"Lost that loving feeling" - How much can architectural design cost you? | Project38LB

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

My music playlist includes the classic "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" Click the link and you can hear the song from The Righteous Brothers as you read on. The song reminds me of how working relationships can go from inspiring, productive to skipping over critical elements and pleading on bended knee to finish contract obligations.


My architect lost motivation for my project weeks before the final achievement, earning a city building permit. The contract covered three architectural deliverables; a conceptual design, building permits, and 8 hours of interior design consulting.


The first, conceptual design, included three-floor plans that in theory would work for our lot, our wishlist and local building codes. Conceptual design services generally cost $2 - $5 per sqft for a custom build home. My project was a remodel and her pricing came in about 20% higher or $6 per sqft. Since I went with it, I am guessing her pay made my architect happy. She was enthusiastic and full of ideas and in love with the project. She gave 100% and delivered 3 incredible floor plans in the time promised.


I approved one of the floor plans with some very simple modifications. Everything paid up, it was time for the second deliverable; production drawings and building permit.


The average cost for city submission documents and a building permit is $1-$4 per sqft for a custom build home. Again, this was a remodel so the price came in 20% higher or $5 per sqft. I had no problem with the price and believed our architect could do the job. I felt the higher price could be justified by talent and timeliness.


This work is much more detailed and demanding than dreaming up floor plans. It requires following precise local building codes, working with a structural engineer and providing an environmental report. I noticed that some architects define city submission documents differently than production plans. Some architects put in a tremendous amount of detail in the city submission documents. Frequently, the builder can build from the very same plan. Others include just enough detail to get city approval but not enough for the builder to work with.


In either case, architects have much more leverage to add expensive hourly services to your project. Either by translating intricate documents to your builder or leaving out the necessary detail to begin work.


I approved city submission documents to be simple without tons of detail. As with all projects, I knew there would be changes and I would assume responsibility to work directly with the builder to make the changes. I also needed to keep the architect's hourly construction management fees to the bare minimum.


When I broke the news to my architect that our contract would end at the final deliverable, the honeymoon was over. Overnight, my project did not have the same attention and priority as before. I no longer felt like the client but the roles had reversed. Earl Nightingale said it best "A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can not go anywhere until you change it"


We had a gloomy Google Hangout video chat over redesigning the house. The city would not approve the plan because of FEMA flood zone restrictions. That bit of information would have been helpful to know weeks ago between conceptual design and city submission phases. I was upset but held back on any criticism and did my best to install motivation with her.


Redesigning the floor plan and correcting city submission documents took another 6 weeks and an additional $3,087 for 3rd party engineering, printing, special handling, and prepaid interior design fees. Altogether, the conceptual design and city submission documents ended up costing $14 per sqft. Similar services average $9-$10 per sqft. I did agree with 20% higher fees but crushed to pay another 30% for the redesign. If I had better advice upfront, I probably could have saved an additional $3 per sqft for redesign


If I ever enter into another architectural agreement again, I would change the payment terms to due upon approval and completion. My contract was divided into 5 progress payments at net 45 that did not match the deliverable date or approval. I would have simplified and offered immediate payment upon completion of my three deliverables using online banking like Venmo or Zelle . The architect gets more money faster and the client pays only for services completed. If the architect is uncomfortable with the agreement offer a 10% start and 90% instant payment on completion of each deliverable.


I would also include special terms in case of a breach of contract. Simple language like "if architect fails to earn city approval, all redesign work, documentation and 3rd party engineering will be at architects expense". This could be the beginning of an architectural prenuptial.


Cheers to permit, next step demo day!


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