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Do I Need Architect for Custom Home Design?

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written by:

Carrie Barker


Do you really need to hire an architect to design your custom home? 

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

If you google 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.

In this episode, 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 … as opposed to what builders or architects may be swaying you to do.


Welcome back to the Before You Build Podcast! I’m your host, Carrie Barker (a.k.a. Caroline on Design), and today in episode 7, I’m going to share my unbiased opinion about whether or not you should hire an architect.

We’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using an architect as well as when you should not hire an architect, why I didn’t hire an architect, and, if you do decide to use an architect, who you should ideally choose first (i.e. your builder vs. your architect).


Let’s start by identifying the difference between a custom builder and an 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. Builders also (typically) keep a close watch on the homeowner’s budget.

Architects and custom builders are both highly qualified professionals … but in different areas.

Some builders cannot envision and conceptualize a complete home in the way an architect is trained to do whereas some architects are more interested in design and function than focusing on the homeowner’s budget. (I said ‘some’ … not all, so don’t get mad!)

Custom builders and architects each have their own unique benefits that contribute to your overall successful custom home build project. 

However, it’s very important that the builder and architect have the ability to communicate well with each other. It’s also important that they respect each other’s area of expertise and they work together toward the common goal of a functional and beautiful home for you within your budget.


Now you know the difference between architects and builders but the question remains … do you really need an architect for your custom home?

Architects can be very expensive, but a necessary aspect of building IF architects are required for custom home builds in your city or if you don’t feel confident in designing your floor plan with your builder’s help.

As I mentioned before, builders are great at building and managing your project, but not all builders are equipped to help you with the design aspects of building a home (this includes creating your floor plan).

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

If this sounds overwhelming to you and you don’t feel comfortable doing this without a design professional, then I recommend you hire an architect (or choose an already created floor plan).

Another thing to consider is your budget. 

I have not personally used an architect but I did some research and I’ve talked to members inside my private ‘Before You Build’ community and the bottom line is that architects aren’t cheap! 

Hiring an architect is certainly an investment … one that is probably worth it if you and/or your builder don’t have an eye for the little details.

Architect fees are dependent on where you live and whether your architect is a junior architect or licensed architect. Fee structures also vary based on how the architect chooses to charge (i.e. overall percentage of the project vs. cost per square foot vs. an hourly rate).

In general, you should expect to spend anywhere from 5%-20% of your overall home cost on architect fees. To put that in perspective … if you plan to build a $400,000 home, fees can range from $20,000 – $80,000 just for your architect! Wow!

The only way to know for sure how you will be charged is to ask local architects when you interview them to find out the best partner for your project.

Do I Need An Architect For Custom Home?


What are the benefits of hiring an architect?

In some cities, it’s required to have an architect create your floor plan. In other cities where it isn’t a requirement, you may still find that their expertise makes up for the added expense.

Here are some benefits of 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 mistakes
  • An architect can offer creative solutions and alternatives to design problems you may not have thought of
  • An architect can help you define your vision of your custom home and help you better understand what you would like to accomplish

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

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


What are the drawbacks of hiring an architect?

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

Like I said before, architect fees can be very expensive which can significantly add to the overall cost of building your dream home.

Another potential drawback is that some architects may be so focused on their conceptual design for your home that they don’t always keep your budget in mind when designing your layout and custom features.


When should you NOT hire an architect?

If you (along with your builder) have the ability to bring your dream floor plan vision to life and an architect is NOT required where you are building, 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 (and these are big IFs):

  • you and/or your builder have a talent for design
  • you have a clear vision of what you want in your future home
  • you can clearly convey this vision to your builder
  • your builder works with a draftsperson who has the ability and software to produce floor plans that meet local building codes

However, there are two things I want you to keep in mind:

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

Likewise, if your land is unique and/or your city has really difficult and strict building codes, it could be very beneficial to hire an architect.

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


Let’s talk about why I didn’t hire an architect.

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

First of all (and most importantly) … I was not required by local building codes to use an architect to create my floor plan. We did have a draftsperson formally draw up our plan once my builder and I had finalized what I wanted.

Also, 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 because I have an eye for the little details :). I could ‘walk through’ my floor plan in my head (and I did this a million(ish) times) to make sure the flow worked.

If you are like me and you kinda 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 (if it isn’t required in your city).

Of course, it took A LOT of tweaking to finally arrive at my vision, but that’s totally normal even when working with an architect.

I do plan to build another custom home in the future and maybe I’ll find I need an architect for that home. It all depends on our land and if we need to get extra creative in space planning. However, at this point, I plan to design the home on my own again.


If you decide to hire an architect (or it’s required in your city), the next question is whom do you hire first? Your custom builder or your architect?

It seems like a no-brainer to choose your architect first BUT I actually recommend choosing your custom builder first.

If you choose to work with an architect, you want to hire an architect that has worked successfully with your builder in the past. I recommend you get an architect recommendation directly from your builder.

If you hire the opposite way (i.e. architect before builder), your architect might have a great relationship with a builder … however, you need to ensure that YOU feel comfortable with the builder because you’ll be spending many months of your life 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!


The decision of whether or not to hire an architect all comes down to whether it’s a requirement (and if it is, then you need to hire an architect) or your ability to thoroughly envision 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 details.

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!

If you’re listening to this episode, I assume you’re probably still really early on in the planning stages of building your future dream home. If that’s the case and you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed about what your steps are before you break ground, download my free Custom Home Build Prep Guide and learn the five crucial steps to prepare for a successful home build with less stress and more confidence in making decisions.

Pros and Cons of Using an Architect for Your Custom Home

  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.

  4. Heidi says:

    We have just begun building our dream house, which I personally designed and had a draftsman draw up for us. We hired a builder for a modest fee to get the house “dried in”, which includes basement, all framing, windows, doors, and roof. He is totally flexible with us, allowing us to have say in contractors. After the home is “dried-in”, we will take over as general contractors, and our builder will act as a consultant as needed. I feel we are really getting a great deal!

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I designed my own custom home from the ground up, inside and out. A home that is cozy, comfy, laid out perfectly for the way my family lives, and makes us happy every single day. Oh, and did I mention I did this all without blowing the budget?! 

Yep, it’s true. I’ve been there, done that, and actually lived through it … and you will too. Pinkie promise!

a.k.a. Caroline on Design

I’m Carrie Barker.

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