Remodeling With an Architect
Searching for the right architect
to remodel your home is
not unlike buying a car---you have to test drive several before
you pick the one you're most comfortable with. You'll be spending
a lot of time with your architect, not to mention hard earned
cash, and what the owner pays for is often what the owner gets.
Local architects stress that the interview process is critical
because if either side gets the wrong "vibe," it spells trouble
later. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recommends interviewing
at least three. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in finding an
architect or you can use the AIA's at website www.aia.org to find
one in your area. Don't be afraid to ask for referrals and question
their experience with your type of projects.
While some do-it-yourselfers will draw up their own plans and
go directly to a builder, Annapolis architect Wayne Good says
that many builders will direct you to an architect first. The
benefits of hiring an architect include working with someone who
can see what the design challenges are, particularly in older
homes, and suggest realistic ways to address them. Architects
frequently have contractors they can recommend based on experience
and may help oversee construction to make sure it follows the
Understanding the fee, or "the green monster," as Good calls it,
and the terms of the contract can help prevent misunderstandings
later. "I try to scare clients away," Good says. "I don't think
it's possible to overstate the cost." Eastport architect Al Graf
agrees that cost is the toughest issue. Graf recommends that owners
live in their home for at least a year before deciding what changes
they want. The owners will wind up with better solutions, he says,
because "their minds are going to change dozens of times." Changing
your mind with an architect can be expensive.
"You need to prioritize," Graf says. And be realistic. Any architect
can tell stories of owners coming in with designs for a $200,000
addition and a $50,000 budget. "I tell clients they don't need
an architect, they need a magician," Good says.
Trade guidelines suggest that architectural services will account
for 5 to 15 percent of total construction costs. Fees can vary
considerably, and owners will want to pinpoint what they include
to avoid facing "nickel and dime charges" later. Fee structures
vary from a flat project fee to an hourly rate. Owners can also
pay what Graf calls full service, a more comprehensive approach
in which the architect becomes more heavily involved (e.g., chooses
all the materials). Most homeowners don't use the full service
option, according to Graf, who also notes that an owner who is
decisive may save money paying by the hour.
Trying to picture a two-room addition or a new home from a blueprint
can be difficult. This can be hazardous for both architect and
owner. "I had a client who just couldn't see it on a piece of
paper," Graf says, "so he built a model." Graf and Good both say
they've had experiences with clients who say, "I didn't know it
would look quite like this, but it looks great." Some surprises,
however, do not have a happy ending. Make sure you understand
what the blueprint does and what it does not do.
Keeping an open mind to suggestions can make it easier to get
the house you want and can also keep costs down. Good recounts
the story of a man who wanted to convert a three-car garage into
a cottage. The owner did not believe Good when he told him it
would be cheaper to put the garage into a dumpster and start over.
In the end, "I think there were two two-by-fours we didn't move,"
Good recalls, "and the owner realized it would have been simpler
and cheaper to start over."
Before signing a contract, AIA says the client should insist on
a clear project plan that contains an agreed upon schedule for
deliverables. AIA also recommends having it reviewed by an attorney.
Even if your architect does not belong to AIA, he or she can use
their standard contract, which requires disputes to go to an arbitrator
rather than court. This can save time and money, but be aware
that the arbitrator's decision is final.
Review the contract carefully, listen to your gut instinct, and
the results are likely to be making more space for all of you
or creating that kitchen you've always dreamed about. Above all,
as any survivor of remodeling or home construction can tell you,
stay flexible and keep your sense of humor.
Marie Maloney lives in West Annapolis. When she is not writing,
she loves to travel and try new ice cream flavors.