Structuring the relationship
It is customary for an architect to be paid in several stages rather than with full payment at the end of the job. A down payment or retainer may be required prior to start-up. In most cases, an architect’s fee includes compensation for structural-, mechanical- (heating, ventilation, plumbing, and air-conditioning), and electrical-engineering consultants the architect may need to hire for your project.
Architects’ fees are determined in one of three ways:
- As a percentage of the total construction costs, which varies in proportion to the project’s size and complexity
- On an hourly-fee basis plus expenses
- As a “lump-sum” fee agreed on in a written contract that includes the fee method, condition, and pricing parameters
You and your architect should begin your relationship with a written agreement or contract that details your expectations; your architect’s services, fees, and schedule; and all other parameters you and your architect consider important. A thorough, clear written agreement will help prevent misunderstandings or disappointments.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) publishes a variety of contract documents that define the full array of relationships and terms involved in design and construction projects. You can purchase paper documents from the Boston Society of Architects/AIA at architects.org/store or as PDF documents from the AIA at documentsondemand.aia.org.
10 questions to ask your architect
- What do you see as important issues or considerations with regard to my project?
- Who in the firm will I be working with?
- How do you establish fees?
- How will I be able to relate fee payments to milestones in your scope of work?
- What are the steps in the design process?
- What will you show me along the way to explain the project: Models, drawings, or sketches?
- If the scope of the project changes, will there be additional fees?
- If the builders’ bids exceed my budget, will you revise the design and will this carry a cost?
- How disruptive will construction be?
- How long do you expect it will take to complete my project?