QUESTIONS

How much does hiring an architect cost?

There are lots of different architects with different levels of service that they provide, and so a lot of architects could cost a different amount of money from other architects. For a typical custom architect, you’re probably going to be paying somewhere between 12 and 16% of the overall construction cost in architect’s fees, sometimes as high as 20%, but by and large, the high-quality custom architects will be between 10 and 16% of the overall construction cost.

How much does hiring Webber + Studio cost?

Webber Studio is typically more likely to be in the 10 to 14% range and 14% is going to be a more likely on the very small, complicated new projects and 10% is on the much larger, more straightforward projects or just larger in scope because we still have to figure out all the same batches of things, whether the project is small or big, and there’s just more project to spread our fee across on the big ones.

Hence our fee percentage goes down. Remodels additions are usually a good bit more expensive in overall construction cost percentage, because again, we’re solving all the same issues that have to be resolved in a brand new house, but it’s usually in a very finite scope area, which means that ultimately the clients are saving money in overall construction costs, but to figure all that stuff out still takes a lot of the same energy and time and fees. So on remodel additions, it can cost anywhere between 12 and 18% of construction cost.

What options are there in fees?

Some architects work on flat fees, some architects work on per square foot fees. And even though we’re a custom architecture firm, we do have a select number of projects in which we offer a preset package fee arrangement based on clients’ needs. Those are on a per square foot basis. And we have four different levels of package that we can do.

Those are really geared more towards the clients who are looking for a lot of thoughtful design, but maybe don’t have the full budget to do as detailed a design as they might otherwise prefer.

What is included in your fees? What is W+S’s pricing structure?

For our standard hourly projects, our fees are going to include the five basic phases of the process: schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiation, and construction administration. Throughout this process, we create all the typical sets of drawings that are needed for construction, but we also do 3D modeling so that at key points in the process, our clients get a really detailed 3D virtual model of what their building is going to look like, how it’s going to come together, and what the materials and finishes are starting to look like.

Also included in our fee is a lot of the basic landscape and site design as well as our involvement in architectural finishes (which are integral with the architecture), including finishes, paint, colors, fittings, fixtures, etc. We always tell clients that if you could take your building and turn it over and shake it, anything that falls out is the interior designer scope and anything that stays in is a scope that would probably fall into our normal services.

For most projects, our fees are billed hourly. In general, clients can expect to pay somewhere between 12% and 20% of the overall construction cost in architect’s fees. New construction will typically land somewhere between 10% and 14% of the overall construction costs. The larger, more complex projects will fall on the higher end of that scale. On certain projects, we might be able to offer a preset fee package arrangement, which are priced on a per square foot basis.

What are some typical price ranges for 1.) new construction 2.) remodel projects in Austin?

There is a lot of variance in cost and much of the total cost will depend on the design itself. For a good high quality new construction, plan on anywhere between $350 to $450 a square foot. If you want something much more luxurious, then plan on it being maybe a little higher,  maybe as high as $600 to $800 a square foot. For remodel/addition projects, you can usually count on the cost per square foot being about half as much as new construction, so about $175 to $250 per square foot for remodeled space.

How long does the process take?

The whole process from start to finish will take between two to two and a half years for most projects. Many projects take longer than that and some periodically can go faster than that, but from the moment you hire Webber Studio to the end of construction you’re probably looking at about two to two and a half years.

How does the process work?

We have five phases. First phase is schematic design. We get all your input. We go and design a cool design for you. You tell us what parts you like and you don’t like.

Then we start phase two: design development. We take the input, we come up with a new design. You tell us if you like it, or you don’t like it. But usually people really like it if they didn’t already like it a whole lot before, usually this is when we nail it.

The third phase is construction documents. That’s when we do all the detailed drawings for the contractor to both price and to build from. That’s also the set of drawings we take to the city for permitting.

The fourth phase is bidding and negotiation. It’s a little bit of involvement on our part, but it’s a huge impact. This is where we help analyze the numbers the contractor has put together in terms of pricing and we help you make decisions based on that.

And then the fifth phase is construction administration, where we go out to the site regularly to just make sure there are no questions and make sure the construction’s going along smoothly.

Do you have contractors you can recommend?

We have such a long list of contractors that we have worked with and that we know, and we have a lot of confidence with, and that we can recommend. We will usually start to get a feel for which contractor might resonate with our clients at the beginning of the project. But we usually like to go through a round of design, maybe even two, before we know which contractors are really gonna be a good fit for them.

What options do clients have if they don't like the final design?

That’s why we have two rounds of design. If a client doesn’t like the design we showed them in schematic design, we have an opportunity to address it in the second round of design (design development). It’s honestly rare that clients don’t like the design, but we have had clients that wanted to tinker a lot, even after the second round of design.

That continues to happen throughout the whole process, no matter what, for cost reasons, permit reasons, buildability reasons, any other number of reasons might cause the design to continue to evolve and be tweaked throughout the whole process. So even if we’re not 100% there after the second round of design, we have until the end of construction before it has to be all figured out.

What controls are there for keeping projects on schedule/budget?

We have broken down each one of our phases into specific milestones with specific outputs that we’re seeking for each one of those milestones. That’s our way of making sure that a project doesn’t get too far off track without being corrected. It also gives us very deliberate points at which we can double check the work, and make sure that everything’s working, that things are still buildable.

Additionally, we have a really great hierarchy in the office in terms of the team working on each project. The studio director oversees all the work that’s going on, and the project managers guide two to three project architects at a time. Project architects are highly qualified professionals that know how to get a project complete from the beginning to the end. We also use a software that helps us track project budgets and schedules.

Can you design my project to be as sustainable as possible and what is the cost of building with sustainable principles?

Even when clients don’t ask us to specifically design for sustainability, we’re already doing it. We feel like it’s our obligation in our profession, so we make that an automatic part of what we do as architects. Now, the good news is that most of our clients are looking to build a high quality of construction, and typically when you’re doing that, you’re actually really close to building sustainably as well.

So it’s usually not a big leap for most clients to get there with this, even the ones who are less interested. A lot of the things that we do that are sustainability-minded are actually not that big and increased costs are actually, in a lot of cases, not even very noticeable. Whether it’s a certain type of installation you use or whether it’s just the fact that you’re building with more engineered wood products, some of which are very expensive and some of which are not expensive at all.

In some cases it’s as boring as putting your air conditioning equipment within the heated and cooled envelope of the house, which is extremely unglamorous, but it’s actually a really highly impactful way to achieve sustainability. Other ways to boost sustainability in the design is to select WaterSense fixtures or energy-wise appliances. All of these things are really very readily available on the market in both low and high priced options. So it’s hardly a noticeable cost for most projects.

The things that do cost more is when clients want to do something that’s above and beyond the basics. For example, rainwater collection, solar PV electric generation, and other, more sophisticated systems usually do come at a premium and they don’t pay for themselves as much, which is why they’re often value engineered out of a project. They’re still really, really great things to do for the clients who are committed to sustainability.

Can my project win an award?

We’ve won dozens and dozens of awards across the range of different venues that one can win awards in. We’ve won AIA awards. We’ve won national publications awards. We’ve had our projects on This Old House and other television design programs. So it happens frequently. I’ve never calculated how often. And honestly, our first priority is to just do a really great building for our clients. If it wins an award at the end of that, then it’s just icing on the cake for us.

Can I get my project on the Homes Tour?

The AIA Homes Tour is the granddaddy of all homes tours and AIA Austin Homes Tour, in particular, was one of the very first homes tours in the entire nation and is probably still considered one of the most robust. We have had projects on that homes tour about 15 times. So the stakes are higher for us now. We actually have to bring really great projects, otherwise they won’t pick us.

Can I get my project in a magazine?

We have had a number of projects that we’ve done get published in magazines, web sites, print magazines, books, you name it. We actively seek publication for most projects that we think merit attention. So yes, if we get to do a really wonderful project with you as a client, we will absolutely try to get that published. We don’t make the final decisions on who gets published and who doesn’t, but we’ve had pretty good luck so far.

Can you recommend Interior Designers?

We’ve got a long list of interior designers and, just like contractors, we usually like to go through a little bit of a design process with our clients to get to know them and see what types of personality traits they might resonate with the most so that we can make the best recommendation possible. But Austin has fantastic interior designers, just like there are fantastic contractors. We want to match our clients up with a really great team.

Can you recommend Landscape Architects?

Yes, They’re just like interior designers and general contractors. We have a lot of great landscape architects.

Can you do the interiors?

We do interior architectural finishes and architectural fittings, fixtures, lighting, all the built-in things. Then interior designers do furnishings and artwork. That’s where we don’t really have the depth or the skill set that an interior designer would bring.

Do you arrange the structural engineering or are the owners responsible for attaining that?

We usually will always be the one to coordinate with a structural engineer. It’s a convenience for us to hire the structural engineer under our umbrella, which we do more often than not, but every once in a while, a client wants to contract directly with that structural engineer.

And that doesn’t really change our relationship with that engineer too much, because we’re still responsible for coordinating with that engineer and making sure that the architectural and structural drawings are aligned with one another. However, there are some distinct disadvantages for a client who is directly contracting with the structural engineer because, at the end of the day, the engineer works for the client, they don’t necessarily work for us as the architect.

How can you make sure my air conditioning and heating systems are not compromised?

AC/HVAC systems in houses are one of the most critical things that can be incorporated into a house and yet it’s one of the things that’s most often not considered or contemplated as sufficiently as it should be to really operate at the best level. While we always try and make a lot of accommodations for HVAC systems at the end of the day, how it gets built is going to be in the hands of the general contractor, there are a lot of compromises that can come up in the process of not having it fully designed at the beginning and having to sort out during construction, how it gets installed.

There’s a lot of room for error in that process, even with the best contractors and even with the best labor plans by an architect. For that reason, we always want to recommend an excellent mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineer to assist with the design of the entire system with the focus on comfort, utility, and energy efficiency. Architects and general contractors, albeit good ones, are not MEP engineers. There’s a real limit to what we can provide which is why we recommend an MEP engineer.

Why should I hire Webber + Studio versus another architect?

Because we’re more likely to tap into the architecture that is a unique part of your being and draw that out into a unique and wonderful outcome that is both specific and wonderfully tailored to you, but that will also probably resonate to the people that are important in your life and the different stages of your life.

Can I live in my house while it is being remodeled?

Completely depends on the scope of work. Some people not only can live in their house while it’s being remodeled, but they can probably, in some cases, still entertain and have all the sorts of the same events going on in their life that they might’ve normally had. But in a lot of cases, and I would say in the large, large, large majority of cases, you probably don’t want to be anywhere near your house or your job site while it’s under construction.

Are the plans for my new build complete enough that the builder can work directly off of them without the architect's involvement during construction?

Yes and no. You never should expect the plans to be 100% from an architect. One of the strategies in our industry is to pay an architect a certain amount of their total fee to complete the design and documentation with the idea that a certain amount of fee will be leftover for construction to solve things in real time.

That is the most efficient use of your investment dollars on any building that you want to design and have built. If you do not engage an architect for construction, which a lot of architects will outright refuse [to not be involved], but even if the ones that you’re working with will consider not being involved with the construction, we would just advise clients to be aware of the fact that they’re going to have to make a lot of decisions that an architect would have been very well suited to help them make during construction and that we advise our clients to be aware that the drawings are not complete.

They’re never intended to be complete. They’re intended to be a really good guideline or outline of the intent for a team to complete during construction. So, the answer is no, the drawings are never 100% complete at the level of detail everybody might have in their mind. But they’re complete enough for a good team to implement during the construction process. And that good team is going to be better if the architect is included in that part of the process.

How long does construction take?

Construction will usually take about 25% to a hundred percent longer than the design process. In more simple terms, construction can take anywhere between 10 months, if you have a really, really ambitious and aggressive contractor team, to 16 months in sort of more typical jobs. They can take as long as two, sometimes three years, depending on circumstances, but for your planning purposes, I would suggest you plan on anywhere between 12 and 16 months.

Can you assist us with getting a building permit?

We can. A lot of architects won’t do it. The permitting process is complicated enough that we feel like it’s really important to make sure that our projects can and do get permitted without compromising the integrity of the overall effort.

How often do things go horribly wrong?

I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve had any project have anything go horribly wrong. We have had a couple of projects in all of those years where things didn’t go all the way right or we did have some issues. But what I have often found is that the projects where things went wrong was where certain members of the team were actually committed to them failing and not committed to their success.

So if there is any part of the team that’s not committed to the success of the project, then it will go wrong. Whether it really is wrong or not, that person will perceive that it went horribly wrong. So with any in-depth, expensive, long duration effort, you really do have to be committed to its success for it to be the right outcome or a good outcome.

Are you friends with your former clients?

Yes, almost all of them.

Do you have references?

We have lots and lots of references.

Can I see some of your other projects?

We have the most wonderful little virtual coffee table book that we like to hand out to clients and folks who are interested in doing a project with us. It has a virtual portfolio of completed projects, as well as a virtual portfolio of upcoming projects, as well as a bunch of information about our history of publications and awards and references, for clients, contractors, landscape architects, interior designers, etc.

How soon can you start?

It will always depend on our schedule. I’ve got a great team of operations folks and managers in my office that help us schedule out our ongoing roster of projects. So, it is always changing and malleable. Each project schedule and timeline is going to be its own thing based on how busy we are at the particular moment and how large the scope of the project is and what level of complexity the project has.

What are some of the ways you minimize negative environmental impact during the building process?

So the way we minimize negative building impacts during the design process, which ultimately also impacts the building process is in our office. We actually put a lot of emphasis on trying to do remodels and additions whenever possible.

We have many clients who come to us wanting new construction often because they don’t know that they can reuse stuff. That’s when they understand from us that not only can they, but it’s a really great thing to do and it can save money. A lot of clients get really excited about the efficiency of that and will do that. That’s the cornerstone of all sustainability: trying to reuse materials that you already have on site.

From there, not only do we focus on reusing the materials, but we will actually do a pretty detailed investigation of exactly what the construction is, so that when we design the new parts, we can incorporate the existing contract construction with as little modification to it as we can get away with so we can make the most use of what’s there as possible.

Those are a couple of examples, and there are many more than that, but that’s a starting point to the discussion.

What happens if the client doesn't like the design?

That’s why we have two rounds of design. If a client doesn’t like the design we showed them in schematic design, we have an opportunity to address it in the second round of design (design development). It’s honestly rare that clients don’t like the design, but we have had clients that wanted to tinker a lot, even after the second round of design.

That continues to happen throughout the whole process, no matter what, for cost reasons, permit reasons, buildability reasons, any other number of reasons might cause the design to continue to evolve and be tweaked throughout the whole process. So even if we’re not 100% there after the second round of design, we have until the end of construction before it has to be all figured out.