When it comes time to build, a large portion of a property owner’s stress can have to do with the building professionals they hire. And let’s face it, nobody needs any more stress than they already have these days. Hiring the right architect, engineer, or builder, can make a huge difference in the success of your project. As a property owner, you will want to find in these individuals the right skills, temperament, cooperativeness, and stick-to-it-iveness to see the project through to the end. This 3-part series of articles will help you in your selection of a qualified team of professionals that will help you get the job done right. We’ll begin with the architect.

To start, please review the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) article on selecting an architect. As the primary outreach organization for architects in the United States, the AIA will give you a strong basis for hiring architects in most instances, even for simple projects. My experience working with architects has been almost completely positive, especially when they take the lead on interfacing with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) on behalf of you, the property owner. A lot of the decision comes down to the scale and complexity of the project and at least a few other considerations.

First, how well do you know what you want? If you’re not sure exactly what you want the end product to look like, whether you are building a new home or doing a remodel or addition, an architect can help you to see different options for the arrangement of space, finishes, etc. A good architect can walk through your completed project in his or her mind and see the implications of moving walls around. When they listen to you, they can find optimal design solutions that fit your custom needs. They can also help you understand cost implications and keep you within budget.

Second, how adept are you at transferring your vision to paper? In order to secure a building permit, which is required to legally build any substantial project, you will need to submit drawings to your local building department for review and approval. These drawings will include plan views, sections, elevations, and any details that are required either by your contractor or the building department. Having a basic understanding of how mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems work is essential to completing your plans. Architectural draftsmen work under architects to prepare these drawings for submittal. When drawings come out of a professional office, they are clean and crisp and make a positive impression on the building department. They know that you are working with a qualified team.

Lastly, what is your budget? But before you rush to conclusions, I may not be saying what you think I’m saying right now. There is an old Spanish saying that goes, “Lo barato sale caro,” or “What is cheap becomes expensive (in the end).” In English, we have the saying, “A penny wise and a pound foolish.” I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen owners try to save money early on in a project by not having a well thought out plan only to find themselves spending many times more to correct problems. My philosophy is to do your research, be thoughtful, and do it right the first time. If there is any question in your mind about your abilities to meet the building department’s requirements on your own, err on the side of hiring a competent architect, especially for new construction or major renovations.

It is also worthwhile to explore using a residential designer, which is essentially a non-licensed practitioner who generates the same types of drawings that an architect does, only without a stamp and signature. I have had some very good experiences with seasoned residential designers, who often work out of their homes. An experienced local residential designer who knows how to get through the building department can be a heaven send for an owner with a simple building project. They can also help keep costs down. Whether you go with an architect or a residential designer, be sure to get references and ask to see samples of their work.

So, after considering these questions, do you think you need an architect? Please take note that if you are a do-it-yourselfer and are set on doing your own architectural drawings, go to your building department and request a current checklist of requirements for your project type. These resources are usually available online as well. If you decide to proceed, the chances are you will need to hire a professional engineer to do the structural drawings. There are exceptions to this, and I will discuss them in the next article in this series, “Hiring Professionals, Pt. 2: Do I need a Professional Engineer (PE)?”

If you have any questions pertaining to your building project, don’t hesitate to call (925-695-7461) or email (clay@claysimmons.com). Good luck!

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