If you are in the market for a home and considering going the route of designing and building a custom home, you will have a lot of factors to consider. Where will you build? What style or aesthetic speaks to you? Will you remodel an existing home or start with brand new construction? And perhaps most importantly: What is your budget?
This final point is one of the most critical to answer because it will impact virtually every decision that you make about your home, from the size of the home to the materials you use in construction.
To be truly useful, your budget will need to include both the hard and soft costs. Your hard costs include expenses that relate to tangible expenses: Land, materials, furniture, etc. Your soft costs, on the other hand, include the various non-physical expenses that go into building a home, such as the professional fees you will pay the individuals you hire, such as your construction manager, contractor, or architect.
This all begs the question: How much does an architect cost, anyway? And what, exactly, are you paying for? We answer these and other questions below.
How much does an architect cost?
While it may not be as cut-and-dry as you’d like, the simple answer to this question is that it will depend. There are a number of factors that determine how much architectural services will cost, which makes it incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to give an accurate estimate that applies to everyone. The most impactful of these factors include the firm’s fee structure, the architect’s experience and level of expertise, the scope of your project, and the size and complexity of the design.
How Architects Structure Their Fees
Above, we mentioned how important it is to understand the firm’s fee structure. That is because each architect or architectural firm will have its own practices and preferences for how they charge for a project. The three most common scenarios you are likely to encounter include:
If your architect charges an hourly rate, then that means they will charge you a certain amount per hour they work on your project. It’s as simple as that! If you are working with a larger firm, you may find the hourly rate varies depending on who is performing what work. For example, if a junior architect is involved in certain phases and a more senior architect in others, it is not uncommon for the hours of the senior architect to cost more.
Hourly rates tend to work better for smaller projects, or for projects where the client doesn’t yet know what they want, as it allows for a process of discovery.
2. Fixed Fee
If your architect charges a fixed fee, then what that means is they will take details about the project’s scope (the size of the home, the number of rooms, etc.) and estimate a fee for the entire project. This will also account for the specific services involved, such as a site inspection or any meetings that must take place. If anything in the scope changes, additional fees may be added to the project.
This type of fee structure is good when the client has a pretty clear idea of what they want out of their project.
3. Percentage of Construction Costs
When an architect or firm charges a percentage of the construction costs, this means that they will look at the overarching budget for your project and charge a set percentage of that figure. The exact percentage will vary from architect to architect or firm to firm, sometimes significantly.
Finally, it’s important to note that your design project is most likely going to be broken into different phases. Some architects will offer the option of one fee structure in one phase, and another fee structure in others. This can often work out in your benefit, giving you freedom for discovery in the earlier phases when you may not have a clear sense of your project but then becoming more structured as requirements become defined.
What are you paying for?
The next question you are likely to ask is: What exactly are these fees paying for? While the specifics will vary from project to project, it will typically include:
- Design of the project from initial concept to material sections to final construction documents
- Meetings to hone in on design of a project (as meetings and design progresses the focus of each meeting is more specific)
- A full set of drawings that include site plans, floor plans, elevations, sections, enlarged plans, interior elevations, reflected ceiling plans, details, and electrical layouts
- Specification documents calling out everything that will go into the house from flooring, cabinet, plumbing fixtures, appliances, electrical fixtures (ie recessed lights, switches, plugs, and more), bathroom finishes, door hardware, cabinet hardware, paint colors, exterior finishes, exterior door and window, roofing and much more
The Value an Architect Brings
In considering the cost of hiring an architect, it is important to understand the real value that they are bringing to your home project.
On the one hand, yes: You are paying for a set of specific deliverables (plans and specifications) that you will be able to use to hire a contractor and ultimately build your home. But more than this, you are paying for that architect’s skills, experience, and expertise.
While you will want to be selective in choosing the architect that you finally work with, and while it may be tempting to go with the cheapest option, you need to ask yourself: Which architect is going to turn my home from an idea and a dream into reality?