There was a time when The American Institute of Architects (AIA) published a recommended fee schedule. However, in 1990, the Department of Justice won a lawsuit where the AIA was to withdraw these recommendations and could in no way, directly or indirectly, restrain the way architects charge for services. Therefore, no real standard drives Architectural pricing, which can pose a challenge for both Clients and Architects. For Clients, it is common to select the lowest bidder, and that can have costly downsides. For Architects, it can be hard to convey the value of their expertise successfully.
Rather than being paid for expertise, as some doctors or lawyers are, Architects are thought to be compensated for an object – a Drawing Set. As mentioned in Beyond the Drawings, services provided by an Architect are so much more than just a set of drawings. According to the National Council of Architectural Review Board (NCARB), it takes about 13 years for the average architect to complete school, solidify practice hours (Intern Development Program), and pass the seven required exams to secure their license. After completing such steps, it is assumed they have developed skills and knowledge of great value to clients and should charge accordingly for professional services. This expertise is what it comes down to; thus a client pays an Architect for the hours it takes to design and document each unique project created for each individual client.
While architects’ fees are an additional project cost, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways. Beyond the value of their expert professional knowledge of the industry, codes, and local by-laws (that fuel an in-depth and successful design project) Architects can monitor your budget, propose designs that reduce energy costs, and provide design and planning solutions that function efficiently. They can turn a difficult lot into a successful building site, and fully develop a project to avoid changes once construction is underway.
An architect’s compensation can be based on time and/or a fixed fee. It is typical to perform architectural services on an hourly basis, with estimated costs depending on the client’s requested levels of service, anticipated project scope of work, and town/city requirements. A hybrid fee that combines both an hourly fee and a fixed fee based on the individual phases throughout the entire project typically works best for both the Client and the Architect.
It is best for an Architect to understand the scope of a project and the Client’s budget to create a fee that makes the most sense for each specific project. There should be a clear understanding of the scope of the work and a custom fee created to reflect that work. It is reasonable that fees have a proportionate relationship to the cost of the project. It is common in residential projects, especially additions or renovations, for fees to reflect a baseline of work. This is due to the fact that there is a minimum amount of time required to document, design, permit, and coordinate the project; whether the project is a 300 SF mudroom or a 1,000 SF master bedroom and bath.
What if we want something simple? No new build or addition project is as simple as you think, even if they were, an Architect still has to do the legwork of really understanding your project (including all kinds of seemingly little things like zoning review) before producing a responsible and well-designed project. There are plenty of things that can be economized, but competence and expertise are not among them. In fact, a good Architect will most often exceed her fee, so seek out competent, experienced professionals and be prepared to pay them appropriately.
A Registered Architect who believes in providing a high quality of service is able to keep fees in proportion to the project scope while working with the Client to meet the standard requirements that come with every design project. An Architect brings valuable expertise to every project that strengthens the success of that project.