How Much of Your Home Building Budget Goes to an Architect?

Posted by Andrew Barden on May 17, 2019 10:42:24 AM
Andrew Barden
how much of your home building budget goes to an architect

When building a custom home, there is one thing on the forefront of everyone’s minds: budget. As any savvy new home owner knows, budget goes beyond setting one fixed number and sticking to it through the building process.

While it is important to have your “magic number” or goal budget -- It’s also to know how much of that budget is allocated to various facets of the building process. And most important of all? Finding areas where they can tighten their budget, and save a little money if possible.

In this article we’re going to explore one major, expensive aspect of the home building budget: hiring an architect. How much of your budget should be going to an architect? Just how much are you getting for your money?

What Percent of Your Overall Home Building Budget Goes to an Architect?

To answer this question, we’re going to lean on the philosophies of John Connell, founder of the Yestermorrow Design/ Build School and author of the popular home building guide Homing Instinct.

On average, Connell explains, spending 10-15% of your budget on an architect is common. According to the American Institute of Architects, this money buys you five services from the architect: preliminary design and programming, design development, construction documents, budget analysis and bid supervision, and site inspections and review.

As Connell notes, for homeowners who balk at the steep 10-15% fee for an architect, oftentimes the architect will counter by offering just the design and programming and design development services for only 5%. This method requires the homeowner to rely on their builder to handle the rest of the services.

Should You Cut the Budget?

At first, cutting the budget from 15% to 5% can seem attractive to homeowners. After all, their home builder should be able to accomplish services 3-5, right?

Not necessarily. Their builder is left attempting to understand design plans that they are unfamiliar with. Because of this, there are likely elements of the build plan that the home builder did not factor for -- Whether this be specialty items that require unique subcontractors, or materials that were not ordered.

The home builder is then left with no choice but to go back to the homeowner and explain that these unforeseeable elements are going to not only increase the timeline of the project completion, but also increase the cost.

In the end, the homeowner can wind up paying the 5-10% they saved on the architect right to the builder for unforeseen costs associated with the build plans.

The 5 Services an Architect Provides Your Build Process

Let’s say the homeowner spends the 10-15% necessary to pay an architect to accomplish all of the necessary services on their build.

Again, these 5 services are:

  1. Preliminary Design and Programming
  2. Design Development
  3. Construction Documents
  4. Budget Analysis and Bid Supervision
  5. Site Inspections and Review

What exactly do these 5 services include? Let’s dig deeper into how Connell defines each of these services and what the homeowner should be getting.

1. Preliminary Design and Programming

This phase requires the architect to work closely with the homeowner to develop an early concept of the home that fits all of the homeowner’s requirements.

As Connell notes, “The program states the design problem to be solved, and the preliminary design is where the solutions take their first form.”

One could look at this step as a giant brainstorm and sketch of the project to come.

2. Design Development

In this phase, the homeowner and architect cross-check the dream design that has been approved with real-world limitations such as codes, structure requirements, and site conditions.

By the end of this phase, the homeowner and architect have produced a design that is feasible for build.

3. Construction Documents

Think of the construction documents of a giant blueprint of the home as it is meant to be built. This phase is one of the most important, since any error on paper translates to a costly error in the final build.

When homeowners opt to stop work with architects at Service #2 in the interest of saving money, they lose this portion of the work -- and their builder is left to scramble and try to translate the design provided to a construction document. Since they were not the ones who created the initial design, a lot of friction can happen during this step.

To avoid friction here, homeowners need to keep the architect (or whoever designs their home) involved throughout the build phase. It will save time, money, and tension in the long run.

4. Budget Analysis and Bid Supervision

In this service, the architect works closely with the homeowner to inform them of the materials they need, as well as coaches them through the bids and quotes given by various contractors needed to build the final home.

Ideally, this service helps the homeowner lean on the architect’s expertise to save money and assure quality.

5. Site Inspections and Review

During the build, the architect should be frequenting the site to answer any questions that might pop up and solve any problems.

There can be friction in this step as well if the architect has not adequately worked with the home building companies and contractors. Oftentimes, there are issues that arise due to the feasibility of the design elements once building has begun.

But, friction is greatly reduced by having the architect on site to answer questions rather than the relationship between homeowner and architect having been severed in an earlier phase.

Are You Getting What You’re Paying For?

Unfortunately, the hard truth is that oftentimes even when homeowners pay the steep 10-15% for an architect to complete the build, not all of the above services are being adequately completed. Architects shirk their responsibilities for bid coaching, and can be absent on the build site when crucial questions are being asked.

There’s a Better Solution

Building with Barden means our in-house design teams work through your build process every step of the way. Because our design and engineering departments are all in-house, one design program is used to create the design, the build plans, and the construction blueprint.

The design team works to answer the home builder’s questions every step of the way, and ensures that quality is retained through every moment of the build process.

Most importantly, the design right off the bat is informed by the customer's budget -- which eliminates surprise costs and wasted architectural fees. 

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Topics: New Home, Financing, Custom Home