When you are planning a renovation, particularly a large and expensive one, we advise hiring an architect, unless you have specific expertise in this area. If you try to do it yourself, you will likely end up costing yourself more money, and the project will take a lot more time than you planned.
This is one task where you should hire an expert, and not rely on yourself, a relative with a good design sense, or leave it to the contractor. With that in mind, we hope to give you a better understanding of what you can expect when you hire an architect.
What to Expect When Hiring an Architect
What does an architect do?
An architect visits your home. This way, he/she can see the space, take measurements, determine the feasibility, and produce schematic drawings, which are highly technical. This should include an analysis of your apartment’s shape and structure. For you to get a better idea, a three-dimensional design on the computer allows you to see what it is going to look like when the work is done. This should let you know which ideas are practical, and which ones cannot get done, perhaps due to impracticality or the cost.
At this point, the architect moves into the design development phase. This includes the floor plan, kitchen and bathroom details (if applicable) and selecting the building materials. He/she should discuss the various options, along with the costs. There are a lot of choices, potentially including the type of flooring, countertops, cabinets, faucets, appliances, even down to the paint color.
The next phase involves producing construction documents. This is the master plan the contractor will follow. It is all the necessary details, including a schedule and a detailed sketch of dimensions, along with selected finishes, lighting, and appliances. The construction documentation will also include guidelines from the NYC Department of Buildings. It needs a lot of details since this is the roadmap the contractor will follow.
Then, once you hire the contractor, he/she will check on the progress to make sure the plan is being followed. This is called construction administration. You can expect the architect to conduct regular site visits, or, at a minimum, at least one. If something is amiss, the architect can discuss it with you and your contractor. Of course, the architect likely has more construction expertise, and his/her words probably carry greater weight with the contractor. Any needed changes require the architect to produce new drawings. If the project is running over the estimated time allotted and coming in more expensive than the estimate, your architect can make suggestions to bring the time and cost back in line.
There is wide latitude when it comes to these tasks, however. Architects can have different ideas about what these mean, which makes it imperative to find out what type of service you will receive.
The architect can either charge an hourly rate, a fixed fee, or a percentage of the construction costs. It is important to delve deeper to understand the fee structure. For instance, if his/her price is based on a percentage of construction costs, you need to understand what this includes. Asking for an itemized list clears up potential misunderstandings.
How to Choose an Architect
Whether you’re a new homeowner or have already been settled in for a while nothing is more exciting than putting your home through a renovation. If you want to change things up in your NYC home and make it something unique to your tastes and style, then hiring an architect should be first on the agenda. These professionals will take your project ideas from inspiration to the drawing board and beyond. They’ll be able to create a design specially tailored to your needs and help foresee all obstacles along the way. Your chosen architect will be someone you’ll be working very closely with for many months, so it’s vital that you hire someone you can trust. So how do you choose one that will match both your vision and budget? Here’s what to look for when choosing an architect for your NYC home.
Finding an Architect
Every architect has their style, approach to design and methods of work. When choosing an architect, it’s important that you find one who understands your needs. If there’s a design in your community that you liked, find out who the architect was. Get recommendations from family, friends, and acquaintances who have worked with architects. Once you have some names, check to see if they’re a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Being a member of the AIA means they adhere to a professional code of ethics and have a range of professional and technical resources to call on.
Call each firm to request details and describe your project to see if they would be willing to take it on. Try to narrow your list down to three or four architects which you will interview. Below are the main qualities you should be looking for.
You should look for an architect with experience in the job you are planning. Contractors typically have architects that they work with, which is an excellent place to start. You can find qualified ones through friends and family, and you can ask to see his/her work. Word-Of-Mouth referrals are the most common way to hire an architect. You can also use the Internet, and there are specific websites such as Angie’s List, which include handy tools such as ratings and comments. No matter which route you go with, this is one area where checking referrals are very important.
In New York State, to call yourself an architect, you need a license. This means you need to have good moral character, be at least 21 years old, and meet educational, experience, and examination requirements. An architect can also obtain several credentials. A common one is the NCARB certificate, which requires passing an exam which shows that he/she has met the national standards and received a license.
An architect can also join a professional association, with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) being a popular one. AIA are licensed architects, but an Associate AIA is not. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has specific certification programs that might indicate your architect has specialized training that can help you.
Likeability and easy to communicate with
The right architect should be willing to listen to you and translate those words into the design. This will be a very close working relationship so it’s important that you can get along well together. You may like a person’s design style, but if their attitude doesn’t gel with yours, then miscommunication and conflict could be inevitable. Right from the start, they should remain your direct contact throughout the whole process. A direct relationship will be vital in ensuring consistency in communications. When discussing your needs, it’s great to have an architect that can suggest other ideas you might not have thought of. But don’t let them get carried away and lose sight of those elements that are important to you.
Can manage budgets
Extensive renovations can be costly. As such, it’s important that your architect can manage your budget and clearly explain how any variables will affect design and cost. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll go over budget, so you’ll need some flexibility in your budget and timeline. The key thing is that your architect can explain any variables early on, so you know what to expect. It’s important that right from the start you set a limit and to be sure your architect can work within these constraints.
They’re a team player
Designing a home is a team endeavor between you, the architect and other professionals that will have to be brought on over time. It’s important that your architect is a team player who can coordinate everyone and foster a cooperative atmosphere. Working through a creative challenge can be satisfying and exciting, but it will also mean a lot of work. You should be able to discuss any concerns you have with the architect. They shouldn’t be allowed to control the project to the point where the home is no longer yours. But you also don’t want to restrict them so much that creativity suffers.
Have a good reputation
As with hiring any professional, their reputation will count for a lot. Ask for references not just from previous clients but also builders, interior designers and other professionals they’ve worked with. From these references, you should be able to judge their competency for the job. You can also look into their past projects and personal history. This will give you an idea of who you’ll be working with.
The architect will be providing you with a professional service, not a product. Unlike buying a car or new appliance, you won’t be able to see the final product and test it out. Knowing the right architect to hire comes down to finding someone you trust, and feel is right for the job. Different projects require different skills so make sure you know what you’re looking for before you start looking.
Questions to Ask When Interviewing
We suggest asking specifically about his/her role in the process. You may feel comfortable picking out the fixtures and managing the contractor, or, perhaps you would rather have the architect handle it. It is also a good idea to ask how problems had been dealt with on other jobs. For instance, if the contractor ran into unexpected issues, how did he/she work it out?
Another good question is how frequently the architect visits the site. Perhaps he/she only does it once, and charges for other visits. You may be fine with this, and it works for your project, but you need to know this ahead of time.
You should feel comfortable talking with the prospective architect about your wants and your vision. In your search for an architect to remodel your home, you need to be sure you’ve got the right person for the job. This person will be responsible for designing your remodel plan and coordinating the team that will make your dreams a reality. But if this is your first time working with an architect, it might be hard knowing what questions to ask. Start by doing some research and finding some architects you think are right for the job. Then set up an interview. Have your questions ready beforehand, and these are the top ones you should be asking.
Conduct an interview
Once you know his/her qualifications, we recommend conducting an interview. Aside from asking for references, you should also ask to see samples and who else will work on the project. When you contact the references, have a list of questions ready. These could include his/her overall satisfaction, whether the architect was professional, and what kind of job he/she completed. If it is not similar to yours, you are going to have a hard time judging his/her work.
For instance, if it was a small kitchen remodel, and you are doing an extensive remodel, you are not going to know whether or not he/she can handle it. Additional questions might include how well he worked with you and the contractor. Then, if you are satisfied, you can ask to meet him/her.
Following the references check, you can turn your attention to the interview phase. Everyone asks questions before hiring a contractor, and the industry has a reputation for various scams. However, the architect is also a key person in the process, and it is just as essential to interview before hiring him/her.
Why do you want to work on this project?
Every architect has their design preferences and style. You’ll want one that closely matches your vision and if they’re in an interview then obviously you like their style. But their heart has to be in it as well. Just because they’ve accepted the invitation for an interview doesn’t mean they want the job. Hopefully, they do, but if they don’t share the same passion as you for the project, then they might not be the right choice.
How much of a time commitment will you need from me?
Beyond the obvious question of how long they think the project will take, you’ll want to know how much time they’ll need from you. Working with an architect isn’t as simple as sitting through a few meetings to draw up the blueprints. They’ll need time from you now and then to work through problems, concerns or new ideas. Everything works much better and faster when the client is as dedicated to the project as the architect is. Make it clear how you will communicate – in person or on the phone – and how often. Sometimes it may not be possible to meet during business hours. If so then you’ll need to make sure both of you can meet on the weekends, early mornings or late evenings.
How can I be helpful through the process?
Just as every architect has their design style, each one also has their working style. If you’re not sure how involved you should be, then ask! Most architects love a client that gets involved in a project. But if you get too much in the way, it will hamper the project. Make sure you understand the organizational process so then you know how you can be the most helpful. Timelines will need to be established and documents drafted and sent for review if the project is to move forward. Having this kind of conversation early on sets the scene for the project and allows the architect to plan the road ahead.
What are the biggest issues and considerations in the project?
On explaining your vision for the project, the architect’s brain will already be anticipating the biggest challenges. In your dreaming and planning for the project, you may have overlooked certain things like building regulations and design challenges that the architect is already foreseeing. On hearing their answer, ask if they’ve encountered similar problems before and how they were handled. This will also tell you about the experience level of the architect and how good they are at problem-solving.
Can you tell me about the team you will have on the project?
Architecture firms work as a team, and you’ll want to know who’s on that team. Ask for introductions and get to know them as well. Knowing who you’ll be working within the coming months and how often will be vitally important. There might be a project manager you get on great with but a designer that you feel is underqualified or you don’t gel with. Ask about which people you’ll be spending the most time with. If you’ll be spending a lot of time with that designer you don’t gel with then, this is a recipe for disaster.