Is Your Relationship with Your Architect a Summer Fling or a Long Term Commitment?

In a recent email from a homeowner, I was asked this question, “Do architects prefer to be involved only if the plan will be worked on from start to finish as one project in the immediate future (and not broken up over many years)?  Or can it be “on again, off again” / “as needed” kind of thing?”

The homeowner went on to say, “Our list is pretty long and includes sizable (for us) projects like removing walls, adding a full bath, and others.  However, we simply don’t have the budget to take on any more than, say, one of these projects per year (or perhaps one every other year). As we’ve never used an architect before, we’re not sure if that sort of multi-year approach is something standard in the architect-client relationship.”

There are a couple things I love about this email.  First, this homeowner contacted us because he and his wife are avid listeners of our podcast, The Architecture Happy Hour. Larry and I get giddy when listeners contact us. In his email, he so kindly said, “Your podcast has taught us so much about why it’s smart to involve an architect up front in making these kinds of plans, and we definitely want to do that.”

Secondly, this couple is being honest about what they can reasonably take on financially. They know they will have to break up the renovation in “bite-size” pieces. They understand the need to form a relationship with an architect over the long term and want to go about it in the right way.

Here is the response that I sent back to the couple.  Perhaps these tips will help you as you start to interview architects for a one-time project or to begin a long-term relationship.

“Dear Home Owner:

Thanks for your email.  I give you brownie points for being realistic about your budget and the time it will take to make the changes you want to in your home.

What you are looking for is called a “Master Plan.”  Architects are very familiar with this type of approach and should not have any problem guiding you through the process.

When I am working with a client who wants a long-term approach we generally follow these steps:

1.       Talk about what you want to do in the home now and in the future.  For example:  entertain, have an art studio, a music room, a new kitchen, a larger bathroom, a place for the family to visit, etc.

2.       Work together to create a list of areas in the home that need to be modified to reach your goals.  You may already have a list like this started.

3.       Prioritize your list into phases based on your and your family’s safety, sanity, comfort, and luxury.

4.       Be open to new ideas and suggestions from your architect.  For example, there may be a way to get you to your end goal without moving a wall you thought would have to be moved.

5.       Be sure to mention areas that need maintenance, repairs, or immediate replacement of fixtures so that you don’t have to backtrack and re-work an area that could have been part of the big plan.

As you interview architects, ask them how they structure their fees in a multi-phase project that will be broken out over time and if they are comfortable with that.  They should be able to give you a proposal for providing the master plan (a schematic floor plan of all the changes to be made) and then discuss creating a construction document package for each separate area as you are ready to tackle each one.

We have some clients who have worked with our partner, Holly, for 30 years.  A long-term relationship is definitely something you should work towards.  It will make future work much easier because you are not starting over with the “get to know you” stage at the beginning.

Plan on some time and fees at the beginning for the architect to research the building codes, zoning requirements, deed restrictions, city approval processes, etc. that will be required each time you apply for a building permit.  You will want to know all the hoops you have to jump through before starting any design work.  For instance, don’t get your heart set on an addition until you know the lot coverage maximums that are allowed in your zoning category.

Please stay in touch and let us know how it’s going.  Good luck!”


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