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Building a Home

Do I Need Architect for Custom Home Design?

Published on:

4/29/20

written by:

Carrie Barker

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Do I really need to hire an architect to design my custom home? 

The (very) short answer to your question is no, but obviously there are many factors that go into this decision.

If you google search this question, you’ll notice that many of the articles are written by either an architect or a custom builder … so take their advice with a grain of salt.

Below I’ll share unbiased information about the pros and cons of hiring an architect so you can make the best decision for YOUR family and YOUR needs … not what builders or architects may be swaying you to do.

Do I Need Architect for Custom Home Design

CUSTOM BUILDER VS. ARCHITECT

Architects are highly trained and licensed experts in residential (and/or commercial) design and function.

Custom builders are experts on construction best practices and moving you through the home build process. They also (ideally) keep a close watch on the homeowner’s budget.

Both are highly qualified professionals … but in different areas.

Some builders cannot conceptualize a complete home in the way an architect is trained to whereas some architects are more interested in design and function than the homeowner’s budget. (I said ‘some’ … not all!)

Custom builders and architects each have their own unique benefits that can contribute to a successful custom home build project … as long as they communicate well with each other, respect each other’s area of expertise, and work together toward the COMMON GOAL of a functional and beautiful home for you WITHIN your budget.

WHOM DO I HIRE FIRST? BUILDER OR ARCHITECT?

I recommend choosing your custom builder first.

If you choose to work with an architect, make sure to hire an architect that has worked successfully with your builder in the past. Get an architect recommendation directly from your builder.

If you hire the opposite way, your architect might have a great relationship with a builder … however, you need to MAKE SURE that you feel comfortable with the builder because you’ll be spending months on end working closely with this person.

Even more important, you want to MAKE SURE the recommended builder has a good track record of staying ON (or close to) BUDGET!

DO I (REALLY) NEED ARCHITECT FOR CUSTOM HOME DESIGN?

Architects can be VERY expensive, but a necessary aspect of building IF you don’t feel confident in designing your floor plan on your own (with your builder’s help).

An architect’s job is to help you create a functional and livable floor plan. Builders are great at building and managing your project, but they are not always the best at the design aspects of building a home (this includes creating a floor plan).

Creating a floor plan requires a lot of critical thought, an eye for design, attention to detail, a clear vision for what you want, and lots of tweaking until the plan is perfect for your family.

If this sounds overwhelming or like something you don’t feel comfortable doing on your own, then I recommend you hire an architect (or choose a stock floor plan).

Another thing to consider is your budget … I have not personally used an architect but I did some research and they aren’t cheap!

Pricing is dependent on where you live and whether your architect is a junior architect or licensed architect, but expect to spend anywhere from 5%-20% of the project cost for architect fees.

So, if you plan to build a $400,000 home, fees can range from $20,000 – $80,000 JUST for your architect! Yikes!

BENEFITS OF HIRING AN ARCHITECT

Sometimes an architect is necessary and their expertise more than makes up for the added expense.

Here are some benefits to hiring an architect:

  • An architect will help you design an efficient and functional floor plan
  • An architect can help you avoid future design errors and costly alterations
  • An architect can offer creative solutions and alternatives to problems you may not have thought of
  • An architect can help you define your vision of your custom home, better understand what you would like to accomplish, and refine these goals

Overall, an architect can help you gain a better understanding of your needs and how to execute them.

Believe me, the more clarity and vision you have for your home build, the better able your builder will be to give you a REALISTIC quote for the cost of the project.

DRAWBACKS OF HIRING AN ARCHITECT

Again, I have not worked with an architect, but the only drawback I see to hiring an architect is the expense.

Like I said above, architect fees can be very EXPENSIVE! You can expect to spend anywhere from 5%-20% of the project cost for architect fees.

Another potential drawback is that some architects may be so focused on their conceptual design that they don’t always keep the homeowner’s budget in mind.

WHEN NOT TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT

If you (along with your builder) have the ability to bring your dream floor plan vision to life, then you don’t need an architect.

Like me, you can certainly create a beautiful and functional floor plan without an architect’s help IF (big IF):

  • you and/or your builder has a talent for design
  • you have a CLEAR vision of what you want
  • you can convey this vision to your builder
  • your builder can produce plans (via a draftsperson) that meet local building codes

However, keep in mind these two things:

If you value a very unique and forward-thinking design for your home, then hiring an architect is a great idea.

If your lot is unique and/or your locale has really difficult and strict building codes, it could be very beneficial to hire an architect.

No matter what route you go (architect or not), I HIGHLY recommend that you do a 3D Rendering of your front elevation.

WHY I DID NOT HIRE AN ARCHITECT

I never even considered using an architect because I knew what I wanted design-wise and I am extremely detail-oriented.

I had a vision for my floor plan and my design aesthetic. I didn’t need the help of an architect to ensure my floor plan was functional and practical.

My builder ensured the plumbing and other structural items were correct and I ‘walked through’ my floor plan in my head a million(ish) times to make sure the flow worked.

If you, like me, think like an architect (i.e. you can visualize aspects such as the flow, window/door placement, etc. in an unfinished home) and you are very detail-oriented, you can probably get away without hiring an architect.

Of course, it took lots of tweaks and modifications to finally arrive at my vision, but that’s totally normal even with an architect.

I plan to build another custom home in the future and maybe I’ll find I need an architect for that home depending on if we have a small plot of land and we need to get extra creative in space planning.

CONCLUSION

The decision of whether or not to hire an architect all comes down to your ability to get a clear vision of what you want and to convey this vision to your builder. It’s also very helpful to have a talent for design and an eye for detail.

Hiring an architect is a very personal decision. Don’t be swayed by what architects and builders tell you … go with the best decision for YOUR family and YOUR needs.

Be sure to download my *FREE* Custom Home Build Prep Guide and learn the 5 crucial steps to prepare for a home build with less stress, more confidence, and without blowing your budget!

  1. Cheryl says:

    Be very careful with architects. They do what they want and charge you $$$$$. Put all your requirements in writing, especially that the final design can be built within your budget. Initial drawings for a moderate home can easily cost $12K-15K …and that’s assuming you like the drawings and before you start the change process.

    We lucked out and found a retired architect that just wanted to help people with their new home. It was a wonderful experience and he charged us $1700.00, which included at least 6 rounds of changes. The process took longer because he was doing several other things, but fortunately we had the time (about 13 months). We love our new home!

  2. Thanks for the tip that I can count on my builder for the design of my home if they are experienced in that field. My husband and I are planning to have a custom home plan for our new house since he would like to move to a different city with better job opportunities for him. If all turns out well, this new home would also probably where we will raise a child someday.

  3. Thanks for helping me learn the importance of an architect for custom home design. Because I want to plan everything out this July, it’s good that I’ve read your article to reevaluate my choices. I like what you said that an architect can help in defining my custom home. Since you noted that hiring an architect and a custom home builder would be better, I guess I shall then look for one that has an exceptional service.

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