How to Hire an Architect

How to hire an architect

How to Hire an Architect

We prepared the guide, How to Hire an Architect, after seeing many people grapple with the design and construction process. People often wonder how do I find the right architect for my project? What can an architect do for me? Do I really need to hire an architect or will a draftsperson due? How much are architects’ fees? And most importantly, what are the key steps I need to take to ensure that I hire the architect who will be the perfect match for my project and me?


This process may feel like a complex and frightening proposition for those who haven’t been through it before. We aim to provide clear guidelines for not only how to take some first steps in the process, but also how to follow through to successful fruition of your ideas. The first and most important step is to find and hire your architect.


Working with an architect from the very beginning will add the greatest value to your investment and ensure a successful project. To find your perfect match in an architect, consider the following points that can guide you along the way. Use these to help you analyze the qualifications, design strengths and weaknesses and communication skills of your candidates. Your goal is to find the right architect for your project and for you.

The word architect derives from the Greek arkitekton, which means chief builder.

Search for an Architect

An architect is a licensed professional trained in the art and science of building design and construction. An architect plans, designs and oversees the complex task of constructing a building. The word architect derives from the Greek arkitekton, which means chief builder or director of works. A designer or draftsperson is unlicensed. They may know a lot about designing buildings but it is illegal for them to provide architectural services. Hiring a designer or draftsperson to design your house is equivalent to having a paralegal to represent you in court or an intern to perform your surgery. You must pass the Registration Exams to be an architect just like you have to pass the Bar Exam to be a lawyer or the Medical Boards to be a doctor.


Professional organizations such as your city or country’s local architectural institutions are great sources to find licensed architects. Word of mouth is also a common way to look for an architect. Ask family, friends and/or professional colleagues for referrals. Websites like are good places to search for a licensed architect because you can narrow the search results by style or geographic location. Web searches using key words can also yield results, for example “modern vacation house.”

Does Their Work Inspire You?

Review their Portfolio


Be sure to visit the Websites of your candidates. Look at their previous projects. Does their work inspire you? Would you be thrilled to live in one of the houses they designed? Think twice about hiring an architect with a traditional style to build your modern urban home. Spend some time thinking about what kind of architecture you love and find examples. Having examples facilitates discussions and the creative process with your architect. Websites like Pinterest and Houzz are great for collecting images.

Gather your thoughts and key information about your project

Do your Homework


Once you have found a few candidates whose work you like, give them a call and start a conversation. But before you call gather your thoughts and key information about your project. Here is a list of things you should know before you call:


– Square Footage: How much space do you want to build or renovate?

– Budget: How much money is available for this project?

– Price Point: Is this a budget project ($200/sf) or a luxury project ($600/sf)?

– Schedule: When do you want or need the project completed?

Does the architect have a progress that is clear and logical?

Understand the Architect’s Process


How will the architect approach your project? Does the architect have a process that is clear and logical? Have them to walk you through it and ask questions about anything you don’t understand. If you are designing a new home, ask them about their experience with zoning and regulatory issues in your area. How do they incorporate environmentally responsible design into their work? Check their references. Even though the architect might have an attractive portfolio and good references you will still want to make sure their design process and approach is right for you and your project.

Being able to communicate freely and openly is vital to the success of your project

Meet your Architect


Make an appointment to meet your potential architect either at their office, for lunch or at the site. You are entering into an important relationship and a face-to-face meeting will help you decide if you will have a productive rapport with your architect. Being able to communicate freely and openly is vital to the success of your project. You should share a clear understanding of the goals with your architect and feel completely comfortable. Be sure to find out if your primary contact will be with one of the partners themselves or with the project architect working under them.

An architect will guide you through a needs analysis to determine your goals and priorities

Defining Basic Services


Architects’ Basic Services are defined by the AIA and are commonly included in any architect’s proposal. However, before Basic Services begin you should commission an architect to help you formulate a clear project brief. This phase is called Pre-Design, Feasibility Study or Needs Analysis. This is the first and most important step. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the project is built. An architect will guide you through a Needs Analysis to determine your goals and priorities, the constraints and opportunities of your site and the feasibility of your timeline and budget. Avoid rushing right into Schematic Design without completing this phase, as this can be very costly down the line.


Basic Services include the following phases:

– Schematic Design: Establish the conceptual design, scale and relationship among spaces.

– Design Development: Refine the design and prepare plans, elevations, building sections and typical details.

– Contract Documents: Prepare detailed working drawings and specifications for construction.

– Bidding and Negotiation: Solicit bids from contractors and negotiate the contract for construction.

– Contract Administration: Observe construction to assure the project is built according to the drawings and specifications.

Digital modeling is a powerful tool for designing and visualizing spaces from both the inside and outside

Digital Modeling: The New Standard


Architects understand how two-dimensional elevations and floor plans translate into actual buildings but their clients may have difficulty visualizing the end result. Because of this, the use of digital modeling is very common today and is a powerful tool for designing and visualizing spaces from both the inside and outside of a structure. Sophisticated modeling software, called Building Information Modeling (BIM), allows the architect to virtually build before any work begins. This allows advanced coordination and integration of all the systems, like mechanical and structural, and tracking and scheduling of components. It also allows you to visualize every room. Digital modeling takes much of the fear and risk out of the design and construction process. It is essential to find an architect that uses digital modeling throughout the design process.

Typically, an architect's fee is a percentage of the project's final cost of construction.

Figuring out the Fees


Typically, an architect’s fee is calculated as a percentage of the project’s final cost of construction. Architects’ fees range from 10 to 20 percent for residential projects. However, when you first start the design process, it is difficult, if not impossible to accurately determine the final construction cost. During this initial time period (before a good estimate of the final project cost is possible) the architect may charge an hourly fee. An architect may also ask for an up front retainer to begin work. Keep in mind that the final cost of construction is not the total project cost. Total project cost is the sum of hard costs (construction) and soft costs (fees and testing). For budgeting purposes you should assume that soft costs are an additional 25 percent of the total hard costs.

Your architect should be able to help you choose the best contractor for your project.

Who Hires the Contractor?

Typically the owner hires the contractor but your architect should be able to help you choose the best contractor for your project. An experienced architect should have a list of contractors they have worked with and would recommend. Hiring a contractor for pre-construction services during the design phase is helpful for getting detailed cost estimates along the way to ensure your design ideas won’t add up to more than you can afford. Remember when hiring a contractor to always get multiple bids on the construction of your project – even if you already have a contractor in mind. This is an industry standard and gives you better leverage at the bargaining table. These tips will guide you in choosing the best architect for your project. You will be working very closely with your architect on what may be one of the biggest investments of your life. While the creative process is exciting, it can get intimidating at times and choosing the right team can make it a very enjoyable process. That team always starts with choosing the right architect and we hope these tips will help you choose well when undertaking that big project you are considering.

You now have the critical information you'll need to help you hire the architect that will ensure that your project is a success.

The Next Step in How to Hire an Architect


It bears mentioning that there will always be other important issues to address for your particular project. Each project is unique and the requirements differ based on a multitude of factors. But with the steps explained in this guide, you now have the critical information you’ll need to help you hire the architect that will ensure that your project is a success.


If you are in the process of looking for an architect for your project, let’s talk. We can help you wade through the necessary requirements and make sure you aren’t overlooking a crucial factor that could hurt your project. We offer a stand-alone Needs Analysis through which we will identify the specific requirements pertaining to your project and develop a project brief that you can take to any architect to begin schematic design.


Typically, the Needs Analysis saves our clients thousands of dollars and weeks of lost time, not to mention the stress and headache of getting something wrong. To read more about the Needs Analysis and why it is critically important to your project’s success visit our website.


If you’d like a hard copy of How to Hire an Architect, download a copy here. If you are ready to talk now, please give us a call.


Best wishes for the success of your project!


Mette and Andrew

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