Below I’ve broken out the 6 phases of the process, so you know what to expect from your architect and yourself within each.
Pre-Design: This can include site analysis, code research, measuring your existing house, drafting your existing house, programming, goal setting, etc. This will encompass about 10 percent of the total architectural fees you will pay during the whole process and can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to complete. This is when your architect will need to gain a strong grasp of your goals, wish lists, project scope, etc. As a result, he or she will spend loads of time asking you questions. Some provide questionnaires for you to fill out or have other means of drawing information from your brain. Be armed with your Pinterest pages, lists of priorities, and budget. Please read Chapter 6 in my book if you are unsure of how to prepare what you need for this phase.
Schematic Design: This includes designing options for your review, which could comprise plans, elevations, 3D models, renderings, or basically anything your architect needs to get his or her ideas across. You will have some big decisions to make once you see your schematic designs, so be ready for a few long (but exciting!) meetings with your architect. This is one of the most gratifying stages for homeowners (as you get your first glimpse of your future home), so remember your enthusiasm for this phase later when you want to pull your (or your partner’s) hair out. About 25 percent of the total architectural fee is eaten up during the schematic design phase and can take anywhere from a few months to, well… many many months to design. I’ve had large projects (or projects with homeowners who need to brush up on their decision-making skills) where it took over a year to complete this phase. I mention that so you understand that you partially drive the schedule here. I hate to be so vague, but this really depends on the project scope, the architect, the architect’s current workload, and you.
Design Development: This phase includes modifying the schematic design, so you can finalize the scope of the project and get initial pricing feedback from contractors. Your architect will utilize your feedback from the schematic design meetings to create one final design concept moving forward. You should expect more questions and another meeting or two during this phase to ensure the big picture is nailed down. Around 12 percent of the total architectural fees will be applied to this phase, and it should last a few weeks to a few months… Again, it’s partially dependent upon you, and how well you’ve honed your decision-making abilities.
Permit and Contract Documents: This includes drafting the actual documents used to get your building permit, to finalize construction estimates, and to build your home. This is where we disappear for multiple months at a time while you, without really knowing what we are up to, receive large invoices in the mail. We know this part sucks for you. Sorry. It is necessary though. Expect a whopping 35 percent of the total architectural fee to be billed to you for this phase.
Bidding and Negotiating: This includes helping owners navigate the estimates and contracts received by contractors. Don’t skimp on this service to try and save a little fee. The information can sound like a foreign language. Many times the estimates vary wildly, so you aren’t comparing apples to apples, and there is a lot of money at stake. It is worth every penny to have a trained professional help you review estimates and contracts you receive from competing contractors. About 3 percent of the architectural fee should be spent reviewing this information with you. You will be tasked with actually reading and understanding the contracts, so get out your highlighter and make note of your questions… of which there will be many. Please also read my blog How To Protect Yourself From Crappy Contractors before starting this phase, in which I provide you with an awesome cheat-sheet for these contracts.
Construction Administration: This includes any time spent on the project during construction answering questions, reviewing submittals from contractors and subcontractors, quality control, reviewing payment requests by the contractor, obtaining closeout documents, etc. This isn’t always included in the original estimates that you will receive from architects, because it is extremely difficult to guess how many surprises/questions will arise during construction. If it isn’t in the original estimate (and you should verify if it is unclear), then you need to include money in your budget for these architectural fees. The amount may vary, as more difficult projects may require weekly site meetings for all or part of the construction process which can push these fees way up. To ensure my percentages in this article add up to an orderly 100, I’ll inform you that the average industry standard fee for this phase is 15 percent. However, I have seen this upwards of 25 percent. It all depends on how many surprises you have, how complicated your project is, and how detailed your drawings are. Typically, more time spent in the drawing phase means less time spent in this phase, but as usual, it all depends.
Conclusion: When you are interviewing architects, please make sure to ask each of them how long they think their process might take, and if they would anticipate a more or less expensive construction administration phase based on your scope of work. This will help you determine your budget for architectural fees, nail down your schedule for the next year or so, and make you sound like a fancy pants who knows your stuff.