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.

Hiring an architect

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.

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.

Essential to ask

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.

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.

Documentation Process

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 fee

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.


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