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3 Things You Need To Know BEFORE Hiring an Architect

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Hiring an architect comes with a lot of research, decision making, and planning. As a client, you've likely thought a lot about your dream project and now you've started the process of actually looking for and interviewing architects. You have likely drafted up a list of questions you want to ask the architect but be prepared for the architect to ask you a series of questions as well. So, as an architect, what are the very first three questions I ask a potential client during our first conversation?

1. What is your scope of work?

2. What is your budget?

3. What is your schedule?

Ok maybe you don’t have to have a solid answer to each of these questions, but be prepared to at least discuss them. An architect's job is to help guide you through these answers if you need help, so don't be afraid to ask! I discuss each item in detail in this week's podcast and YouTube video. Let's break them down a little below.


The scope of work is also referred to as the "Program". The program is essentially what you want for your project - your desired spaces, list of rooms, and how you envision your dream space. This is typically the main thing people think about when brainstorming their new home. It's good to discuss your entire wish list, any special considerations, and desired square footage in this first conversation. This won't be the end all be all scope, but we need a starting point.

Once we analyze the scope of work and compare it to the project budget, we start forming a better idea of what the final program will be.


The budget is a very important part of the project. We want to make sure we are staying in line with what you can afford, so the project doesn't die and everyone stays happy. Sometimes clients will come to me without any idea of budget, which is OK! We work together to discuss typical construction costs, the desired scope of work and come up with an estimated budget. Architecture fees can range anywhere from 6% to 15% of the cost of construction. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but typically a good way to estimate fees. It is dependent on many factors including the specific architect, the type, size, and scope of the project, and the complexity.

What affects architect's fees?

  • The decision-making process

  • Level of design input requested

  • Size and complexity of the project

  • Scope of work

Your scope of work and your budget must be aligned. For custom residential construction in San Diego, we use the range of $275-375 per square foot. We have worked on projects with a much higher price per square foot, but this is the typical range we see.

What affects the price per square foot?

  • Project location - is the site hard to get to? Are there site constraints that make construction difficult? Are you on a steep slope or irregular soil?

  • The builder

  • Project complexity

  • Level of finish required - are you selecting $2/SF tile or $25/SF?

We work with you from day 1 to make sure your scope and budget fit together. Both of these items can fluctuate throughout a project, so the client needs to remember that changes and adding items once the budget is established will increase costs. There should be clear communication between the architect and client throughout the life of the project regarding the budget and scope changes.

How can I control costs?

  • Be clear about what you like and don't like. Architects are professionals and trained to receive constructive criticism. The designs we come up with are for and about you, the client, not about us. The client needs to be clear with what parts of the design are working and what aren't. If this line of communication is unclear, the design process can take longer and in the end, everyone loses. Architects want our clients to be happy with their projects, so be honest with us. We can handle it, I promise!

  • Make sure the scope and budget align. Start small and work bigger if needed. It's much easier to add to the scope of work than it is to remove. So, throughout the whole life of the project, make sure you're always coming back to budget + scope.

  • Select finishes that fit your budget. Getting samples of that $50/SF tile is super fun! But, if it's not within your budget, don't waste your time. Finishes can drive up construction costs quickly, so be careful!

When considering your budget, don't forget the often-overlooked soft cost items like:

  • Additional services

  • Permits

  • Consultants

  • Survey

  • Soils testing (if required)

  • Printing


Custom homes take time. Just the design portion of the project can take anywhere from a few months to up to a year or more. It's important to develop a realistic schedule so everyone stays sane.

What does the schedule depend on?

  • Complexity of the scope of work

  • How quick the client is at making decisions

  • How quickly we can come to a design solution that meets your needs

  • Permitting - coastal, discretionary permits, or regulatory hurdles

  • Architect's schedule - how soon can they get to work?

  • Consultant's schedule

  • Contractor's schedule - are they available? What season is it - are there going to be a lot of weather days?

The scope of work, budget, and schedule may slightly alter and develop along the way. It's good to have a game plan early on to make sure there are no red flags or constraints. I dive deeper into this topic on this week's podcast and video, so definitely go check those out (and subscribe while you're there!).

Don't forget: realistic expectations result in exceptional projects!



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