Tarrytown House, Austin, Texas
You might be considering remodeling your home or designing an entirely new one. You may only have a vague idea of what you want, or you may have a dream home fully formed in your mind. Either way, you’re wondering whether you need to hire a residential architect—and how much it’s going to cost you.
An architect acts as the bridge between your creative vision and material reality. They’re big picture-thinkers but knowledgeable enough in the world of building materials, zoning laws and codes, subcontractors, structures, and space to outline what is possible and how it might be accomplished.
Perhaps most importantly, a talented architect can help you see all the possibilities of your next project. More often than not, they end up exceeding your expectations. Projects that otherwise seem impossible find new life in the mind of a creative architect.
While architects aren’t necessary for every project, there are many situations where they provide an invaluable service for future and current homeowners. We’ll first look at the most common architectural pricing models, then the average cost of Austin architects. After that, we’ll examine which situations require architectural services and what those services entail.
“How much does an architect cost?” is a question without an easy answer. A myriad of elements determine architectural fees for residential projects, and the best way to get an accurate estimate for your next project is to reach out to a firm for a consultation. Still, it’s worth reviewing what factors can change the bottom line before embarking on new projects.
The first and most obvious is the size and scope of the project—how big and complex it will be and how much time it will take. Fees also vary based on the experience and reputation of individual architects or firms and what services they provide (like drafting plans and documents, administrating construction, etc.). Finally, the pricing structure of the contract will also likely affect the final cost.
Pricing structure varies between firms and projects. Here are the most common fee structures that you’ll encounter and some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with them.
The most common contracts among full-service architecture firms charge a fixed percentage of the final project cost. This is usually somewhere between 5 and 20 percent. New construction tends to fall on the lower end of this scale, while remodels fall on the higher end. High-quality architects working on custom projects tend to land somewhere between 10 and 16 percent of the final cost.
The disadvantage of this model is that it might be unclear how much construction will cost during the planning stages. However, most architects will be happy to discuss the appropriate budget for any given project before any contract is signed.
“How much do architects charge per square foot?” is another frequently asked question we encounter. The architect cost per square foot required by a given project can vary a great deal independent of its size. How much architects charge per square foot depends on the services provided, which could include concept development, construction, and project management. According to HomeAdvisor, the national average falls between $2 and $15 for each square foot of a project, but this number can be much higher for custom, high-quality projects.
Some architects offer an hourly fee, typically between $75 and $250 per hour, depending on their level of experience. The principal—head of an architectural firm with years of experience under their belt—usually costs upwards of $150 per hour. Junior members of the firm or other new architects might charge $100 or less.
If paying an hourly fee, you might consider negotiating a cap for your project with your architect if you don’t have a specific idea of what you want from your next project. This would prevent costs from climbing out of control—though you would still have to negotiate a new rate after the cap is reached.
Some individual architects or firms are willing to assign a flat fee to the entire project in the contract. This model has the obvious advantage of preventing additional unforeseen costs. However, it’s still important to review the contract to understand how the architect arrived at that figure
For certain projects, architectural firms also may offer a set of preset package fee arrangements based on square footage. Homeowners with a limited budget could consider this option to cut costs on detail work.
It’s worth noting that these architectural fees are generally higher for remodels than new construction. For example, the average cost of minimal architectural services on a new structure is 8 to 10 percent of construction costs. On remodels, that average jumps to 12 percent and could rise to 20 percent or more depending on additional services rendered.
It might seem counterintuitive, but remodeling an existing structure often proves more complicated than designing a whole new building. Existing structures come with a set of unknowns, some of which reveal themselves only during the construction phase. These uncertainties often require revisions to architectural plans.
That being said, remodels and additions cover a more finite scope area compared to new construction. Clients may save money in overall construction costs, though this is not always the case. If you’re unsure whether a remodel, addition, or new construction will be better for your budget, your architect can likely provide an answer.
Angelfire Ski House, Angelfire, New Mexico
Austin, like most cities, has higher architectural costs than non-metropolitan areas. 2018 data revealed the average Austin customer paid between 9.55 and 10.03 percent in construction costs for residential architectural services. We could compare this number to data from other major Texas cities like Houston (9.22 to 9.68 percent) or San Antonio (9.57 to 10.05 percent) from the same period to get a general sense of Austin’s relative cost.
For high-quality custom architectural services, the total cost ends up somewhere around $350 to $450 per square foot. Luxury building projects can cost more—$600 to $800—while remodels and additions are about half as much as new construction—about $175 to $250 per square foot for remodeled space.
However, because of the above-mentioned factors, bottom lines are highly contingent on the project specifics, and you’ll get a far more accurate estimate for your project by consulting with a local architectural firm.
The purview of an architect or firm varies from project to project, but there is a fixed set of services that architects oversee in the design and construction process. Some architects limit their contributions to basic design, while others offer a broader set of detail services to better conceptualize the final product. At Webber + Studio, we tell our clients that if they turned their building upside-down and shook it, our normal services would likely cover everything that didn’t fall out—from fixtures to fittings to paint and color to landscape and site design.
To better illustrate what your architectural fees cover, let’s look at the process of a standard hourly project at our firm.
The architectural process between first consultation and the finished building can be broken into five basic phases: schematic design, design development, construction documentation, bidding and negotiation, and construction administration. These terms may sound complex, but they’re actually quite straightforward.
Schematic design begins with your input. You explain your project to your architect, and they go and draw up preliminary designs. You decide what elements you do or don’t like about the design.
Design development is the response to your feedback on the initial design. The architect makes adjustments and returns to you with a modified design, including a 3D virtual model. Usually, clients are happy with the design by the second round of development, but if you’re not 100% satisfied, there will be ample opportunities to tinker throughout the rest of the process.
Construction documentation involves drawing up detailed designs to take to our network of contractors for pricing and building. These drawings are also taken to the city to acquire the necessary permits.
Bidding and negotiation is a small but important part of the architectural process. We analyze the contractors’ pricing to help you make decisions that balance both your vision and your budget.
Construction administration, as the name suggests, involves overseeing the construction of the finalized design. We make regular visits to the construction site, keeping in close contact with our contractors to answer any questions and ensure everything is going smoothly.
Mount Bonnell Drive Residence, Austin, TX / Northwest Hills
You might not like certain aspects of your architect’s preliminary sketches, or you may be unhappy with their design on the whole. In either case, it’s important to reach out to your architect and be as straightforward as possible about the elements that aren’t working for you.
Communication is key throughout the design and building process. Be as specific as you can about what you don’t like, what you don’t like about it, and how it might be improved. Some changes might not be possible, but a good architect should be amenable to an open dialogue about how your ideal structure might be achieved. You are, after all, the one who will be living inside it for years to come.
As mentioned above, at Webber + Studio we have a Design Development phase for just this purpose. Once we submit preliminary schematics to our clients, we meet for a follow-up during which we address any issues the client has with the design. Some clients elect to make further tweaks throughout the rest of the process, fine tuning our design into a home that’s perfect for them.
Webber + Studio is a custom, high-quality architectural firm with a focus on sustainable building practices. We bill by the hour for most of our new construction design work, which tends to comprise around 10 to 14 percent of the overall cost. Smaller, more complicated projects end up on the higher end of that scale, while larger, straightforward options fall on the lower. Remodels typically cost somewhere between 12 and 18 percent, due to their aforementioned complexities.
In addition to our custom hourly work, we offer pre-packaged fee arrangements for certain projects. These come in four different levels priced by the square foot. Packaged arrangements are a good option for clients who want thoughtful design without the price tag of highly detailed bespoke work.
At Webber + Studio, we believe each client contains an architectural vision that’s a unique part of their being. With empathy and gusto, we work to draw out this distinct and beautiful final product that will endure throughout the different stages of your life.