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 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 plan.

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.

Ann Marie Maloney lives in West Annapolis. When she is not writing, she loves to travel and try new ice cream flavors.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668