Architect fees: apples to oranges?

I’ve been doing this for a while now (19+ years) and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being an architect and the field of architecture as a whole is this: architect fees can be very deceiving/confusing/frustrating/ambiguous/etc.  What makes an architect’s fees so complicated is that there are so many potential services that an architecture firm can provide.  When you are getting ready to interview architects for your new exciting (or maybe boring?!) project, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • On a macro scale, what services will the architecture firm be providing? Meaning, will the firm be providing ONLY architectural work?  What about structural work?  MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) work?  Civil work?  Geotechnical work?  Surveys?  Balber Architecture, Inc. can provide all of these services under our umbrella so you won’t have to worry about all this confusing stuff.  Now granted, some jobs don’t require all of these services, but it is nice to know that your architecture firm can provide these to you if you do indeed need them.  When I first put my firm together, I thought of everything that an average Joe would need when it came to services and I made sure I was able to provide them.  architect feesThe rationale is that the more of a “one-stop-shop” I could make my firm, or the more “turn-key” it is, the more appealing it is to people.  Designing and constructing a building can be a daunting process even for seasoned veterans, so dealing with one person covering a range of fields is always good.  After all, the architect has to be the ringleader in any project.  Nobody on the team will know and understand the project better than the architect.    He is the one that starts out sketching.  He is the one that meets with clients.  He is the one that works constantly with all of the consultants to coordinate the work and most importantly, he is the one that best understands the vision for the project.
  • On more of a micro scale, what services are involved in each of the disciplines? Will the architecture firm get the client the permit and then walk away?  Will the architecture firm go in for a permit, and then when the building department comments come back, will the architect charge to address these comments?  Balber Architecture, Inc. will not only be with the client until the permit is pulled (no added fees for responding to the building department as it is built into our standard of care), but we will also be there to the bitter end.  I always tell clients that I am here and I’m not going anywhere.  I take great pride in my team’s quick response time to our clients throughout all phases of the project.  We have CA (Construction Administration) built into our fees.  We respond to all RFIs (Request for Information) with consequent ASIs (Architect’s Supplemental Information) at no additional cost.
  • What about value-engineering? This is a major service that most architects would charge extra for.  Balber Architecture includes this service in all of our projects.  Again, when I conceived this company I wanted to ensure that I thought of every item I would want an architect to handle for me down to the minutia.  Having done this for so long, I know about things that most people wouldn’t even think to ask about…I just do it because I know they need it.  Value-engineering can dramatically affect construction cost and should definitely be something you grill your prospective architect about.
  • Make sure to ask all potential architects the same questions so you are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. If one architect comes in at half the price of another, there has to be a very real reason why.  Are they both providing the same services?  If the answer is “yes” then double-check.  Make a spreadsheet or a questionnaire to ensure that the architects are addressing each of your concerns line item by line item.  It is extremely important to systematically question architects to ensure that quotes match up in terms of what you’re getting.  If architect “A” comes in lower than architect “B”, and you have quotes matched up line for line, you will be able to question them easier as to why architect “B” is so high.  Perhaps there is something he is including in his quote that architect “A” is not…or vice versa.
  • Portfolio:  do you like their work?  There must have been some project that drew you to the firm or else you wouldn’t be considering them.  Please don’t base your decision solely on price.  It is a great honor to be chosen to work on a project as an architect and it means a lot when clients say they were drawn to me because of a certain project I designed.   When it is all said and done, architecture is basically art…granted a very sophisticated and technical art, but art nonetheless.  So make sure to thoroughly check out an architecture firm’s past work to make sure that you like their sense of style.  If you don’t see something that you are interested in, for example a certain typology like an office building or a library…ask them if they have the capacity to handle such a project.  World-renown architects are usually famous based on one project and in many cases that one project could be as small as a house…or even smaller yet,  a home remodel/addition!

In summary, what can seem like a pretty straightforward thing (acquiring architect fees) actually isn’t that easy.  Many factors go into pricing out projects for architects and all of us tend to go about coming up with our fee structure a little differently.  I think it goes without saying that the way I charge is the “right” way to charge (laugh/chuckle) but don’t take my word for it…feel free to contact me about your next project and we’ll talk about how we can work together.

I can be contacted directly here.