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Before You Hire an Architect: Tips for Interviews and Contracts
There is a wide range of questions and concerns to address when you consider hiring
an architect. That’s especially true if you’re doing it for the first time.
It’s important for owners to be informed. Do your homework thoroughly, not only
in detailing the scope of what you’re trying to accomplish but also in finding just
the right architect for your project — careful groundwork is key to avoiding a dispute.
In my work representing both architects and property owners, and during my training
and decade-long career as a project architect, I’ve seen countless projects reach
I’ve also seen projects where things go horribly wrong. Disputes arise, the working
relationship comes to a halt, and the chore of cleaning up the resulting legal mess
All these projects have taught me that one of the most important elements in any
successful construction project is clear, open, unambiguous communication between
the owner and the architect.
This necessity for clear two-way communication begins even before an architect is
selected. It’s incumbent upon you, the owner, to interview possible architects, to
clearly explain your objectives, and to fully listen to and consider the answers
Here are some interview questions that can help you see the differences between
firms and evaluate your options:
- Does your firm have the time available to meet our needs?
- Does your firm have a particular design philosophy?
- Do you see any potential challenges with our proposed project?
- Has your firm worked previously on similar projects?
- Who will be the project leader if we retain your firm?
- After hearing about our project, is this a project that would interest you?
- Does your firm carry liability insurance?
- Can you provide a list of past clients to speak with?
- How long do you anticipate for design development? For construction drawings?
- How would you describe the steps in the architectural process?
- Will there be any engineering consultants involved?
- Will you help in selecting a contractor?
- What should we anticipate as a cost per square foot range?
- Will you be providing inspections/certifications of the work while in progress?
- How frequently does your firm bill?
It helps to provide the architect with any examples and samples of comparable spaces
you like. You should also check your proposed architect’s licensing and registration
status with your state’s licensing boards, and verify whether your local building
department will require sealed architectural drawings for the type of project you’re
A word about Contracts
Before your chosen architect presents you with a contract, it's a good idea to become
familiar with the various types of contract and compensation formats governing the
relationship between owner and architect.
- Under a Lump Sum Contract, the architect will be paid a fixed, pre-determined sum.
It’s important to clearly define all the duties that the architect will perform.
- Under a Cost Reimbursement Contract, the architect will be paid based on hours spent
working on your project plus expenses (such as printing). The architect’s hourly
rate, retainer fee, and invoicing arrangements should be specified.
- Under a Percentage of Construction Cost contract, the architect’s fees are based
on the total cost of your project. Make sure that such a contract includes details
about how costs are calculated and when progress payments are to be made.
Each type of contract has advantages and disadvantages, so be as careful about the
contract you sign as you are about finding the right architect.
These simple preparatory steps can go a long way toward helping you and your architect
avoid misunderstandings and conflicts, and achieve a successful outcome for your
Portions of this article first published at www.liconstructionlaw.com.
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