Choosing an architect to design your home is a project onto itself. If you approach it as such your chances for success and happiness will greatly increase. As with any project that you manage preparation is the key, there is no substitute for doing your homework.
The Pre-Selection Stage:
Before you rush head long into choosing an architect for your future home, there are a few steps that must be taken to ensure success.
First is establishing a budget. How much money do you have for this phase of your construction project is essential. When establishing a budget do your homework on the current costs associated with hiring an architect in your area. Shop and compare. Make calls to different architectural firms, ask different real estate agents, and start a list of potential candidate and their associated costs. Most of all remember to add a contingency amount to the budget for unforeseen risks and over runs, always be prepared for the unexpected.
Second, establish a schedule for the design project. Establish a time-line for the building of your home, and work backwards from there. This will give you a rough estimate as to when you need your new design finished. This will become a topic of discussion when you prepare to meet the architect.
Third, select a list of potential candidates to meet with. After you make a list of candidates, prepare a list of questions to ask the candidates, after all, this is an interview process and you need to be prepared. Your list of questions should address several basic topics including:
1) How long will the design project take, and does it meet your schedule.
2) Who exactly will be assigned to the design project, will it be the person you are interviewing or an associate.
3) What are the firm’s qualifications, current and past design projects, and professional credentials.
4) What are the design philosophies of the firm, and do they meet your vision for this project.
When you interview each potential candidate take notes, ask questions, and get a general feel for the relationship you are about to form. Does the person seem reasonable to work with? Does he seem rushed? Is he wanting to pawn you off on an associate? Will he have time for your project?
Remember that the most important part of this process is finding the right fit for your specific project. The best architect in the world will not do you a bit of good if he is not the right one for you. He could have designed the Taj Mahal for instance and it wouldn’t matter if he takes no interest in your project. Ask yourself if the size of the project and the time-line that you have established fit in with the current needs of the firm and architect you are looking at?
Above all, take a look at a few different designs that they have, do the designs fit your needs and your vision for your home? Are the designs within your available budget? Is the construction that will follow within your budget constraints as well?
Before you leave, ask for a copy of their standard contract and get familiar with it. Take notes on areas of legal risk within the contract.
Repeat the process with each and every candidate you meet. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions, after all, who wants a candidate that finished in the lower half of his graduating class or that has had law suites filed against them.
The Evaluation Process:
During the evaluation process you will be going through all the data you collected. Before you start make yourself a matrix that compares each candidate against each other over a list of criteria that are important to your project. Disqualify any candidate who does not meet your budget or time-line, and rate and rank the rest. Take the top three candidates and set up a meeting with your lawyer to review the contracts that you obtained from each candidate. Include your lawyer’s input in your evaluation since avoiding unnecessary risks is important.
Finally, do a background check on the candidate. Do a police check on all of them and call the better business bureau. Avoid candidates with past legal troubles if possible, the last thing you want to do is end up in court suing over an unfinished design or additional charges that you never agreed to.
At this point do not be afraid to call the top candidates to ask any additional questions that are troubling you. Better to ask then to go into a contractual relationship not knowing.
Awarding the Contract:
Finally, it is time to award the contract. Set up a meeting with the winning architect. At this meeting go over any questions still troubling you. Finalize the design you will be contracting for, and go over the costs. Don’t be afraid to ask what are the costs associated with changes in scope to the design, since you might change your mind about different aspects of the project as you go along. Go over the contract once again with them, bring up any points of concern that were expressed by your lawyer. It does not hurt to see if any of the points that trouble you are negotiable, remember the old adage, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Before you sign the final contract ask for a preliminary project schedule. It’s good to have a schedule you can follow and you should be prepared to document the project along the way. Proper documentation can avoid troublesome litigation later on.
When all of your questions have been properly answer and you feel good about the relationship you are about to start, sign the papers and embark on your project. Most of all, remember that this is the start of the project, not the end, do not take your eyes off the ball, and keep good track of your project until completion.