10 ways you can afford an architect

 piggy bank

Since we are not “allowed” to discuss fees as architects, I suppose I have to dance around this one carefully. However, we all know that our fees for a project are more than a dollar and typically less than a million dollars. Is that safe to say?

I suppose one reason people don’t hire an architect for a residential or small commercial project has to do with fees. They either don’t sense the value for the investment, or they think they can do it themselves (i.e. don’t need an architect) or they simply believe they can’t afford an architect. These are all plausible. If you are planning a new house/building or an addition or large alteration the fee (as a mere dollar amount) can be a large number. However it must be viewed not as a mere number but as a return of equivalent value for the investment. Out of the three reasons listed above for why one doesn’t typically hire an architect (those aren’t the only reasons BTW), I’ll address the last reason, whether you can afford an architect. I think more of you can if you follow these reasons.

These are the first 10 reasons that came to mind. As always, please share you reasons to add to my list. Maybe yours are better.

  1. Plan, save or budget for it.
  2. Find out why hiring an architect is important to you…you will spend your money on what is important to you.
  3. Consult with an architect to comment on the plans you intend to purchase.
  4. Consider the fee less than the amount you will save by hiring the architect in the first place. (true – hard to prove)
  5. Limit or tailor their services to your specific needs. (not necessarily recommended but better than nothing)
  6. Ask your lending company if you can tie the fees into your mortgage (not common but not impossible)
  7. Develop a total budget for construction cost and fees as an overall number and target that figure (have to believe in the process first)
  8. Reduce the overall construction cost of your house (limit the size, simplify the design, back off on the lavish finishes) to free up money for an architect (**gasp**)
  9. Find a design-build company with a skilled architect on board (where the degree of services or depth of documentation can be limited safely)
  10. Marry an architect

OK, so these ideas probably could be lumped into three or four reasons and the last one is not very likely. In fact the last one might be more expensive that hiring an architect outright. I tend to believe in the second reason the most. Not to be cruel or arrogant, but I’m amazed at what we as an American culture spend money on when we cry that we don’t have enough money. I admit that we as a family spend money on things that are important to us. This may differ from your choices, but if you are willing to be honest, there’s more truth to this if you get past the initial offense.

Perhaps I will expound on each of the other reasons in follow up posts. Many of my fellow architects out there have already done that. Look around. Is an architect right for every project? Yes and no. If you’re not sure you can afford an architect or if you’re not sure you need an architect, call a local architect and ask them if you can discuss this with them. Pay them for their time, or at least offer. Listen carefully to them before you rule it out. Let me know what they say. Let me know what you decide and why. You shouldn’t make a final decision without asking some questions first.

piggy bank 2

 photos are from photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

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10 ways you can afford an architect

12 thoughts on “10 ways you can afford an architect

  1. Then there’s always that elusive concept of happiness. I’m convinced that almost without fail, people will be happier in an architect-designed home (which may be smaller than what they thought they wanted) than in something they chose or cobbled together in some other way. The problem is they’ll never know it. How will generic plans take into account the site or the individual’s needs and lifestyle? Or the context of the location? People seem reluctant to believe it, but good design really proves that less can be more.

  2. Lee, I think that the first thing is getting those potential builders to read some of our blogs. Hopefully they will then see why they need us. Just sent a proposal for services on a strip mall build out. Very simple not much to it and my fee reflected the simplicity. Got an email back that stated, at this time the amount is out of my budget. Wow, really, no room in your commercial project budget for an architect.

    1. That’s too bad about your proposal. It goes deeper than demonstrating value. It goes into personal values. Values of worth, priorities, community, aesthetics and so many others are hard if not impossible to change in others.

  3. Mike says:

    Ironic isn’t it? 10 Ways to Afford an Architect…. but because of rules or tradition, there is no real discussion of how much an architect costs… We all know that most architects add value, however, I don’t think we should hide or avoid the discussion of cost. It just adds to the perception, that, maybe that cost is too high and profession is elitist. In either case, that negative perception just causes potential clients to steer clear of us.

    1. I agree with you for the most part. If clients had an idea of a range of fees that would be helpful. Most have no idea and if you pressed them they’d guess much lower. Knowing far ahead of time would make the initial discussion much easier.

  4. rkm says:

    I need an architect. I live in a well-built 50’s home that I want to re-arrange the interior. I also want to change the facade. However, I know whatever I put into this home I will not recoup in my lifetime. Houses are going for $50K around here. Is there such a group as apprentice architects?…or, i hate to say it, starving architects?…that will work for less than the going rate – whatever that is -since we don’t know.

    1. Let me applaud you for acknowledging the need for an architect and by my interpretation your understanding of the value they lend. I also appreciate the investment to recoup ratio concern you mentioned. It’s a real concern.

      As for finding an architect “for less”, let me try to respond gently and carefully but honestly. First, how ask yourself how much is your time worth? Are you willing to lend your skills for less than what your worth? If so, what does that say about your own self-worth or value? Yes, some will work for less if they are desperate for the work or willing to work for less because they think the project’s experience or exposure will lead to something of greater value. Some architects will undercut their fee just to get the job. It devalues our profession. Some architects will donate their time (pro bono) for worthy causes or for non-profit groups. I have.

      However, to go looking for an architect “for less” up front is starting out by saying to them “I don’t think your worth the going rate and I’m not willing to pay you it.” If you don’t have the funds to hire an architect at full rate or for full services, then speak to an architect and see if they can reduce or limit their services and thus reduce their fee. In exchange you agree to coordinate the work they are not doing.

      Pay them for their ideas; the things you can’t do.

      However, it is disrespectful to ask someone to work for less just because you can’t afford it or are unwilling to pay it. Please don’t misread my comments as being unkind or mean. Just think of the ‘golden rule’ and things will go well for you. I’d like to hear your response to my response. A good conversation is healthy for both sides. Maybe others out there will respond too.

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