By Robert E. Haywood
Jonathan Rivera Architecture
Over many years, hundreds of architects, builders, and designers—and most importantly, homeowners—have told me stories about their experiences building a custom-designed home. By far, most of these stories are positive, but some are not. Their stories have shaped the following tips.
Interview your prospective architect in their office and meet some of the team if they are part of a large firm. That said, some architects are a one-man or one-woman show, which is totally fine. We don’t see a distinct advantage in working with a large firm versus a small one; both have potential pros and cons. What matters is your appreciation of an architect’s past designs, their integrity, and the level of trust you have with the one you choose.
We strongly suggest that you interview at least three architects. You will be investing a lot of time and money into building a home, and you want to make sure your expectations—from design to budget—are in line with those of your architect.
Be prepared to talk about your project’s scope and budget and get clarity on all fees. Does the architect charge a flat fee, bill by the hour, or assess a percentage of the construction cost? Some homeowners complain about being billed after the plans are completed and the builder has taken the reins. Remember, however, that if your architect is overseeing the construction, interacting with the builder, or revising plans, you are still receiving architectural services.
The principal architect and firm owner may not be the primary person designing your home, although they should surely oversee the entire process. Who will be the primary designer? Will this person be your direct contact? It is important to get clarity on these factors before you sign on.
An experienced builder brings an architect’s drawing to life, so he or she will know the intricacies of how to get the home built. To be thorough in your research, we recommend talking to at least three highly reputable custom builders in your area. Mention the architect you are considering and ask about their reputation. Are they known for working respectfully with the builders and the whole professional team required to build your home?
Many architects send their plans out for a competitive bidding process. This approach does not guarantee you will find the best builder for you, as some outstanding builders decline to participate in this inefficient process.
Another option is to pursue “a negotiated bid.” Do your own research and talk to your preferred builder about this option. This may position your team to work together from the “get-go” and eliminate costly surprises.
In any case, we recommend that you connect with a builder before committing to an architecture firm. You want to avoid agreeing to a set of finished plans that cannot be executed within your budget.
In addition to hiring an architect and a builder, your home will be more beautiful if you engage an interior designer early in the process. Some firms have designers on staff, but you should feel no pressure to go with the architects’ designers. The most accomplished designers with highly distinctive styles usually have their own firms. Be as diligent about hiring your interior designer as you are about hiring an architect and builder.
Rules and regulations have been established to protect critical areas on the Bay. Even if your preferred architect is less familiar with regulations specific to our area, they most likely have the training and contacts to obtain the permits you need. Do not hire an architect solely based on their administrative skill but be aware that obtaining sometimes cumbersome permits is part of the design and construction process.
You are putting a whole team together to build a home, and you need highly qualified professionals in every field for it to become a reality. Your home may be one of your most significant investments, so it’s important to do it right. Cost matters, but so does quality. This is your home, and you must be thrilled with the outcome.
© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 12, No. 6 2021