I can tell you, with just three questions, whether your project will be a success or a failure; whether it will be a happy experience or an endless hassle:
Did you - check references?
Did you - visit past projects?
Did you - get a written contract?
My hat's off to the couple from out of state who drove several hours to visit two new homes designed by my office, and to talk with the owners.
They're considering Architects for their new home, and wanted to see our work.
Live and in person. Not just pretty photos on the internet.
That's more rare than you'd think, but vitally important if you want to be sure that your project's going to turn out the way you want.
Seeing an actual home; walking through it; and asking the owner questions about why they did this and that - will tell you volumes about how your experience is likely to be.
Ask the owner of the house why they made the design decisions they did and whether they'd do things differently now.
Ask about the experience of working with the Architect - what went right and went wrong. Would they do it again?
Ask about the experience of living in an Architect-designed home; is it different than their other home?
A Few Good Phone Calls
You probably don't have time to visit more than a handful of homes, especially if you're interviewing several Architects.
So in addition to a few home visits, make a few phone calls to past clients of the firms you're considering.
Each of the firms should provide you with a list of references. Don't worry if their projects aren't the same as what you're considering; what you're interested in is learning about is the experience the owners have had, and their level of satisfaction with the Architect and the process.
The American Institute of Architects publishes a list of 20 questions to ask Architects you're interviewing. It's a good place to start, though you'll want to modify the questions a bit to fit your needs.
Get It In Writing
No doubt, starting on a new home or remodeling project is exciting. Things are going to be so much better!
Or so we hope, right?
It's easy to let the excitement of the process get in the way of good business. But doing good business is how you make sure that what you want is what you're going to get.
And that takes a contract. A detailed contract, covering all of the services your Architect is providing including a breakdown of his fees, dispute resolution, liability, etc.
Ideally, have each of the Architects you're interviewing submit a "boilerplate" agreement for you to review.
Ask your Architects how long they've been using this particular form of contract, what problems they've had with it, and how it can be tailored to fit your particular project.
Some residential Architects use the standard AIA agreement, but many don't. That's ok, since the AIA forms aren't particularly well-suited for most single-family home projects.
Either way, be sure your Architect's agreement is detailed and complete, and have your lawyer review the agreement before you sign.
Knowledge and equal expectations are the keys to a successful project; talk to references, visit a few homes, and get a detailed written contract.
I predict that you'll get a much better project.
Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio.