Hiring an architect for your home improvement project involves hours of research and asking the right questions.
The architectural fees you pay could be in the thousands of dollars; it is helpful to know what to look for and the appropriate questions to ask the architect. Get the answers you need to make an informed decision and your money’s worth.
For ease of wrapping your mind around the types of questions to ask, the questions below are grouped under various categories of information essential in formulating a strategy to choose the right architect for your home project.
Questions on the Architect’s Experience and Proficiency
These questions are the first to ask and crucial in pre-qualifying the architects.
1. Have you completed similar projects?
You are determining if they are the correct type of architect for your home improvement project’s nature.
Most solo practitioners and small architecture firms will undertake your project if their schedule permits.
Focus on photographs of their completed work. If there are more than a few similar to yours, that architect can make your shortlist.
Architecture startups with a relatively small portfolio are an exception worth considering.
They may be inexperienced, and you would be taking a chance. But on the flip side, they will be more willing to go the extra mile in serving you and produce great designs to build their portfolio.
2. If yes, when were they completed?
Recently completed projects tell you that they are in demand and thus are proficient and up-to-date with the newer design trends and materials knowledge.
However, significant gaps between projects similar to yours, while not necessarily bad, may imply that their work was not stellar, resulting in fewer referral jobs.
But if you liked their design style, don’t let that stop you from considering their services.
3. Does your firm adopt a particular design style?
You may ask, but photographs speak a thousand words.
You could be renovating your kitchen, and you want its design to blend in with the rest of the house. Browse their photos for kitchen styles you feel will fit seamlessly with your home interior’s overall theme.
Architects can do a few styles but are typically skilled in one.
4. Apart from my type of project, what other types does your firm do?
It is essential to hire an architect who specializes in home improvement jobs. Similarly, you want to know that they are versatile designers able to adapt to changing requirements.
This point is not crucial but a nice bonus if you are fortunate enough to find one.
Questions on Your Home Improvement Project
You will pose these questions after identifying the few architects whose design style you like and having information to believe they are sufficiently skilled to perform the necessary services.
5. I have these finishing and fittings preferences; can you incorporate them, and do you foresee adverse issues?
Architects are trained professionals in managing intricate design details and accommodating various demands and conditions in their work. The spanner in the works is when additional information arrives too late, and the resulting change involves added costs to you.
Compile your requirements and preferences beyond the information in the ‘how to find an architect’ post.
Ask upfront if and how they impact your total home remodeling costs.
6. What is the estimated timeline for my home improvement project?
You need to know how long the entire project takes to complete. This information helps you plan:
- When to vacate your premises (for remodeling of an entire house), or
- When to have the house’s relevant portions ready for the contractor to commence work (for the renovation of a room, bathroom, kitchen, or house exterior).
- When you and your family can move back in after work completion.
- When and how much you need to spend on temporary accommodation (if necessary).
- The added cost to you should the contractor’s work overrun (sort out with the architect upfront on how you can impose penalties for late completion)
7. How many contractors will you propose to submit bids for my project, and who are they?
It is likely that the architect already has contractors in mind who they worked with, are competent for the job, and will invite to submit bids.
Having this information at the outset provides you ample time to research and review their competence and work quality.
8. If I recommend a contractor, will you be able to work with them?
If the architect, for whatever reason, cannot furnish you with the list of contractors, request to add your preferred contractor(s) to the list of companies to submit bids.
Should you have a particular contractor with whom you want to work and enter into a direct price negotiation, allow the architect to raise issues or objections.
The approach you adopt in hiring a contractor may impact the fees the architect charges.
9. (Before finalizing the design) What improvements can you suggest to save costs?
It is a question you want to reserve for, at least, until after the architect produces the first draft of the design proposal and its associated building costs.
It is best to allow the architect the freedom to produce the best design possible before you impose any cost-saving measures.
The most expensive materials and specifications may not be necessary to achieve the same result in appearance, safety, and durability.
10. (For related installations) What designs can you implement to provide higher energy efficiency and reduce my electricity bill?
Suppose your home improvement project involves upgrading or installing energy systems, such as a water heater, specialist lighting, or any traditionally high-energy consumption appliance.
For the same or higher investment upfront, energy-efficient systems could save you more money long-term while being friendlier to the environment.
The avenue is worth exploring with your architect.
Questions on the Architect’s Services
Drilling in-depth, you want to know what you are paying for.
It is insufficient to leave everything in the professionals’ hands and to assume they will do everything in your best interest.
Ensure the architect captures the answer to the questions below in their fee proposal.
11. What services do you provide apart from design?
Architects are building designers, but you want to know if they provide other services to make your job easier. You expect minimal involvement in tasks that you are otherwise unfamiliar with.
Most architects specializing in home improvement will help you invite contractor bids, assess them, and recommend the most appropriate contractor for you.
Plus, they oversee the renovation works and assess contractor invoices.
12. How are we approaching the design process?
There are various possible arrangements with the architect in arriving at a satisfactory design.
The ideal approach is to split the design process into two phases, each with various design components that you need to approve:
- Schematic Design, and
- Design Development
(You can find more details on the necessary steps within these two phases in tip #11 in choosing the right architect)
13. What types of drawings will you produce?
If you are hiring the architect for the three phases of design, bids, and remodeling, you can expect the architect to produce the following drawings:
- Schematic design drawings, including plans, elevations, and sections at various scales to illustrate the concept adequately.
- Design development drawings, including plans, elevations, sections, and architectural details. The architect may produce axonometric projections (drawings at an angle) to aid understanding.
- Construction drawings, including similar drawings mentioned above, plus construction and architectural joint details and materials specification.
14. Are 3D illustrations part of the drawings package?
Three-dimensional architectural renderings are optional, and the architect typically charges for them.
The architect may include simple illustrations as part of the design drawings package, but photo-realistic renderings take time and resources to produce.
If you like these drawings as keepsakes, negotiate the price with your architect before confirming their engagement. But first, review to ensure that they have the skills to produce the level of photorealism you are after.
15. Can and will you produce architectural models?
Just like 3D illustrations, architectural models make great keepsakes and displays in your newly-remodeled home.
However, they are time-consuming to build and potentially costly, depending on the types of model-making materials you want to use and the appropriate scale to adopt.
Ask if the architect has the necessary resources and, if they do, how much it will cost you.
One helpful suggestion is to defer the final model’s production until after remodeling works are complete so the architect can focus resources where they are needed most to aid progress.
16. Who will be the Architect managing my project?
Ideally, you discuss and negotiate with the architect who will manage the processes for you; the experience level is also a factor to consider.
Avoid miscommunications and frustrations that often come from not engaging with the same professional from the outset to completion.
17. How many projects are you currently managing? And how much time can you commit to my project?
It is great to have a skilled and experienced architect on the job, but pointless if he or she cannot commit the time necessary to do an excellent job for you.
Find out how many projects the architect is managing at the time. Working on two or three projects at a time is considered optimal for professional architects – project size-dependent.
Just as importantly, nail down:
- A project timeline with critical milestones as realistic targets for you and the architect to aim for.
- The frequency and interval of meetings with the architect necessary to achieve the milestones mentioned above.
18. Can you provide me a list of things you need from me, and when you’d need them?
It is good practice to request a schedule of items and information the architect needs from you as part of the planning process.
A schedule helps keep the architect on their toes and a tool to track your input and not cause unnecessary delays.
Questions on Budget, Costs, and Fees
The money you fork out is undoubtedly a top priority. If you have additional questions beyond those suggested below, add them to the list.
19. What is a reasonable budget based on my project brief?
Despite your best efforts to estimate costs and manage your budget, it is an incredibly challenging task without the in-depth knowledge that an industry professional has.
Discuss the design brief and ask the architect for budgetary advice before confirming the engagement.
After speaking with a few architects on your shortlist using the same brief, you will have a clearer idea of setting the optimal budget for your home project.
20. How much will the architectural fees be?
This question requires no further elaboration.
Ensure that the architect captures all the services you want them to perform in the fee proposal.
21. What is the fee payment schedule and mode of payment?
Aim to agree on a fee apportionment as close as possible to the following:
- Design – 40%
- Bids – 10%
- Renovation/Remodeling – 50%
The payment mode should not present any big obstacle but discuss and confirm, so both parties clearly understand moving forward. It is either via:
- Banking transfer, or
- Check (by hand, or in the case of mailing, ascertain the correct mailing address)
In all cases, request a receipt after every payment you make.
22. How much do you charge for design changes?
Design edits and additions are inevitable in most building projects.
Negotiate an agreeable hourly rate to capture changes that you request or, in the case of readily quantifiable items such as 3D illustrations, a price per sheet based on drawing size.
23. How will you approach design changes during renovation work?
This question is similar to the one before, but it is essential to ask because cost implications resulting from design deviations during construction will be more significant.
You and your architect must have a clear understanding to avoid conflicts and arguments that potentially sour relations.
24. How does the contractor bill progressively?
There are two common approaches that contractors take in billing for completed work, depending on which works better for their cash flow:
- By work component completed (i.e., masonry work, carpentry, lighting, painting, etc.), or
You do not have a contractor on board at this stage, but communicate your preference so the architect can raise it as a discussion point during price negotiation with the contractors.
25. Will you help us check the completed work against the contractor’s invoices?
Typically, an architect who oversees the construction will assist the client in assessing the contractor invoices.
But do not assume; please ask if the architect will perform this service. It is beyond an industry outsider’s expertise.
You want to avoid overpaying for any stage of work the contractor completes.
Questions on Legal and Safety Matters
In pursuit of hiring the best architect and contractors to build your dream house, these questions are critical in ensuring you stay on the right side of the law and that the contractor performs the work safely.
Again, if you have more questions, pose them to your architect.
26. Are you a licensed Architect?
Obviously, you will be asking this question at your first meeting with the architect.
You must engage an architect qualified to perform the design and management services, especially if your project requires a building permit.
The only exception to this requirement will be engaging a building designer purely for the design services and hiring a contractor to carry out simple renovation works that can proceed without a permit.
27. How would you go about securing the necessary approvals and building permits?
The question helps identify and schedule the architect’s tasks to obtain the necessary approval or permit to meet your local building regulations.
The architect needs to time the production of the relevant drawings, permit application, and when you can expect an approval.
Remodeling work cannot proceed without a valid permit. Let your Architect advise you on this requirement.
28. What are the permitted renovation hours?
Your local government will have non-permitted hours for construction works or a noise limit that your contractor cannot exceed.
Request this information so that the Architect is mindful that it is a strict requirement the contractor must comply with. The last thing you need is a complaint from your neighbors, which might incur a penalty or disruption to work progress if the offense is serious.
29. What steps will the team take in minimizing nuisance and inconveniences to our neighbors?
Apart from noise, debris and dust are two other problems the contractor must manage not to affect your neighbors.
Let the architect outline the measures they will require the contractor to put in place. Being on the receiving end of your neighbor’s ire is the last thing you need.
30. What precautionary measures will the team take to ensure the safety of the workers and the public?
Be mindful that construction debris is a safety hazard, not just to the workers but also to passersby, when not handled appropriately within your premises’ boundary.
Although this is another matter within the contractor’s control, you would want the architect to know that you take this issue seriously and clearly conveyed it to the contractor.
Questions on Delays and Disputes
The questions below are equally important in making sure you have a comprehensive list of questions to ask your architect to protect your interests.
31. What measures will the team take in protecting the furniture and existing surfaces?
In the rough and tumble of construction work, items in your home can suffer damages.
List and communicate to your architect the items in your home that require extra protection before the contractor commences work.
Furniture, appliances, marble surfaces, and chandelier are some examples.
32. How do you manage delays caused by the contractor?
Construction delays are an industry norm.
The many factors that go into the completion of home improvement projects mean that mismanagement of any work component can cause delays to the overall progress.
Assure yourself that the architect is on your side and have a mechanism to help address the contractor’s delays.
Should you require temporary accommodation while the contractor works on your house, an extended stay may come as extra costs to you.
33. What happens in the event of a dispute?
The cordial relationships between the architect, contractor, and you are precious in ensuring a pleasant experience for all; you want to maintain them until after the project completes.
Unfortunately, conflicts can arise, and you will need provisions in place to address them.
Whether you resolve them and continue the collaboration or, in the unfortunate event, terminate the agreement, they almost always come attached with a monetary component.
The questions above may not be exhaustive but if you have more, include them to build a list of your own to ensure peace of mind that you covered all the bases.