Your first meeting with an architect

Once you have made the decision to build a new home or remodel your existing residence, you will want to select an Architect to assist you with the design and construction of your home. Choosing an Architect is a very important decision and should occur very early in the process. In some cases, it is helpful to have an Architect on board to consult with when you are choosing a piece of property for your home.

A good place to start is by asking people you know who have built homes in the past, or by talking to some custom home builders in your area. Typically, they will have worked with some local Architects and may be willing to make a referral. If you already have a contractor in mind, they may know Architects that they have worked well with in the past. If you are new to an area, or need another source for referrals, try the AIA (American Institute of Architects). It is the governing body for professional licensure and will have listings of licensed Architects that practice near you.

Often a brief call can help you determine if an architect’s expertise is appropriate for your project, and if they have a well established practice with projects built for you to look at. Most Architects have areas of specialization or styles that they prefer which can help narrow down the choice as well.

Similar to conducting a job interview, it is important to go to the first meeting prepared to ask the right questions, and with answers to the questions the Architect will likely ask you. One of the most important things to consider is the chemistry between you and the Architect – you should feel comfortable with each other because you will be working closely together and will get to know each other well. Your architect should be a good listener, answer your calls or emails promptly, communicate clearly, and be genuinely interested in your needs.

The following criteria should be considered in selecting an architect:

  • The Architect should be licensed to practice in your state. This can be verified by contacting the local chapter of the A.I.A. If an individual you are considering is not registered in your state but is licensed elsewhere, it is usually an easy process for them to become licensed in your state as well if they are NCARB certified.
  • They should have experience in work similar to your project.
  • Firm size and structure are important considerations. Smaller firms tend to offer the best personalized service, but may take longer to complete the design during busy periods. You will want a senior staff member at minimum managing your project from start to finish.
  • The level of service Architects provide varies. Some firms will do the design but don’t provide oversight during construction. Make your expectations clear, and be sure you understand what services the Architect offers.
  • The Architect’s design philosophy and style should be compatible with what the vision is for your home. If an Architect favors modern design, they may not be the best choice if you want a more traditional style home, and vice versa.
  • Design fees should not be the primary factor in making your selection. Fees vary with the services provided, so make sure when comparing fees that the proposed services are equivalent. It will be easier to compare if you ask the Architect to provide line items for different phases of the project. It is worth noting that money saved by requesting a less detailed construction drawing package may result in higher construction costs.

During your first meeting with an Architect, some questions you may want to ask –

  1. Why should I use you to design my home (or remodel)?
  2. How long have you been in business?
  3. How interested are you in this project?
  4. How busy are you? When will you be able to start on my project?
  5. Who at your firm will I be dealing with directly? Who will do the design? Who will manage the project during construction?
  6. How do you gather information about a client’s goals, needs, and wishes?
  7. What is the owner expected to provide?
  8. Do you have a style that you prefer? Ask to see some examples of built projects.
  9. Do you have a list of references? It is a good idea to talk to homeowners and contractors.
  10. What is your process? How will the design be communicated (i.e. sketches, model, 3-D computer drawings)?
  11. What do you anticipate your fee will be? How is the fee tied to the phases of the project? When are fees payable? Do you require a retainer?
  12. Do you do cost estimating? Is it included in the fee?
  13. Do you provide supervision during the construction phase? Is it included in the fee?

The Architect will likely ask you a number of questions about you and your project. It is a good idea to have answers to common questions in mind, and also to bring sketches, pictures, magazines or other visuals to convey ideas of what you like. If you have a site map or plat of the property, and existing home plans for remodels it is good to bring those as well. If the site is close by, the Architect may want to visit it with you to start formulating ideas. Some of the commonly asked questions are listed below –

  1. What are you looking for in an Architect?
  2. Describe your current home. What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it? What do you want in your next home that your current home lacks?
  3. Describe your family. Who lives at home? What are the ages of children (if any)?
  4. Describe your lifestyle. What activities does your family participate in?
  5. Do you work at home?
  6. Do you entertain often?
  7. How much time will you spend at home? What rooms are the most important to you?
  8. What are specifics of spaces that you need? How many bedrooms, bathrooms, etc? Are there any special rooms or spaces you would like (i.e. theater, game room, office, etc.)? Do any of the residents have special needs?
  9. What size home do you think you need?
  10. How much would you like to spend on your home or remodel?
  11. What is your schedule? When would you like the project to be completed?
  12. How much time (or money) are you willing to spend on maintenance?
  13. What styles do you prefer?
  14. If this is a new home, have you selected a site?
  15. How much do you want to be involved in the design? Construction? Product selections?
  16. Will you do any of the Construction work yourself?
  17. Do you have any preferences for materials?
  18. Are you interested in doing a “green” home?
  19. Do you want to use an interior designer?
  20. Do you have a contractor in mind? Would you like help in selecting one?

Following your initial meeting with an Architect, you should have a sense for whether they will be a good fit for your project. Review their fee proposal and make sure they have included all aspects of your project, and check references. While cost is an important consideration, remember that it should not be the only basis for your decision. Quality of work, level of service, and experience are also important. As with most things, you get what you pay for.

John Hendricks, AIA Architect, NCARB

Tom Russell, Project Manager, LEED AP

Hendricks Architecture is a mountain architecture firm located in Sandpoint, Idaho. Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog.