11 Questions to Ask an Architect or a Building Designer

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Before you make your hiring decision, ask these questions to find the right home design pro for your project

So you’ve found an architect or building designer whose styles you love, maybe on the popular platform Houzz, via an offline recommendation.

You have studied their projects, read their reviews and even saved some of their photos in your own ideabook. You’ve whittled down your list to two or three who can work within your budget. Now it’s time to set up a few interviews.

But what should you ask?

For ideas, we asked three architects, each with more than 20 years of experience in residential design: Annie Chu of Los Angeles’ Chu + Gooding Architects, Hamid Kashani of Minneapolis’ Habitat Architecture and Kansas-based Rebecca Riden.

We also gathered insights from dozens of other home design pros on Houzz discussion boards.

Here are 11 questions they suggest:

1. If I hired you, how would we go from this meeting to my family moving into our new or remodeled home?

Why: If remodeling or building is new to you, ask the pros you’re meeting with to explain exactly what services they provide, the timeline in which they typically provide those services, how long each phase might take and other benchmarks you should expect along the way.

Not only will this provide necessary information for your own planning, but the pro’s response also will likely give you a sense of his or her priorities and working style.

2. Who from your firm would be involved in the project, and how involved would they be?

Why: While you may initially meet with a principal of the architecture firm, he or she won’t necessarily be the person you’ll be working with most — or at all.

Will you be making initial plans with a principal and interacting with a project manager day to day?

Will a junior associate be a better fit for your smaller project (and will that bring down the cost)? Find out who will be doing what, and what that might mean for you.

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3. When does the builder join your projects, and how do the contracts work?

Why: When builders get involved early in the process, it might affect cost estimates and design schemes since they will be able to contribute insight and pricing expertise from the start.

There are also a few ways contractors can be selected. If you get a great recommendation for a builder from a friend, for instance, you may choose to decide on a builder before deciding on an architect.

If not, the architect or designer you’re talking to may have a preselected contractor he or she likes to work with or recommended contractors that you’ll need to green-light.

Will there be a traditional bidding process — that is, when an architect creates a set of drawings and puts them out to several contractors to bid on the project?

If so, that also could mean more competitive pricing. In many cases, the builder provides the contract for the client to review.

4. Is what I’m describing feasible within my budget?

Why: Let’s face it — our design dreams can sometimes venture a little (or a lot) beyond our price range. And construction prices vary widely.

Asking this question could help you gauge how frank the pro will be with you throughout the process, and how he or she communicates and finds solutions that help get you as close to the result you dream of.

It also can reveal whether the project might be a better fit for someone at that pro’s firm who may specialize in smaller-budget projects — or another firm altogether.

It also may be a wake-up call that your wish list just isn’t realistic with your budget right now.

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5. What are three of the top obstacles you could see us running into in this project? How would we work through them?

Why: There’s a reason a version of this question pops up in so many job interviews. It gives interviewees a chance to show their experience and how they approach problem solving.

It also gives you a peek into what challenges may realistically lie ahead, and a sense of whether you’re confident that this pro could get through them with you.

6. When can we request changes, and what might changes during construction mean for the project?

Why: You’ll want to understand the ground rules for how a change request would impact the project’s schedule and cost.

Architects and home designers may have language addressing this issue in their contracts, but it’s always best to talk through it first.

7. What specific drawings should I expect from the complete set of construction documents?

Why: Generally speaking, an architectural project is split into phases with corresponding plans or drawings.

In the earliest phase, the pro may produce some initial sketches and then a few schematic designs. These address the big-picture design goals and options, such as how the house complements its landscape, or the way natural light will impact certain rooms.

From there, sketches in the design development phase can start to get into the specifics, such as how the designs will work with plumbing, heating or electrical systems.

More formal construction drawings that contractors and builders will be following are usually made from there. A basic construction drawing set will likely include all needed floor plans, elevations and a couple of more detailed section drawings. (This is sometimes called a permit set.)

Some architects or designers will charge an additional fee for a more complete construction drawing set that can include elements like interior elevations, cabinetry design details, system layouts, appliances and built-in features.

8. How do you charge, and what fees will be involved?

Why: Architects or building designers need to know what financial expectations you’re operating under just as much as you need to know what they have in mind.

Make sure you understand how the fee schedule is set up, what’s included in that schedule and what other fees (city submittal, engineering, project management and so on) you should expect.

9. Why do you think you would be a good fit for my project?

Why: This question gives your candidates yet another chance to lay out concrete examples of the value they’re bringing to the table. Ask for specifics.

10. Do you have references I could reach out to?

Why: Talking to clients the pro has worked with before can bolster your confidence in the pro you’re considering and help you envision what the process may be like as you hear about another client’s experience.

If possible, try to see projects your pro worked on in person.

11. A getting-to-know-you question of your choice

Why: Again and again, architects, building designers and homeowners talk about how the chemistry between pro and client can make or break a project.

Maybe learning that your top candidate loves The Wizard of Oz won’t actually sway you one way or another, but getting a sense of this person’s personality, temperament and communication style is always smart.

Do your homework but trust your gut. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together throughout the project and interacting on a regular basis, so feeling comfortable with your pro and being able to communicate easily will make all the difference.

Piece By: Gwendolyn Purdom
Lover of architecture, history, dogs, the Chicago Cubs, crowded bookshelves, and homes with a story. Former editor at Preservation mag and Culturess.com.

Tell us: What questions do you always ask before hiring a pro? Share your suggestions in the Comments.