When planning a renovation, an expansive 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. Also, the project will take a lot more time than you planned. This is one task where you should hire an expert architect. Do not rely on yourself, a relative with a good design sense, or leave it to the contractor.
Our guide about everything you need to know and what you can expect when you hire an architect; will prepare you well.
Table of Contents
What does an Architect do?
An architect visits your home. This way, they can see the space, take measurements, determine the feasibility, and produce schematic drawings, which are highly technical. It should include an analysis of your apartment’s shape and structure. A three-dimensional design on the computer allows you to see what it is going to look like when the work is completed. It lets you know which ideas are practical, which ones cannot get done, perhaps due to impracticality or the cost.
At this point, the Architect moves into the design development phase. It includes the floor plan, kitchen, and bathroom details (if applicable) and selecting the building materials. They 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. It is the master plan the contractor will follow. All 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 (DOB). 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, the 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 provided.
The Architect can either charge an hourly rate, a fixed fee, or a percentage of the construction costs. It is essential to delve deeper to understand the fee structure. For instance, the price percentage based on 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 and settled in for a while, nothing is more exciting than renovating your home. If you want to renovate your home and make it something unique to your taste and style, hiring an architect should be the first task in the process. 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 you must 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 selecting 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, you must 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 overtime. 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 from 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 an Architect
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; 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 its 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.
What are the most significant 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. It 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. Ask about which people you’ll be spending the most time. If you’ll be spending a lot of time with the designer you don’t gel with then, this is a recipe for disaster.
Sample Proposal to Provide Architectural Services
This proposal was provided for the gut renovation of a 1 Bedroom / 1.5 Bathroom, 771 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side.
1.0 Project Intention
This project involves modifications to an existing 1 Bed/1.5 Bath apartment at the above address. Work is to include selective plan modifications at the entry, gut renovation of both bathrooms and kitchen, new flooring, skim coating of the ceiling, replacement of lighting, new doors, replacement of PTAC units, and installation of new millwork PTAC covers. The project may require the services of an expeditor. Depending on the extent of plumbing, mechanical and electrical work, engineering may also be required if deemed necessary by Building Management. Other consultants may be contracted with Client approval. The work will require approval by Building Management and, depending on the extent of plumbing, may also require approval from the NYC Department of Buildings.
2.0 Scope of Architectural Services
The Scope of Basic Architectural Services shall include the following tasks:
- Survey of existing site conditions and production of existing conditions drawings.
- Design investigation, including the production of a floor plan, elevations, and millwork details as required – to convey design intention.
- One conference with Client and or Client Contact to present and discuss room layouts. Modification of design materials as required to obtain Client and Building Management approval.
- Coordination with consultants as required for the production of the bid document package.
- Development of Building Management drawing package for review. Response to Building Architect as required to obtain Building approval.
- Production of filing drawings for submission to the NYC Department of Buildings; if required, to secure agency approval for the new construction.
- Coordination with Expeditor in support of drawing submission indicated above. Documents shall be submitted as Directive 14 – Alteration Type II – Application. Also, obtaining approval to pull construction permits.
- Assistance in the bidding and negotiation of contracts with prospective General Contractors including compiling of a list of potential contractors, assembling of bid packages for pricing, coordination of site visits with bidders, leveling of bids, and presentation to the Client for consideration.
- Construction services including review of fabricators’ and suppliers’ shop drawings and submittals; response to Requests for Information; and preparation of additional sketches and clarification drawings as required to accommodate design changes and found conditions.
- Site meetings during construction to represent the Client, review the progress of work, determine if work is proceeding in accordance with the construction documents, and to assess completion percentages.
- Assistance in obtaining of controlled inspections as required.
- Sign off and obtaining of Letter of Completion at project conclusion.
3.0 Fees and Billing
The fee for Basic Architectural Services noted above shall be billable as follows:
- Initial Payment $1,500.00
- Survey and Initial Design Work (Items 1-3) 5,500.00
- Design Development Work (Items 4-5) 4,500.00
- Filing Documents and Approvals (Items 6-7) 7,000.00
- Bidding and Negotiation Work (Item 8) hourly as needed
- Construction Phase Work (Items 10-12) hourly as needed
- Where applicable, hourly rates will reflect the following:
- Team Member Rate/hr
- Principal $350.00
- Technical Director 210.00
- Sr. Project Manager 185.00
- Project Manager 175.00
- Sr. Designer 160.00
- Designer 130.00
- Administrative 70.00
Invoices for payment shall be submitted monthly and shall be based on the amount of work completed for the current phase(s) of the project. In the event that any portions of the project are deleted or otherwise not constructed; compensation for those portions of the project shall be payable to the extent services are performed on those portions at the hourly rates. Payment of fees shall be due upon receipt of invoice. Balance due after 30 days shall be subject to a penalty charge of 1.5% per month starting on the date of the invoice
4.0 Consultant and Building Department Fees
Building Department Fees and Consultant work, where required, including Expeditor, Asbestos Consultant, Specialty Consultants, Structural and/or Mechanical Engineer, and so forth shall be billed directly to the Client. Consultants shall not be contracted without the express written permission of the Client.
5.0 Reimbursable Expenses
Reimbursable Expenses, including the reasonable out of the pocket expense of transportation, printing, reproduction, messengers, postage, and other reasonable out of pocket expenses specifically incurred by the Architect in the process of carrying out the above scope of services shall be billed to the Client at a multiplier of 1.1.
6.0 Additional Services
Additional Design Schemes – The Architect will provide three schematic design schemes based on conferences with Client. Should additional schemes be requested,, such work shall be considered an additional service billable on an hourly basis.
Preliminary Budget Pricing – At Client request, KA will obtain preliminary pricing prior to the completion of filing documents. Production of Preliminary Pricing Drawings (beyond those produced to fulfill Basic Architectural Services requirements), walk-thru with potential contractors, leveling of bids, or exhaustive responses to RFI’s shall be considered an additional service.
Expanded or Reduced Scope Drawings/Services – Additional Drawings or services as required by Client after drawing document approval at the completion of each phase of work for purposes of expanding or reducing project scope, including for purposes of value engineering.
Additional Meetings – Beyond those covered under Scope of Architectural Services.
Additional Filings – This proposal assumes one filing. Should additional filings or Post Approval Amendments be required, or if asbestos abatement is required, additional expediting fees and hourly rates for additional services will apply.
7.0 Additional Terms
7.1 Services performed by the Architect under this Agreement shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the level of care and skill ordinarily exercised by members of their respective professions practicing in the same locality under similar conditions.
7.2 No other representation expressed or implied, and no warranty or guarantee is included or intended in this Agreement, or any report, opinion, document, or otherwise.
7.3 To the extent that renovation projects of all types may be impacted by latent or unanticipated conditions, the Architect shall not be held responsible for costs incurred on the part of the Client to investigate or remedy such conditions.
7.4 It is recognized that neither the Architect nor the Client has control over the cost of labor, materials or equipment, over the contractor’s methods of determining bid prices, of over competitive bidding, market or negotiating conditions. Accordingly, the Architect cannot and does not warrant or represent that bids or negotiated prices will not vary from any estimate of Construction Cost or evaluation prepared or agreed to by the Architect.
7.5 During construction, the Architect, by periodic on-site observations, will endeavor to safeguard the Client against defects and deficiencies in the work of the contractor, but the Architect is not a resident of the site full-time and does not supervise, direct or control construction. The contractor, not the Architect, is solely responsible for construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, and procedures implemented for the completion of the work and for coordinating the parties in completing the work.
The contractor is solely responsible for providing all equipment, tools, and safety devices to its employees. A Contractor is also solely responsible for site safety, protection of its employees as well as others who may be affected thereby and safety precautions and programs in connection with the work. The Architect likewise is not responsible for the contractor’s failure to carry out the work in accordance with the contract documents but will endeavor to notify the Client of any such failure or unsatisfactory performance about which the Architect becomes aware.
7.6 The Architect’s fee set forth in this Agreement is valid for a design period not to exceed six months and a construction period, not to exceed 12 months from the date of this contract. If the services covered by the Agreement have not been completed by the dates cited here, through no fault of the Architect, the Architect reserves the right to renegotiate subsequent fees and billing terms.
7.7 ACME Architecture shall have the right to photograph the project; photographs can be used for promotion of its professional practices through advertising, public relations, brochures, or other marketing material. The names “Architecture” and “__________” shall appear, when appropriate, printed in all publicity concerned with this project.
7.8 The Architect and the Client waive the consequential damages for claims, disputes, and other matters in question arising out of or relating to this Agreement. This mutual waiver is applicable, without limitation, to all consequential damages due to either party’s termination in accordance with the provisions defining termination.
7.9 This Agreement, including its interpretation, construction, performance, and enforcement, shall be governed by the laws of the State of New York without reference to its choice of law principles.
7.10 If any provision of this Agreement is invalid or unenforceable as against any person, party, or under certain circumstances, the remainder of this Agreement and the applicability of such provision to other persons, parties, or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
7.11 Nothing in this Agreement shall create a contractual relationship with or cause of action favor of the third party against Client or Architect.
8.0 Contract Termination
Either party may elect to terminate this Agreement with not less than seven (7) days written notice if the other party fails to perform in accordance with the terms of this Agreement through no fault of the party initiating the termination substantially. Under those circumstances, the Client will be billed only for those services rendered up to the date of termination.
9.0 Dispute Resolution
Any claim arising out of or related to the contract will be subject to mediation as a condition precedent to arbitration or formal litigation. The parties shall endeavor to resolve their claims by mediation in accordance with the Construction Industry Mediation Rules; of the American Arbitration Association currently in effect. Should the dispute proceed to arbitration, then such dispute will be subject to the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association currently in effect. The parties shall share equally in any mediation or arbitration costs and filing fees. The parties agree that any mediation or arbitration shall be conducted in the County of New York. Should a dispute between the parties proceed to formal litigation, parties agree such litigation shall be venued in the County of New York.
10.0 Limitation of Liability
Client agrees that to the fullest extent permitted by law, the Architect’s total liability to Client for all injuries; claims, losses, expenses or damages including costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees; arising out of or in any way related to Architect’s services for the project; or Agreement including but not limited to design professional’s negligence; errors, omissions, strict liability, breach of contract, or breach of warranties (hereafter “Client’s Claims”); shall not exceed the total sum of available proceeds; under the terms and limits of architect’s applicable professional liability insurance coverage.