on-budget strategy, offering 3D modeling, agreeing to a flat fee structure, and having an existing network of quality builders they are highly connected to.
You can then use this question and the following question to learn more about the particular architect, their process, and how they will turn your dream into a reality.
12. Why do you think you’d be a good fit for my project?
This inquiry is a very general interview question, but it can be an excellent opportunity to receive feedback about whether the architect has connected with your vision for your home; this is a chance for them to try and sell themselves, but it’s also when you can learn more about them both as an individual and as an architect.
Choosing the right architect is a multifaceted process. Finding someone with the right experience, system, and expertise is a must, but you also want to ensure you feel like you will work well together. They are the person that will be taking your concept and putting it down onto paper (and, of course, into a 3D model,) so you don’t want to overlook the importance of feeling comfortable working with them.
Don’t Rush the Process of Architect Selection
When you know you’re finally building your dream luxury home, it’s easy to want to rush toward the beginning of the design process. However, asking the right interview questions and finding the perfect architect for the job is critical if you want your home to be built within the budget you have in mind.
Trust us– it’s worth the time and effort to find the architect who can help you design your home without dealing with sticker shock on the other end.
At Dream Home Studio, our mission is to help people build the home they’ve been dreaming of without any more frustrating aspects of the building process. Make sure you watch our videos to learn more about how you can build your custom luxury home on budget, on time, and without any expensive surprises.