When interviewing and selecting a residential architect you should ask about the level of service that they provide. There are typically three types of service; custom design with full services including bidding, negotiating and construction administration, custom design with permit documents, and plan book plans with modifications. As expected, the professional fees are different for each type of service. A plan book plan with modifications can be excellent choices in neighborhoods with rectangular lots without significant topography changes or specimen trees. Creating rooms that take advantage of prevailing breezes, views and sun angles is often difficult with a plan book plan which is not designed for a specific region or site. The original architect often will modify the plans for an additional fee. The drawings are usually sufficient for obtaining a building permit but will need to be reviewed by a local architect or structural engineer to determine if they meet local codes. This option is the least expensive because the architect makes money by reselling the same plan multiple times but the homeowners' work is increased because they are responsible for selecting all the interior finishes such as cabinets, tile, hardware, light fixtures, etc and overseeing the contractor during bidding and construction.
Unique or complicated lots often require custom designs to address steep slopes, protecting specimen trees or taking full advantage of views. Renovations and additions often benefit from custom designs. Some architects will design a custom house and produce the minimum number of drawings required for a building permit. The homeowners still have to spend the time and energy in selecting the interior finishes and overseeing the contractor during bidding and construction.
In a truly custom home the architect is with the homeowner from beginning to end. The architect listens to the owners ideas, ask questions, and get to know the owner and the site. They develop a program and concept with the homeowner. The architects visualize, and sketch and refine the details. The architect will present the project to the architectural review board. Next comes the construction documents. Lots of details – from cabinet and interior trim to fireplace mantels and chimney cap; the architect works with the owners in selecting the fixtures and finishes from plumbing fixture to cabinet pulls. They lay out the structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Finding the right contractor is critical for the success of a project. The architects suggest several contractors to interview and helps negotiate the contract between the owner and contractor. The real excitement starts when the house is under construction. The architect visits the site regularly to answer the contractors questions and to ensure that the project is proceeding in accordance with the construction documents. The architect writes field reports keeping everyone abreast of the jobs progress, approves pay requests and develops the final punch list with the owner. The architect stays with the project to the end.