There are several things that potential clients should know (or at least be familiar with) before going into an agreement with an architect. It's important to understand what you're paying for, what it covers, and what you can expect out of an estimate for your building. The more informed you are, the easier it is to make informed decisions with your money and your facilities to prevent regretted investments.
1. WHAT SHOULD IT COST TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT?
This is a dangerous question to answer since Architects provide “professional services” (like attorneys and doctors) and fee structure can vary from Architect to Architect and even project to project. The idea here is that “professional design services” should not be looked at as a commodity. Like Attorneys and Doctors, not all Architects are created equal. Some have specializations and credentials that cause them to be better suited and more valuable for certain types of projects. That being said, we’ll cover a few of the most likely fee structures:
- Hourly Billings: Fees may be billed hourly at agreed upon rates (in this case, it is beneficial to agree to a “guaranteed maximum”);
- Fixed Fee: An Architect may determine a “fixed fee” based upon a predetermined scope; or
- Percentage of Construction: Fees could be based on a set percentage of the construction cost. The “percentage of construction cost” fee is a commonly used method because it doesn’t require a renegotiation of the contract every time the scope changes, because increases in scope are covered by an automatic increase in fee directly proportionate to the new construction budget.
In Louisiana, the state maintains a “fee curve” for professional design services. This curve is a sliding scale that is used to determine the percentage of construction cost that should be used to determine a fee depending on the project budget. The higher the cost of construction the lower the fee percentage. There is also a multiplier based on complexity of the project (renovations are slightly higher than new buildings because there are systems in place that must be dealt with and designed around).
Fees based on the Louisiana State Fee Curve typically range from 6% to 13%. For reference, a $1 million project fee for a new building would be around 9% (or $90,000). You may ask, “Why does it cost so much to get a set of drawings?” but it is important to note that a typical scope includes more value than just a set of drawings. Our next article will cover the full range of services provided for a typical Architect’s fee to give you a better understanding of why this fee is justified.
2. WHAT SERVICES ARE INCLUDED IN AN ARCHITECT’S CONTRACT?
Most Architects utilize a standard contract prepared by the American Institute of Architects (the AIA B101). This contract can be modified by the Architect to better suit the needs of a specific project; however, for the purposes of this article, we’re discussing the unmodified agreement as it reads in 2016.
In addition to requiring a licensed Architect, basic Architectural services in this contract typically include employment of a team of professional, licensed engineers. These engineers are “consultants” to the Architect, meaning they work for separate companies but their services are included in the Architect’s fee and they are paid by the Architect. These services typically include Civil Engineering (for the site), Structural Engineering (for the building), Mechanical Engineering (for HVAC, plumbing & fire suppression systems) and Electrical Engineering (for lighting, power and fire alarm systems). Some professional design services, like Landscape Architecture and Interior Design are not included in the basic AIA B101; however, they can be negotiated into the scope of work depending upon the needs of the Client.
For the Architect(s) and their team of specialized engineering/design consultants, this standard contract allows for services from initial design, through development of contract documents and bidding coordination, to the final phase called “Construction Administration” where the Architect works as an agent of the Owner throughout the construction process to ensure that the final product complies with the drawings and specifications.
It should be noted that the standard AIA B101 agreement considers the following services to be outside of the base fee structure: programming, existing conditions drawings (as-builts), interior design (finish selections), landscape architecture, 3d renderings, furniture selection & coordination, LEED certification documentation (or other specialized building certification programs), and other services.
3. WHAT WILL YOU NEED TO PROVIDE TO THE ARCHITECT?
For liability reasons, the Architect’s standard agreement requires the Owner to provide the Architect with the following (at no cost to the Architect): property survey, geotechnical report, budget, program (room list with required sizes), and “as built” drawings for a building to be renovated. Architects usually have relationships with or working knowledge of local surveyors and Geotechnical Engineers and can make recommendations as to who they believe would provide the best value on a given project.
Labarre Architects also tends to work with their Clients to help them develop their project program and budget. If there is no established program in place, it is typically beneficial to have the Architect’s input in the programming stage since they tend to have a good idea of what things cost and can make sure that the budget and program are appropriate before moving a project forward.
4. WHAT IS INCLUDED (OR MORE IMPORTANTLY “NOT INCLUDED”) IN AN ARCHITECT’S TYPICAL CONSTRUCTION ESTIMATE?
“What will it cost to build my new building” is a question that Architects are often asked at the beginning of any new project. This is a loaded question that, if an Architect chooses to answer, should include a lot of disclaimers. This is partly because it is typical for Architects to only address the “construction costs” of a project in their estimate.
What’s wrong with that? Well, if a property owner chooses to move forward on a project because the Architect’s estimate is under their budget they could be surprised to find that the following items are generally not included in the construction estimate: Architect’s fee, real estate costs, furniture and operational equipment, landscaping, property surveys, geotechnical report, construction materials testing, plan review fees, signage, etc.
Depending on the size of the project, it is not uncommon for the combination of these non-construction costs to total more than the construction cost. If the construction estimate is mistaken for an “all-in” turn-key estimate, then the owner will be in a state of shock long before the final bill comes in.