Hiring the Professional

Getting Started – Finding the appropriate design, building or Design Build professional for your project is not a difficult task. The steps are similar to those you would take in locating any qualified professional. First, you will need to compile a list of potential candidates. Start by asking friends, relatives and business associates if they’ve worked with any in the past, and ask for a referral. The Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA) or the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD) can also provide you with a list of names and phone numbers of professional members in your area. There are also several other organizations.

Selecting Your Professional – Now you’re ready for the next step, a call to each name on your list. Keep a pad of paper handy to take notes. Introduce yourself then describe the project you have in mind, a new home, addition, or renovation. The point of each call is to construct a summary profile of the individual or firm. Be specific with your questions. Ask them about their previous experience in various types of projects. Ask if they’re interested in your project, and if so, when they’ll be available to do the work.

Many offer an informational brochure or letter-of-introduction. Read through any material you’re provided carefully. This is a great supplement to your initial phone call and can help in determining if their capabilities are in line with your expectations. Ask for a list of client references and check them out.

Realistically, you should cut your list down to a manageable two to three. When that’s been done, you’re ready to call and schedule an in-depth interview to learn more about each candidate.

The Interview – Perhaps the most awkward time during your search for a compatible design or building professional is the interview meeting. Your housing needs, goals and finances will be the focus of this candid discussion. Equally important, it’s essential to learn sufficient background information about an individual or firm before you engage their services. The building professional is attempting to do the same thing: to evaluate you as a potential client. Consider that a project can typically last upwards of six months. Obviously, both parties need to decide if they can work together comfortably for the duration.

Each interview will require at least an hour of your time, sometimes several hours if the chemistry is right. The venue is your choice. You can schedule to meet in your home, where perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable, or you can meet at their office. Most do not charge for the initial interview meeting, but this is not always the case. Ask if there will be a charge before scheduling an appointment.

The professional you choose must be able to “plug” into your vision and prepare a creative design solution by fitting structure to the architectural style you prefer. Any photos or magazine clippings you’ve collected that help in defining your goals are valuable tools. Keep them handy for reference. One glance may illustrate a desired “look” or room layout more accurately than a rambling explanation. It’s easy to get stumped with builder jargon; you may not clearly state a point or understand a response. Ask for clarification where appropriate.

As each professional makes their presentation, ask yourself if you can “work” with them; do your personalities mesh? Do you feel the individual is right for your project; are they receptive to your ideas?

These are critical questions in selecting a compatible design, building or Design Build professional. Keep in mind; there are literally hundreds of decisions to be made in developing the drawings, specifications and pricing for your project. Each will ultimately impact your day-to-day satisfaction with the finished project. You’ll rely chiefly on a design; building or Design Build professional’s technical expertise, creative skills and professional judgment to translate your wish list into a reality. The right individual will help you get the most for your construction dollars.

Compensation – There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how an architect or Building Designer will charge for their services. This is often confusing for first-time clients. Fees can be established in any number of ways, taking into account a variety of factors specific to the project in question. Some architects and Building Designers will agree to a cost-per-square foot basis for preparing schematics and working drawings; some will charge a fee that represents a percentage of the overall construction costs; still others work for a stipulated hourly rate, plus expenses.

Builders usually will provide a bid or quote with a specific sum, based on approved plans; or they may offer a cost plus approach or a cost plus with a not to exceed maximum cost. They may suggest a time and materials plus a fee approach or a cost per square foot.

Often, these design and building professionals are amenable to tailoring their services to suit your needs or construction budget. For instance, a modest straightforward plan may not require the same level of design development attention as would a more elaborately detailed larger home. Thus, drawings and specifications require less time to refine, allowing a designer to perhaps reduce their fees accordingly; or a builder may reduce the fee on a big ticket item such as kitchen appliances or suggest the owner purchase them directly.

The Agreement – Any successful working relationship begins with a clear, well-documented mutual understanding. Your agreement should indicate the scope of the proposed project and the specific services you expect to be provided, linked to a basic fee structure as well as the terms of payment for services rendered. Some architects, Building Designers and builders use standard contract forms endorsed by industry organizations. Others may use a customized agreement. In either case, read the agreement before accepting it to verify that the language dovetails with your expectations. And, I hate to suggest, don’t be afraid to consult an attorney.

Our article “Building Codes, Permits and Inspections” may help you understand what is required and why these requirements benefit you.

Bruce A. Sommers, President