How Much Will a Designer Cost?

Follow this advice and stay informed when settling designing costs.

Home Design Costs

. Photo: landscape-architects.regionaldirectory.us

The title “architect” conjures up in many people’s minds fancy designer houses, monumental homes out of the pages of Architectural Digest. And, yes, it’s true, people with a great deal of money often hire architects. But it isn’t true that you have to be rich to afford an architect or designer.

The designer/architect is paid to perform several different tasks. You will be paying the designer to learn your house, your needs, and to develop a program for your renovation; for him or her to execute preliminary drawings for your review; and then to execute finished drawings once you are happy with the approach. The last part described is roughly half the job, the first two parts something like a quarter each. Should you hire your architect to supervise construction, that may increase the fee another 15 or 20 percent.

Design fees vary tremendously but there is a logic remodeling a modest kitchen, say, will cost less than designing a large addition. The way fees are calcu­lated varies, too, but most designers will work for a fixed design fee, a percentage of construction, or bill on a per-hour basis.

FIXED FEE
The fixed fee is just what the name suggests, an arrangement in which the architect and the client agree to a single price for the job. They also agree on what the job is so if there is a significant change from the original agreement (say, the addition doubles in size or budget), then the fee may be renegotiated. Otherwise, the fee agreed upon on day one should be the fee the client pays.

PERCENTAGE OF BUDGETED CONSTRUCTION COST
The fee will be a percent­age of the total construction cost, generally 10 to 15 percent in residential construction. The greater the cost of construction, the lower the fee percentage should be.

The key word here is budgeted. The implication is that if you determine before breaking ground that the total cost is to be, say, $25,000, then it is the archi­tect’s job to complete the construction for $25,000, and his percentage will be of that sum. However, if the job ends up costing $35,000, there is no reason why he should be rewarded by being paid the same percentage of the higher cost, especially if he has been in charge of the process from the start. (One exception would be, however, where the cost overrun was the result of the client making changes and adjustments well into the process. In such cases, it is reasonable for the architect to expect addi­tional payment for his additional services.)

Whatever the method of payment, the designer will want, as mentioned above, the bulk of his fee upon completion of the plans. If you do not plan to involve him in the supervision of the project, he’ll want it all. After all, whether the designer is to be at your side throughout the process or not, he will have done the bulk of his job by the time the finished drawings are completed.

HOURLY RATE
This is perhaps the most common approach in renovation or remod­eling jobs. At your first meeting, you agree to an hourly rate; depending upon the experience of the designer, fees may range from $50 an hour to many times that. If the price is too high, finding a less expensive designer is one answer, though many architects charge a lesser rate for the time spent by draftsmen employed in their offices.

If you opt for this arrangement, consider writing two safeguards into your understanding. First, negotiate an “upset price.” You and the architect agree on a maximum fee; further, you agree on an hourly rate. Then he keeps track of the hours required to complete the job. If his hourly wages are less than the upset price, you pay the lower sum, but if they are more, that’s his problem. You do not pay any more than the ceiling (the upset price) you agreed upon at the start.

The other safeguard (not only for this agreement, but for any agreement) is a clearly stated payment schedule. You should agree to pay the architect for performance. Perhaps a small payment is due upon signing the contract, another on acceptance of the preliminary sketches, and so on. In this way, the architect gets paid as he works, but you also know exactly what you are paying for.

OTHER EXPENSES
It is common for architects to bill separately for extra expenses. These include reproduction costs (photocopying of blueprints), which shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars and, for a modest remodeling job, much less. There may be a fee for the services of a specially trained structural or professional engineer, if required (an unusual design configuration or an addition to an older home that requires the existing structure to bear some of its weight are two circumstances that might call for such a consultation).

The prices for engineering services vary greatly, so be sure your architect gives you an estimate up front. Another cost would be to prepare a survey that indicates the boundaries or contours or other aspect of your property; this might be required if you are putting on an addition. As with engineer­ing fees, get an estimated cost from your architect for such a survey before it’s done.