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How to Choose the Best Architect for Your Dream Home

Updated: April 15, 2024
Find tips on selecting the right residential architect to design your custom dream home based on style, experience and construction oversight.

Choosing the right architect to design your dream home is a big decision that requires careful consideration. Here are tips on what to look for when selecting an architect, questions to ask during interviews, how to check references and reviews, typical architect fees, and more.

  • What qualifications to look for in an architect
  • Questions to ask potential architects
  • Checking an architect’s references and reviews
  • Understanding architect service fees and contracts

What to Look for When Selecting an Architect

The first step in finding the best architect for your custom home project is determining what qualifications and skills you want your architect to have. Important things to consider include:

  • Proper accreditation and licensing
  • Experience designing homes in your area
  • Experience with your desired home size and budget
  • Design specialization or style (if desired)
  • Strong communication skills
  • Personality match

You’ll also want to ask candidates about their capacity for new projects and their typical turnaround times at different phases so you understand expectations upfront.

Accreditation

Confirm that any architect you consider hiring has passed their licensing exams and carries proper accreditation in your state and/or local municipality. Licensed architects have demonstrated certain competency standards and agree to follow regulations for practicing architecture ethically. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) also accredits architects who are members and adhere to AIA guidelines.

Local Experience

Look for an architect experienced with designing homes in your particular geographic area. They will be familiar with local zoning laws, building codes, required permits and inspections, climate considerations, construction costs, reputable builders, and all the factors that can impact your home building project. Local architects should also have relationships with nearby structural engineers, contractors, and other pros to assemble into a reliable home design and construction team.

Budget and Size Experience

Narrow options to architects who routinely work on homes in your target budget range and size. Custom home design expertise involves more than just drawing pretty pictures. Your architect must expertly translate your vision into viable plans that align with your budget constraints during the design process. This takes special skills and experience creating home plans scaled to everything from modest households to luxury estates.

Design Style

Some architects specialize in certain architectural design styles, while others are versatile generalists. If a specific style like Mediterranean, Colonial, Modern, or Farmhouse aesthetics matter to you, filter candidates with expertise or a passion for that genre. Make sure you connect with examples of their past design work.

Communication Skills

Since you’ll be working closely with your architect for an extended period and making myriad collaborative decisions together from initial concept through construction completion, make sure you choose an architect who is a responsive communicator. Look for architects who listen attentively to clients, address questions and concerns thoroughly and patiently, provide frequent progress updates, and welcome open discussion and feedback.

Personality Fit

Don’t underestimate the importance of simply liking your architect and having complementary temperaments and values. Design decisions involve subjective preferences, so work with professionals who “get” your style and priorities.

Questions to Ask Prospective Architects

When interviewing potential architects for your home building project, asking the right questions is key to determining which one makes the best match.

Services

– What specific services do you provide during the home design process? – Do you offer grant writing services for getting construction funding? – Will you handle zoning approval applications and acquiring necessary permits? – Do you provide contractor selection guidance and bid reviews? – Will you oversee construction progress monitoring as the project manager?

Qualifications

– What year did you become a licensed architect? – How many years of professional home design experience do you have? – How many residential projects have you designed in the past 5 years? – Are you accredited through the American Institute of Architects (AIA)?

Design Process

– What does your design process look like from initial sketches through finalizing home construction documents? – How long does a typical custom home design engagement last from start to finish? – How many preliminary meetings, reviews, and revisions are typical before finalizing home plans? – In what ways can I provide input and feedback during the design process before plans are finalized?

Portfolio

– Can I see some examples of detailed drawings, 3D renderings, photos of completed homes you’ve designed in the past 1-3 years? – Do you have experience designing any homes of similar size, style, budget, lot conditions, etc.?

Communication & Responsiveness

– How available are you for consultations and queries during the design process? – What is your typical response time to calls and emails from clients? – How often will we meet in person vs. virtual meetings?

References

– Can you provide contact information for some recent residential clients I could contact for references?

Checking Reviews and References

Referrals, reviews and references check are extremely valuable for confirming an architect’s skills, communication style, strengths and weaknesses, timeliness, and overall professionalism. Places to check credentials and client experiences include:

  • AIA Member Directory profiles
  • Architect Licensing Board public records
  • Online review sites (Google, Yelp, BBB, etc.)
  • Social media (look for client comments)
  • Personal references provided by the architect

During reference calls or correspondence, come prepared with questions about their overall experience collaborating with the architect, specific qualities and skills, design style execution, communication practices, product delivery timeframes, fees, ability to stay on budget, responsibilities during construction, and any other pertinent topics on your priority list.

Best Interior Designers for How to Choose the Best Architect for Your Dream Home

As you evaluate architects, consider crossing any off your list who have:

  • Complaints filed against them
  • Fees notably higher or lower than average
  • Poor communication habits evident
  • Insufficient relevant experience

Then narrow down based on best personality matches, design style affinity, and strengths matching top priorities like budget-consciousness, sustainability features, located near preferred builders, etc. Meet finalists in person and have an open collaborative discussion to experience working dynamics before making a final selection.

Architect Service Fees, Contracts and Agreements

Understanding how architects charge for services and what contracts entail helps avoid surprises. Typical architect fee structures fall into four main categories:

Flat Rate or Fixed Fee

You pay an established set rate for defined project deliverables – like a $15,000 flat design fee including 3 rounds of revisions. This provides predictable costs upfront, but confirm what’s included. Know who covers permitting fees and extra costs if you change scopes mid-stream requiring more work.

Hourly Rates

Some architects charge hourly billable rates plus related project expenses. This can run $70-$250+ per hour. Track accrued hours against an initial estimate so actuals versus projected costs are transparent as the engagement proceeds.

Percentage of Total Construction

Fees structured as a share of total home building expenses are common for full service architects. Typical rates are 8-12% for new custom homes and higher for major renovation projects. However, percentages fluctuate based on services provided during design, approvals, bidding, construction stages.

Value-Based or Square Foot Pricing

Architects sometimes charge per square foot of home plans instead of project percentage. Prices range roughly $8-$20 per square foot depending on home style complexity. Define what’s included clearly so you know what added fees could arise for extra services later. Make sure contracts outline every service the architect will provide, plus contingency plans if they become unavailable. Also address fee payment schedule, insurance requirements, ownership of final documents, circumstances where additional fees apply should scope creep arise, and termination conditions.

By

Mr. BS Parasher, Founder @ Interior x Design & UrbanDAC, He is the Top Interior Designer in Gurgaon & India's Premier Home Theater and Home Entertainment Designer, A Hi-end AV Expert with a deep passion, vision and knowledge about Interior Design.