Top questions asked when I interview perspective clients

Top questions asked when I interview perspective clients

1.Is this the type of project that you do?
I have been practicing architecture for over 44 years and over this span have completed numerous building projects from doghouses to Airports, houseboats to colleges, the only building type that I can say that I have never done is a hospital or a nuclear power plant. I have worked on just about any type of building that is out there. I have done a lot of residential projects over that time period and find it the most interesting project type. I find the home to be the most rewarding and challenging project to successfully complete. There is nothing more complicated and unique than to design a custom home uniquely suited to the individual and his family. I find working with clients on their new home , where they will live a significant portion of their lives a challenge not found in any commercial project. It is the single most important project to the client, it represents their wants and desires, tastes and style and also represents their most significant investment for their family.
That is not to say that I don't like to do home remodels. Renovating an existing building whether it's home or a business requires extra work to identify what's existing to remain, existing to be removed and new to be added. Determining the existing components will require field visit to the building to catalog what is there and to identify existing conditions. Having plans of the existing makes my work easier as they give me a starting point from which I can begin to design.
Once I have a base plan of the existing home, I can work with the client to understand what works and what doesn't , what needs to be changed and what will make the plan and or the house better.

2.Do you have time to take on my project?
My workload fluctuates where I usually can take on a project as long as the client can be flexible in the end date. Projects ebb and flow and I have found working on a project, during design, questions arise requiring the client to stop and research and think through the best answer. Clients often have to get back to me which forces me to stop work and wait for the response. This lag in time allows me to work on other projects to keep my workflow moving. Every project goes this stop start process and because of this I am able to schedule my projects keeping them moving.

3.How long will it take to create plans ready for the contractor to start?
It depends on the project, the ability of the client to make decisions and how much time is needed for clients to get answers. As mentioned above projects ebb and flow. I take a collaborative approach working with clients. I will identify questions that go into making your home yours. It will require that I give you the best solutions and what alternatives and options will mean as you live in your home. The ramification of each will play a long-term effect on your living. So, I want to make sure you understand what each question means and what /how it will impact you and your family. Ultimately you will make the final decision on what will be done. This process can take minutes and be handled in a meeting. It can take days of thinking through what each choice means in terms of it's affects going forward. I have had projects where this process can take months. And others where it happened in minutes. Because this represents a significant investment, I always suggest to take your time to think through responses to questions.
If I see that progress is not being made, I will prioritize the questions and tackle them with the client to help move the process forward. Typically, it takes about 6 to 8 weeks to go through this and complete the drawings. I have had others take longer and as long as the client is flexible with the end date, I can work to get the projects done in a reasonable amount of time.

4.I never done this before , how do you start?
Typically, it starts with a letter of agreement that I will generate. It will outline the broad goals for the project, the fee and the terms of the project. I will require a non-refundable deposit that is paid upfront with the signed agreement.
Once the agreement is finaled we will set up a time to meet and specifically go over the goals. I have a series of questions that will start the discussion we will talk about the property , slope of the ground, etc and eventually work toward the organization of the home. Typically, clients will have a plan that they have come up with and we will go over that plan.
At this point most clients have created an electronic scrap book of ideas. If they have a Pinterest pages or Houz folders, I will ask that they grant me access to those so that I can get an idea of what they are looking for in terms of style and finishes
Once we complete our first meeting, I will then generate a plan outlining our discussion. I will email the preliminary plan for their review, comment and changes. We will rework the plans and elevations and repeat the process till we have a plan design that meets thier criteria. Once the plan is approved , I can then take the plan and create the construction drawings for permits.

5.How do I know that you would be the right person to design my house?
I often get asked this question and it is conundrum. On one hand I want to sell myself and my services so that I get the project. On the other hand, if the communication is not there and we are missing it in the give and go, those projects are difficult to work on. What I will say is that the chemistry and communication between you and me must be there in order for the project to be successful. If we cannot communicate or I am missing what you are saying, and you are not feeling that I am getting it, then the project will be very awkward and very difficult to complete successfully. Usually this doesn't happen. Although I have had one project where we signed agreements and received a deposit, but it clearly wasn't working as it should . After a frank discussion we agreed to part ways and wished each other well. They were able to find someone they could work with and constructed a beautiful home. It happens and although it is difficult to go through the frank discussions, we were both better off for parting ways and moving forward.
So the most important factor in selecting an architect is the chemistry, then the experience level, AS mentioned previously I have completed many projects over my career and although each one is unique there is something about all of them where the process is very similar. The steps going through are the same. As the client you need to research the projects that I have done, talk to my past clients. I have an online project list where I showcase projects and drawings to show what my experience level is. If you need a list of past clients, I can provide that for you. The way I look at it, I would love to do every project that comes my way, I know that every inquiry that I get from a potential client will not turn into a project. But the projects that I am successful in landing will be the ones I focus on and work through doing my best to make it successful. I have learned over time that I should not worry about the projects that I don't have but focus on the projects I do have.

6.Can't I just hire an engineer to draw up my plans and have him stamp the drawings.
Yes, you can, and unfortunately many do. However, the engineer has not had the education or training that an architect has when it comes to the organization and layout of the building. Much of the training that I have gone through incorporates the artistic component of design that is outside of the nuts and bolts of the engineer's training. In most states Engineers are prohibited from stamping anything that is not related to the structural makeup of the building. Whereas the Architect can stamp everything related to the project including the engineered portions of the plan.

7.My builder says that he can build my plan and not have to go through an architect. He'll include the plans in his fee. Should I go that route?
To be honest with you, if you feel that he can provide the design services and give you what you want then, go for it. As I mentioned above, I won't design every house or project out there and I am ok with that. One thing to keep in mind is that typically their design services are limited. They may have you work with their in-house designer and will take one of their stock plans and pseudo customize it to your liking. Like the engineer they are focused on providing you the latest trends in house design and materials. But asking them to provide you with a new never before seen layout from the ground up most likely will challenge them and most will tell you to go hire an architect for that service and then come back when the plans are drawn. I get referrals from builders who are in this situation. And have design many homes that the clients wanted designed that they just did not have the ability or time to generate.
Builders have a product to sell. Their model homes are beautifully staged and look great, but that design is locked into the trends of the day and in five years you may tire of the design and will want to change that. The design services that I try to provide tend to be timeless and not necessarily trendy. We can use materials that are popular and incorporate them into the design layout. However, the plans that I will generate are customized to your needs now and take into account the future as your family grows and changes with each passing fad.

8.Can we build what we want?
Generally, you can. It all comes down to determining what your limiting factors are. There are building codes that will provide limits, Your property will have zoning ordinances that determine where you can build on your property. Municipal utility services such as water , sewer , power etc will determine placement of the building. if those are not available you will have to provide area on your property for a well and or onsite septic sewer System. If those are required there will be required approvals for how they fit on your property. If your project is a remodel or addition, available land within the current setbacks will determine how much of an addition can be constructed. The list of limitations can be daunting, but we will work through each of those and eventually will come up with a project design that meets your needs.

9.Do you know a contractor that we can trust and is good?
Yes, over the years I have worked with several contractors some good and others bad. I will work will any contractor that you may have. IF you do not have a relationship with one, I have contractors that have successfully completed my projects. Similar to selecting an architect, developing a relationship with a contractor is predicated on the chemistry between the two of you. The contractors I would suggest have great reputations and strong characteristics of integrity, honesty and forthrightness all which is needed when building a project. I like the contractors I recommend and have a professional and personal friendship that goes beyond the business connection.

10.How much will it cost to build the project?
Obviously, it depends on whether it is a new ground up project or a remodel. For estimating purposes, I use cost per square foot models that allows me to be in the range of what the project will cost. Square footage of the home, the site terrain, availability of utilities , the style of the house, finishes inside, number of rooms, etc all play into the cost of the home. These numbers vary by the season as well. Recently because of the Covid pandemic lumber prices soared as mills closed down and transportation, getting the product to market increased the cost of building goods. Windows which normally would take 4 weeks to get double the time delivery. The cost of materials fluctuated to levels not seen before.
So estimating the cost of home can be a challenge. Having plans completed and ready for permits will give the contractor the best shot of giving you the number that works within your budget. Having plans that show exactly what provided tells suppliers who will look at the project as a legitimate project ready to move forward.

11.What do you charge for your services?
That's the second conundrum, How much should I charge? I like what I do , I like working with clients and enjoy the interaction with them. I could do this for nothing and be happy doing so . Unfortunately, that doesn't pay my bills, and put food on the table nor most of all make my wife happy. So, I must charge a fair price for the work that I am doing. Looking back on my time in the business there have been times that I felt I was getting too much and times when I was not getting enough. It all comes down to the service that I give my clients. I have to make a wage that not only pays my salary but also returns a profit so that I can invest back into my business and to set aside funds for the future. So, I am not going to be the least expensive firm. There are others that I compete with that will charge less and some that will charge more. But I will provide better service and work to satisfy, even going beyond that to provide service with excellence, my Christian values will not allow me to do less.
So, the cost of my services will be dependent on the size of the project, scope of the work, level of detail, etc. that is necessary so that the contractor can complete the project as intended. Only after our first discussion will I be able to determine that and provide you with a proposal/letter of agreement which spells out the fees and the terms.
The fees that I charge are competitive, I have found that as a result I have for the most part a full list of clients and backlog of work that I will need to complete.

12.What is included in your services?
My services will include the design process discuss above; we will hold 2 to 3 meeting to go over the design. Once the plan layout is finalized, I will then proceed to create the construction documents. This will typically include the following: floor plans at each level, foundation and floor framing plans, roof and roof framing plans, exterior elevations of all sides of the home, cross section of the home and wall sections at pertinent location to describe the framing systems and how they integrate in to the plan. On occasion I will do cabinet and interior wall elevations showing specific trim detailing.
The plans are customized to your property. The elevations will reflect the slope of the ground adjacent to the home and show any steps in the foundation. When I have completed the drawings to a 95 percent completion level, I will send you a copy of the plan for your last review. At that I point I will redline the plans for any inconsistencies and correct and revised the plans. Once it's finalized, I will send you an invoice for the balance of the project and once final payment is received, I will forward you stamped and signed PDF's of the plans ready for submittal to the building department for permits. You can send a copy of the PDF's to your contractor for their use in preparing a quote to construct your home.

13.I have a plan that I have found, can we use the plan and make changes to it?
It depends on the source of your plans. Plans found on the internet or in published materials are usually copy right protected. If there are a significant number of changes to the plan, the plan may be used as a starting point, I would have to see the plan and understand the changes that you would want made before I could agree to using your plan as the basis of your design. If however you provide me with a hand drawn sketch of a plan you were wanting we could begin the design process and generate plans for construction. Many of the plan publishing companies will offer to sell you a set of plans that are created to be modified and customized by a local architect

14.How much experience do you have and how long have you been doing architecture?
I became a licensed architect in 1981, prior to that I worked in architect's offices for four years so including the non-licensed period I have been practicing architecture for over 44 years. Through my work experience I have worked for small and large corporate firms and completed many projects. AS noted above I have done just about any building type that is out there. The first Elementary school that I worked on won several architectural awards and was published. So, you could say that I am an award winning architect. In all seriousness I like what I do and have loved the building trades. I am grateful that I have a job that I have loved my entire career. I thank the good Lord that I get to do what he has given me the ability to do. Every project that I have worked on has a story to tell, some good and frankly some bad. But I came away from each of them with lessons learned and a humbled pride that only comes when the clients are pleased and happy.
I have had clients tell me their amazed at what I know and asked how did I get to be that way. I tell them that what I know is from a lesson that I learned, from a problem in a past project that I wished I had not created. Over time the problems that I had to overcome became experiences and expertise. There is no other way to gain that except going through that process. So, I tell them they are benefiting from the mistakes that others and I have made and learned from.