To architect or not to architect?

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eagleeyes
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To architect or not to architect?

Post by eagleeyes »

We are building a new custom home and are early in process. Wife and I have a good idea about the layout of the house. Planning a 5 bedroom house, 6 baths, 5400 sqft home, with appx 5000 heated and cooled sqft. We are looking at $200-300 per sqft. Already have the lot and survey.

Architects in the area will take appx 3-9 months for construction docs depending on the firm. They charge appx 15k-25k for designs. If they are involved in construction admin can be 50-150k.

What kinds of experiences have people had with architects? Would a draftsperson or designer suffice?

We are not doing anything extravagant. We just want a well built home, air tight envelope, lots of insulation (we live in the SE).
econprof
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by econprof »

Depending on your location, you may need plans approved by the department of buildings (or local equivalent) in order to get a construction permit. This is to ensure the house is safe.

Architects do more than design— they also make sure the house is up to code.
Ladeedaw
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by Ladeedaw »

Around here, a good designer would suffice. Not just any draftsperson, but a designer with home design experience in your area. A good designer should be familiar with applicable codes. Check with the building department to see if a registered architect is required. In most jurisdictions, an engineer is required even if an architect is not.

For the SF and price per square foot you mention, you'd be looking at 2% or less to hire an architect. That may be worth it if there is anything complex with site, roofs, exterior materials, or finishes.
WealthConstructor
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by WealthConstructor »

Are you In an urban or rural location?

How involved is the permit process? Do you have a podunk building department that will rubber stamp whatever you hand over the counter?

What other types of consultants are required? Soils? Structural? Electrical? Interior designer?

Are you building a tract house in the sticks or a truly custom home in a VHCOL?

I am surprised it would take so long for the design and such a high cost for the CA.
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galawdawg
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by galawdawg »

eagleeyes wrote: Sat Sep 12, 2020 2:51 pm We are building a new custom home and are early in process. Wife and I have a good idea about the layout of the house. Planning a 5 bedroom house, 6 baths, 5400 sqft home, with appx 5000 heated and cooled sqft. We are looking at $200-300 per sqft. Already have the lot and survey.

Architects in the area will take appx 3-9 months for construction docs depending on the firm. They charge appx 15k-25k for designs. If they are involved in construction admin can be 50-150k.

What kinds of experiences have people had with architects? Would a draftsperson or designer suffice?

We are not doing anything extravagant. We just want a well built home, air tight envelope, lots of insulation (we live in the SE).
Based upon your previous threads, I would strongly recommend you retain an architect, both for the design of the home as well as the construction administration. You don't know what you don't know and relying on fellow Bogleheads for advice to guide your interactions with your general contractor and recommend ways to deal with problems as they arise (and they will) is penny wise, pound foolish. An architect is your best resource to ensure the house design, layout and function meets your needs and desires and that it is well-constructed according to code, specifications, and your contract.
QBoy
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by QBoy »

galawdawg wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 4:52 am Based upon your previous threads, I would strongly recommend you retain an architect, both for the design of the home as well as the construction administration. You don't know what you don't know and relying on fellow Bogleheads for advice to guide your interactions with your general contractor and recommend ways to deal with problems as they arise (and they will) is penny wise, pound foolish. An architect is your best resource to ensure the house design, layout and function meets your needs and desires and that it is well-constructed according to code, specifications, and your contract.
From my experience building a house, galawdawg is exactly right here. There are so many design decisions involved in the process that you need someone who has good judgment, who is trained, and who has done this many times before. Yes, an architect can seem an expensive extravagance, but building a house that does not fit your needs is far more expensive. And at least some of the architect's fee will be recouped when you sell the house, as prospective buyers will recognize the difference between a well designed house and a poorly designed one.
Topic Author
eagleeyes
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by eagleeyes »

I think having an architect does seem extravagant, but you are right. We don’t know what we don’t know.

An additional option is a designer/draftsman (not an architect). Some of the designers around town are charging almost as much as architects on a per hour basis which I find interesting (perhaps akin to nurse practitioner charging the same as a physician).

One of the architects has offered to do construction admin on as needed basis. We could schedule weekly meetings at the site for the major milestones, including foundation pour, framing, windows, cabinets, etc. I think we are leaning to this option.

An additional problem we are having is we are actually trouble choosing the architect. We have interviewed 4 by now and can’t seem to tell them part.

Thus far we are separating them based on time (how long to design and hand over construction docs), cost (some are fine doing per square ft of design, others want 10%, of a 1.5 million dollar home)...

Complicating this whole thing, my wife and I already have a good idea of what we want. She found a floor plan online and adjusted to fit our needs. She liked their exterior and designed a house on a 3-D platform software called sweet home. It’s probably annoying for an architect to have a client constantly nudging at their elbow while they are drawing...
Normchad
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by Normchad »

galawdawg wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 4:52 am
eagleeyes wrote: Sat Sep 12, 2020 2:51 pm We are building a new custom home and are early in process. Wife and I have a good idea about the layout of the house. Planning a 5 bedroom house, 6 baths, 5400 sqft home, with appx 5000 heated and cooled sqft. We are looking at $200-300 per sqft. Already have the lot and survey.

Architects in the area will take appx 3-9 months for construction docs depending on the firm. They charge appx 15k-25k for designs. If they are involved in construction admin can be 50-150k.

What kinds of experiences have people had with architects? Would a draftsperson or designer suffice?

We are not doing anything extravagant. We just want a well built home, air tight envelope, lots of insulation (we live in the SE).
Based upon your previous threads, I would strongly recommend you retain an architect, both for the design of the home as well as the construction administration. You don't know what you don't know and relying on fellow Bogleheads for advice to guide your interactions with your general contractor and recommend ways to deal with problems as they arise (and they will) is penny wise, pound foolish. An architect is your best resource to ensure the house design, layout and function meets your needs and desires and that it is well-constructed according to code, specifications, and your contract.
+1. This is what I would do. This is a big undertaking. Get help from a pro.....
stan1
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by stan1 »

I remember some of your previous posts but maybe have not kept up because that was before you had purchased a lot. Is this a tear down lot?

I think you should find a design build firm. I've seen nothing in your posts to indicate that you want homebuilding to be an all consuming experience for 2-3 years. Also you seem to be on a relatively tight budget on the low side of your $200/square foot preferred cost. Maybe I have that wrong though. Some builders will take the complete set of plans purchased off the internet and have a draftsperson modify to your wishes.

Again if you are on an infill lot in a city (tear down) it could be much more because of city/county regulations.
obgraham
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by obgraham »

We built our dream home years sgo, using an architect from original planning through final occupancy. My builder was unfamiliar with working with an architect, so there was some learning to be done. We were very pleased with how it turned out. But yes, it was expensive, perhaps 25% of the final cost, a lot being in the conceptualization stage. This is a "billable hours" industry.

That said, once the design and drawings were done we had virtually zero change orders during construction -- testament to good planning.

Architects want to individualize their product, so the design is usually unique, and the materials and building techniques may be different. It depends what is important to you.

Now, at a different stage of life, we are in a builder-designed home, and also very pleased with that.
Topic Author
eagleeyes
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by eagleeyes »

stan1 wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 11:47 am I remember some of your previous posts but maybe have not kept up because that was before you had purchased a lot. Is this a tear down lot?

I think you should find a design build firm. I've seen nothing in your posts to indicate that you want homebuilding to be an all consuming experience for 2-3 years. Also you seem to be on a relatively tight budget on the low side of your $200/square foot preferred cost. Maybe I have that wrong though. Some builders will take the complete set of plans purchased off the internet and have a draftsperson modify to your wishes.

Again if you are on an infill lot in a city (tear down) it could be much more because of city/county regulations.
This is a vacant lot. Previous home has already been torn down.

No. Definitely not interested in epic saga of building for 2-3 years.

We didn’t want to do a design build firm. They have a great deal of overhead in that they have all their people (designers, architect, builders, decorators) in house. Also, they have no competition to bid against.

We are looking to spend about 1.5 million. Right around $300sqft. Which we are finding is low for home here!

Good thoughts about getting a plan off the web and having a builder modify them.
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sperry8
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by sperry8 »

You can actually put together the initial plan/layout yourself (not to code), just to get the architect started. SmartDraw has a lovely free trial for 1 week - and it's only $9.95 thereafter. I just used it for my custom basement which I'm considering finishing. The builder loved the layout and said he has an architect that can use that as a base (rather than one off the web) and then add all the coding, ducting, etc.
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Misenplace
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by Misenplace »

We planned and built our home with an architect, and after that experience, would not do it any other way. A good architect knows how people move and feel in a space, and knows how to design it to make it livable. There are so many little things about our house that he specified, that did not cost much if anything extra, and that make the difference between feeling good in the space as opposed to it feeling like your typical box. He also made sure that the builder implemented his design (oftentimes they try to speed through and don't look carefully at the plans).

I did not fully realize many of these issues until we moved in. And this was despite doing lots of research and pouring over many plans and books before we hired him. Now I can tell right away whether a good architect has been involved in a house, or if they economized and went without. It's very true, you don't know what you don't know.
JediMisty
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by JediMisty »

Misenplace wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:30 pm We planned and built our home with an architect, and after that experience, would not do it any other way. A good architect knows how people move and feel in a space, and knows how to design it to make it livable. There are so many little things about our house that he specified, that did not cost much if anything extra, and that make the difference between feeling good in the space as opposed to it feeling like your typical box. He also made sure that the builder implemented his design (oftentimes they try to speed through and don't look carefully at the plans).

I did not fully realize many of these issues until we moved in. And this was despite doing lots of research and pouring over many plans and books before we hired him. Now I can tell right away whether a good architect has been involved in a house, or if they economized and went without. It's very true, you don't know what you don't know.
+1. My former DH is an architect, so I have nothing to gain from recommending folks use an architect, but have seen his work, so some experience with their value. When he worked in-house for a builder, the tradesman hated him because he kept them to the plans. I've run into him since, and he says it's the same now that he works for a purely architectual firm. He watches the progress and has them re-do anything not done well. I don't have the money for a custom home, but if I did, I'd hire an architect.
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galawdawg
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by galawdawg »

eagleeyes wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:14 pm This is a vacant lot. Previous home has already been torn down.

No. Definitely not interested in epic saga of building for 2-3 years.

We didn’t want to do a design build firm. They have a great deal of overhead in that they have all their people (designers, architect, builders, decorators) in house. Also, they have no competition to bid against.

We are looking to spend about 1.5 million. Right around $300sqft. Which we are finding is low for home here!

Good thoughts about getting a plan off the web and having a builder modify them.
Wow. $300 per square foot to build a home in Tennessee is low?? That is very surprising.

Do you know for certain that your wife's selected house plan is buildable on your tear down lot? No issues with lot size, setbacks, elevations, restrictive covenants and such?

Are you familiar with unanticipated issues that can arise during construction? How to inspect each phase of work to ensure it is to specifications, contract and code? Will you be on site daily to monitor the work and ensure that the materials are of the quality specified and installed in a workmanship-like manner? Who will resolve any problems that arise during construction, such as plumbing runs that interfere with HVAC ducting runs or errors on DIY or builder-modified plans that result in beams being the wrong size? Are you prepared to bear the additional expenses if an error in the plans result in the need to order different materials than those originally specified and delivered to site? If your builder modifies the DIY plans, can your builder calculate design loads and specify appropriate materials and construction methods to handle the different loads impacted by the house layout and size as well as environmental and site conditions?

Do you have a lawyer on retainer who can step in if and when any disputes arise between you and the general contractor?

Just a few things to consider as you decide whether to hire a professional who is an expert in all of these areas. If you are spending $1.5million on construction in addition to what you paid for the lot, spending the money to ensure the house is well-designed and well-built is hardly an extravagance. I'm a DIY guy by nature, have above-average knowledge about residential construction, and am a lawyer by trade, but I would never undertake a project of your scope without retaining an architect.
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eagleeyes
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by eagleeyes »

galawdawg,

You’ve convinced me. We are going to go the architect route. Now how to find the right architect!

The lowest cost custom builder I have come across is about $200/Sqft. We are likely to be using who is going to be closer to 300/ft

My wife has picked and tweaked her plans according to the lot and setbacks. Shouldn’t be an issue there.

I will probably swing by every other day or so. I can not tell much about workmanship, so again, it will help to have an architect there who can walk the site with me once a week or so. Some architects visit the sites often, others less often.

That’s interesting about having a lawyer on retainer. What kind of lawyer does this kind of work? Construction lawyer?
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galawdawg
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by galawdawg »

eagleeyes wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:37 pm galawdawg,

You’ve convinced me. We are going to go the architect route. Now how to find the right architect!

The lowest cost custom builder I have come across is about $200/Sqft. We are likely to be using who is going to be closer to 300/ft

My wife has picked and tweaked her plans according to the lot and setbacks. Shouldn’t be an issue there.

I will probably swing by every other day or so. I can not tell much about workmanship, so again, it will help to have an architect there who can walk the site with me once a week or so. Some architects visit the sites often, others less often.

That’s interesting about having a lawyer on retainer. What kind of lawyer does this kind of work? Construction lawyer?
I'd recommend that you ask each of the architects you are considering for a list of residential construction projects they have handled from design through occupancy (their portfolio) and the names of the builder/general contractor they worked with on each of those projects. Take a look at each of the homes, speak with the homeowners about their experiences with the architect and the builder/general contractor. Ask them about anything they would do differently or suggestions they would have for you. Was the project completed on-time, on-budget and as specified? Would they recommend their architect? Their builder/general contractor?

When you find a pattern of homeowners who were extremely satisfied with the architect, the builder/general contractor, the process and the final results, you have likely found your architect. And I believe the architect you choose will be able to help you in selecting a professional and reliable custom builder/general contractor who produces a high quality product. An architect who specializes in residential construction works with the trades every day. They know who creates a quality product within budget and with as few issues as possible. After all, it is also the architect's reputation on the line when it is their project.

If you go the architect route, I don't think you'll find any need for an attorney on retainer. Your architect will handle any issues that may arise during construction.

Good luck! :happy
rjbraun
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by rjbraun »

I used an architect when I combined two apartments. It wasn't cheap, and it's really impossible to say how things would have turned out had I not used an architect, but I agree with other posters who say that a good architect has a sense of space, design, and other considerations, all of which can make a big difference in how a home turns out.

For sure, I think finding not only a competent architect but one you feel very comfortable with is key. I considered one whose design aesthetic appealed to me. On top of that he was "award-winning" and had an hourly rate below the architect I went with. The chemistry just didn't feel right, though, and as tempting as it was to hire him, I suspect it would have been an unpleasant situation in the end.

An unexpected surprise with my "gut renovation" was the appreciation I gained for architectural design in the process. I probably appreciate my place more as a result and also find that I developed more of a "critical eye" when I look at a space. Arguably, being more discerning can be a drawback, but to me the positives outweigh the negatives.
milktoast
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by milktoast »

At 5000sqft, I’d use an architect. Even if you reduce size, you may end up with a more usable space.

And a builder special at that size often ends up looking tacky - failure to get details right is magnified. Top of all the windows should match perfectly. Looks wrong with 3 windows, and looks like a disaster with 7.
marcopolo
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by marcopolo »

galawdawg wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:53 pm
eagleeyes wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:37 pm galawdawg,

You’ve convinced me. We are going to go the architect route. Now how to find the right architect!

The lowest cost custom builder I have come across is about $200/Sqft. We are likely to be using who is going to be closer to 300/ft

My wife has picked and tweaked her plans according to the lot and setbacks. Shouldn’t be an issue there.

I will probably swing by every other day or so. I can not tell much about workmanship, so again, it will help to have an architect there who can walk the site with me once a week or so. Some architects visit the sites often, others less often.

That’s interesting about having a lawyer on retainer. What kind of lawyer does this kind of work? Construction lawyer?
I'd recommend that you ask each of the architects you are considering for a list of residential construction projects they have handled from design through occupancy (their portfolio) and the names of the builder/general contractor they worked with on each of those projects. Take a look at each of the homes, speak with the homeowners about their experiences with the architect and the builder/general contractor. Ask them about anything they would do differently or suggestions they would have for you. Was the project completed on-time, on-budget and as specified? Would they recommend their architect? Their builder/general contractor?

When you find a pattern of homeowners who were extremely satisfied with the architect, the builder/general contractor, the process and the final results, you have likely found your architect. And I believe the architect you choose will be able to help you in selecting a professional and reliable custom builder/general contractor who produces a high quality product. An architect who specializes in residential construction works with the trades every day. They know who creates a quality product within budget and with as few issues as possible. After all, it is also the architect's reputation on the line when it is their project.

If you go the architect route, I don't think you'll find any need for an attorney on retainer. Your architect will handle any issues that may arise during construction.

Good luck! :happy
All good advice, one thing I would add is: if it is possible via public records in your area, try to find homes built by the architect/builder independent of the list they give you. Only people they know will give them glowing recommendations will show up on those lists. We used county permit database to identify several such homeowners in our area, I think we got much more balanced feedback that way.

Good luck with your project.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
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galawdawg
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by galawdawg »

marcopolo wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 2:06 pm
galawdawg wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:53 pm I'd recommend that you ask each of the architects you are considering for a list of residential construction projects they have handled from design through occupancy (their portfolio) and the names of the builder/general contractor they worked with on each of those projects. Take a look at each of the homes, speak with the homeowners about their experiences with the architect and the builder/general contractor. Ask them about anything they would do differently or suggestions they would have for you. Was the project completed on-time, on-budget and as specified? Would they recommend their architect? Their builder/general contractor?

When you find a pattern of homeowners who were extremely satisfied with the architect, the builder/general contractor, the process and the final results, you have likely found your architect. And I believe the architect you choose will be able to help you in selecting a professional and reliable custom builder/general contractor who produces a high quality product. An architect who specializes in residential construction works with the trades every day. They know who creates a quality product within budget and with as few issues as possible. After all, it is also the architect's reputation on the line when it is their project.

If you go the architect route, I don't think you'll find any need for an attorney on retainer. Your architect will handle any issues that may arise during construction.

Good luck! :happy
All good advice, one thing I would add is: if it is possible via public records in your area, try to find homes built by the architect/builder independent of the list they give you. Only people they know will give them glowing recommendations will show up on those lists. We used county permit database to identify several such homeowners in our area, I think we got much more balanced feedback that way.

Good luck with your project.
Ha! Great way to find the "other" clients that don't show up on the list of prior projects. I'll have to remember that!
boomer_techie
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Re: To architect or not to architect?

Post by boomer_techie »

May I recommend a YouTube channel? The channel "Essential Craftsman" is a contractor in Oregon who's building a "spec" (i.e. speculation) house and making YouTube videos of every step. They're up to episode #86 and have the house just about closed in from the weather.

Anyway, he used a draftsman and engineer on the project, but no architect. The draftsman was responsible for preparing the construction drawings and figuring out lots of details. The engineer was needed to specify foundation footer design, wall headers, floor joists, and so on.

It is my understanding that an architect would be responsible for the concept, with all the construction details handed off to someone else. An architect may make sure that you can get a mattress around any corners into the bedrooms - that you don't have to run in your PJ's across the living room to get to a bathroom - that you don't see a toilet through an open door from the dining room - and other such details.

Of course the need for an architect is different for a neophyte homebuilder versus a contractor who's built umpteen houses...
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