hiring an architect

If you plan to build a custom home, you need to hire an architect. And hiring an architect is kind of like finding a spouse. There are furtive glances across the room, several dates, a mutual decision to get serious, a paperwork signing ceremony and, hopefully, resulting progeny (made of wood, steel, and glass). But how to find an architect?

One of our hobbies is going to open houses and home tours. These are a great way to get a gander at the goods of various architects and see what the cost and quality may be. On home tours, the architects will oftentimes be there, so you can interact with them in a cocktail party atmosphere (but don’t drink too much or else they will take advantage of you). In my experience, architects are among the nicest and neatest people you will meet: Smart, creative, intuitive, empathetic, and visionary. There are, of course, some kooks out there, so builder beware… Architects sometimes speak like new age gurus in loincloths when describing walls and windows. Others see you as a giant credit card there to achieve their architectural vision (which is fine if you are, indeed, a giant credit card there to achieve their architectural vision).

In our case, we were looking for an architect who could do modern but be considerate of the costs. And not do that spacey architect-talk bidness. When we reached a point where we thought it was financially hopeless to build an affordable modern house, we did one last open house in our neighborhood and found our man. The open house featured was a decent sized house (2,500 square-feet), was pleasantly modern, and had a reasonable price. If the kitchen, closets, and concrete floors had been exactly what we wanted, we may very well be in that house today. It was nearly perfect. Out front was a sign for The Architect. After a few calls, some Web trolling, and a couple dates, we had found our man. (Note that we would have been happy with a woman, but there just doesn’t seem to be many women in the business. We're also not sure The Architect would be amenable to a sex change [although he would make for a mighty fine dirty blonde...]).

There are other, perhaps more direct, ways of finding an architect. For example, checking out the rolls of the local AIA (American Institute of Architecture) chapter. But we strongly recommend checking out the goods—and making sure you like and can work with the person.

As it turned out, hitching up to an architect early in the process was a good idea. The first several lots we made offers on really required having The Architect take a look at them because of topography and potential building challenges (both of which add to cost…). The Architect was also able to check with the city on some potential issues as well as give guidance on value given the house we were building (a real issue in the center of town given the “small” size of house we wanted to build). Using The Architect during the lot vetting phase also allowed us to spend some quality time with him before later signing a contract for the home design.

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