What to Expect from Your Architect

What to Expect from Your Architect

What to Expect from Your Architect: that’s a good subject.  Most people hire an Architect only once: perhaps to design their dream house and have no experience and don’t know what to expect.  This online article tells you exactly that.


What to Expect from Your Architect:
YOU CAN EXPECT: you can expect your project to be created in Phases.  Your project will not be created all at once and certainly not in the early phases.  Yes, your Architect knows you are anxious to get your dream house under construction, but when you are beginning with your Architect, you are far from construction.  There’s a lot of ground to be covered.  Rule #1: be patient.  Your Architect has been trained at a major university and worked hard for years to earn his or her professional license.  Your Architect knows the proper methods to result in you obtaining a house that works well for your desired Lifestyle and Land (the big “2 Ls”). 















Okay, what Phases?  This is how most Architects have been trained to create a project:
YOU CAN EXPECT: these phases:

1.   PROGRAMMING (in Basic Services)
2.   SCHEMATIC DESIGN (in Basic Services)
3.   DESIGN DEVELOPMENT (in Basic Services)
4.   CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS (in Basic Services)
5.a. BIDDING/PRICING (optional)
5.b. VALUE ENGINEERING (optional)
7.   WARRANTEE PERIOD (optional)


Most Clients of Architects allow the Architect to logically move through these phases.  It’s how nearly all Architects will proceed.  Why?  because it makes sense.  For instance, only once in HOME ARCHITECTS ® practice has a single Client become impatient with starting with Programming and insisted that the Architect immediately proceed (and without a Survey) into final drawings.  The firm had to politely refuse and lost the Client.  That was a recipe for disaster: no project Program = no understanding of what the Client wants or what their Lifestyle would be (equivalent to “Shoot, Ready Aim” in method), and no Survey = big legal trouble for anything stepping on easements, across building setback lines, existing utilities (which were in place) and also no knowledge of setbacks from 2 bodies of water on the site (large ponds).


You really need to allow your Architect to proceed through these phases.  There’s a reason why about 99% of Architects use this method.  Here’s what is contained in each phase.  You will probably begin to understand what to expect from your Architect as we go through these:














A.  WALK YOUR LAND WITH THE ARCHITECT (optional “pre” service)
Hey!  That’s not really a “phase.”  It isn’t even listed above.  However, many land owners want to pay their Architect to walk their land with them.  This is sort of a “pre” service, and it can be a lot of fun.  Sometimes the Client furnishes ATVs or a 4×4 or even a helicopter, to acquaint the Architect with their land.  This optional service is something that you can pay your Architect to do, if you so desire.  This is where your Architect travels to your land and walks/drives/flies it with you.  No, this isn’t a free service.  You need to pay your Architect to do this.  What do you do for a living?  Doctor, Lawyer, Business person?  Would you get in your vehicle, or board an airplane and drive or fly to some location a possible client has mentioned to you and spend a day discussing it with them for nothing?  Of course not.  And who pays for all that fuel and other transportation costs?  You guessed it: you. 
What you can expect from this: this really depends on the Architect.  From HOME ARCHITECTS ®,

YOU CAN EXPECT: you can expect to enjoy several hours of walking around your property, with the Architect, and the Architect taking dozens or even hundreds of digital photos.  Possibly even some short aerial drone video (not for all sites).  Then you will receive, in a few days: a Site Visit Report in which this firms provides photos and text describing the various topics discussed, including your preferences, where the company believes the best location for your house to be, possible septic field location (subject to verification and possible other location by the County Health Department), and a Google Earth video linked to a YouTube animated video flight around your land, illustrating in blocky diagrams, where various features might be located.  Your final deliverable will be a PDF report. 













You will need to pay in advance for this service.  No: it is far too early for any “architecture” at this point.  Perhaps some very general concept Site Planning of general areas where the house and driveway might be located, in rough block diagrams.


Okay, let’s get back to the real project phases: 

1.   PROGRAMMING (P) (Step 1 of Basic Services)

YOU CAN EXPECT: You can expect to have at least one or more conversations with your Architect, where he/she asks you questions and you provide information.  You need to provide solid information, along with your preferences.  Any vagueness or nondescript answers in communicating what you want will be setting yourself up for disappointment.  Garbage in = garbage out.  This should be perceived as a voyage of discovery: brainstorm about what you want in your house!  You need to answer questions with information about what you want and how you want to live.  Answers like: “We’ll just have to see how things look in the design” will be creating problems for yourself and your Architect.  For example, when your Architect asks you if you would like to have your Laundry near to or accessible from your Master Bedroom closet, you need to say: “Yes,” or “No, I would prefer to place it next to the Kitchen”, or wherever you are thinking it would work best for you.  A vague answer will only make it difficult to proceed with the design.  So: be thorough and complete as possible in order for your Architect to understand what you want.  Although you might think he/she is a mind-reader, based on what is about to be created for you, he/she really isn’t, and needs to know what your preferences are, in writing, in the Program. 












YOU CAN EXPECT: You can expect to have a text report or long email from your Architect that describes in detail the questions and answers and lists the various proposed rooms & spaces for your house and what might be happening or provided in each of them.  







You can expect to provide some indication of what your realistic budget is for the project.  You can expect for You to be responsible for your budget, because you can expect your Architect to warn you when you have requested features that he/she knows will put you over your desired budget.  And if you are responsive to your Architect’s comments about such matters or not (most people are not, which is mystifying).  Ultimately, you are the one who will have to pay to build your dreams.  Your Architect cannot be held responsible for what your builder decides to charge you for what you want to build.  However, you can expect your Architect to send you an email or make a verbal comment when he/she feels that there are things that you want that can and probably will result in you spending more than you want to spend.  Do not expect for your Architect to tell you this more than once, or perhaps twice.  It is their responsibility to design the house you want; not to constantly chastise you for wanting more than you want to spend.  You can expect for your project to absolutely, positively cost more than you want to spend.  It’s the nature of the beast.   This is normal.  More about this  later…  If you asked your Architect to help you find the consulting services of a professional cost estimator (which your Architect is not), that might help you understand the implications of your choices.  However, in this firm’s long history, no residential design Client has ever requested this assistance. 


Regarding the editing of the Program, this particular architectural firm will expect you to make comments in another color with the date and your initials for each comment you have, then email that back to them.  He/she may make further comments in another different color with the date and their initials and email that back to you for further commentary or confirmation. 


Eventually, the Architect will say something like: “I think we now have a program that will work.  Do I have your approval of the Program and your permission to proceed with the next phase, Schematic Design?”
He will expect you to say Yes and allow him/her to proceed.  Also: you can expect to receive an invoice for the work your Architect has performed for this phase.


2.  SCHEMATIC DESIGN (SD) (Step 2 of Basic Services)

This is probably one of the most exciting steps in the process!  Your Architect is now going to create your layouts! 

YOU CAN EXPECT: This is where the Architect creates your Floor Plans and Site Plan, based on your approved Programming.  Usually nothing more.  This is because, your plans are the genesis of everything else, so it is imperative that you like and approve the plans.  The Plans, in this context are literally your Floor Plans and Site Plans.  Many people misconstrue the term “plans” to mean the entire set of final Construction Documents, which consist of far more than simply plan views of your project.  And you will see how much more, as you progress in this article. 
The Floor Plans and Site Plans precisely illustrate how you will move through your dream house and how your vehicles will move through and around it.  In essence, these plans are describing your Lifestyle. 

You may or may not have seen where some Architects still use a method called “Bubble Diagrams” at this point for their Schematic Design.  However, this particular architectural firm doesn’t employ that crude and imprecise method anymore.  Why?  Because that is typically in the form of analog hand sketches on paper.  Just about anything created on paper these days is a waste.  If you don’t have the information in a precise, digital framework, you really aren’t sure if things fit together properly, or if doorways are the proper width, if your F250 will fit in the garage, or if that special kitchen range/oven you wanted will fit in the cabinets you requested in the Program.  HOME ARCHITECTS ® used to create Bubble Diagrams, back in the 1970s and 80s.  However, since computerized design became part of their workflow, they have understood that anything created on paper will eventually be thrown away or filed away and forgotten.  If the creation is not part of an active computer drawing file, it is just about worthless.  And this firm isn’t here to waste your investment.  Rather, everything created is edited and evolved, to constantly move closer to your desired final result.  That uses your investment to maximum efficiency.  Nothing is wasted.  There is no reason not to create your Schematic Design precisely, on computer and for this firm, they can do this faster than if they were creating imprecise sketches, because they use an electronic kit of parts.

YOU CAN EXPECT: You can expect your Architect to likely email you several PDF diagrams, illustrating these drawings.  You can also expect to receive an invoice for the services provided to you for this phase or portion of this phase.
HOME ARCHITECTS ® once received an irritated email back from one Client who objected to receiving invoices, saying that it wasn’t behaving like a “proper Southern gentleman.”  This confused the project Architect.  So the professional firm providing services is supposed to provide them for nothing, or wait months until billing?  And how is the firm supposed to survive in the meanwhile so that this individual can regard the company as “proper Southern gentlemen?”  The company politely requested payment, in accordance with their signed agreement, and received that.  Yes, you do need to pay your Architect to perform the services they are providing for you, and in the timely manner indicated in your agreement with them.
How about changes and revisions: this is a perfect place and time for you to request any revisions that you may wish.  Depending on the extent of your requested changes, this may be handled within the Schematic Design phase, or incorporated into the DD phase (next)


3.   DESIGN DEVELOPMENT (DD) (Step 3 of Basic Services)

This phase can be exciting and enlightening: This is what your house is going to look like!  What fun! 

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to create your exterior Building Elevations and add some more detail or updates to the previous plans.
This particular architectural firm will begin with what they call the “Front Elevation,” which is the appearance of the portion of your house facing you and visitors as you approach the house from the driveway. 
YOU CAN EXPECT: this firm to email you a PDF of this Front Elevation for your review and approval, along with updated Floor Plans, Site Plans, and possibly Survey (at various scales, depending on the project acreage).   You can also expect to receive an invoice for this work.  You will know, all along exactly what you are paying for, because there is an invoice attached for each phase or portion of the work being provided.
YOU CAN EXPECT: that you will be requested to review, make any comments and eventually approve this Front Elevation and other work.  All work an Architect performs is done in an intricate series, all building on the work done previously.  You must approve what has been done before, in order for the work to proceed logically and sequentially into the next phase.  The next phase depends on all of the previous phases.

YOU CAN EXPECT: that after you approve the Front Elevation and other work, that your Architect will then ask you permission to proceed to create the other Exterior Building Elevations.  You need to do so, in order for them to move forward.  When you do approve this, you can expect your Architect to create the remaining 3 Exterior Building Elevations.
YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to email these remaining Exterior Elevations to you (probably as PDF files) for your review, commentary and approval.  Yes, you can also expect to receive an invoice for this new work.
YOU CAN EXPECT: for your Architect to request your permission allowing him/her to proceed into CDs (next Phase).


4.  CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS (CDs) (Step 4 of Basic Services)

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to now begin creating the various detailed documents to result in the package of documents that your Contractor will use to build the Architectural features of the project. 
You can expect this to largely bore you, which is why most Architect won’t bother you much with this phase.  You mainly need to allow your Architect to do his work, which is highly detailed and requires a great deal of focus and concentration. 
YOU CAN EXPECT: this phase of the project to take several weeks or months.  There are many technical documents to be created.  Please have patience and allow your Architect to perform his/her work.
YOU CAN EXPECT: that the final CDs will have a 95% accuracy for the items listed in the ArCH-RASoC (Residential Architecture Standards of Care) which can be found here (other whatever edition is referenced in your agreement):
YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to coordinate with the other consultants in the project, such as your Structural Engineer.  The Architect is not responsible for your other Consultants’ work, but will work with them to coordinate the effort. If you direct your other consultants to do things without the Architect’s knowledge, you can expect to create a great deal of trouble for yourself.  Always go through your Architect, never through any other Consultants.  Your Architect is the orchestra conductor: let him/her do their job.  Your Architect will not be responsible for any changes other consultants make without their knowledge. 
YOU CAN EXPECT: to receive the final CDs: (depending on your agreement with your Architect), to receive Floor Plans, Site Plan(s), Roof Plan, Finish & Door Schedules, Specifications, Details, Building Section(s), Wall Section(s) and other documents you and your Architect may agree to have created, as many are optional.  Your Architect is not required to provide you with Structural Engineering (or other engineering) and many Architects request that you provide the consulting engineers, which the Architect will coordinate for you.  Your Architect needs to provide you with at least the minimum documents required for a building permit for the architectural items.  The Architect is not required to furnish you with items that he doesn’t provide and/or control.  However, your Architect will likely assist you in coordinating the entire package.
YOU CAN EXPECT: your Contractor to provide the truss and LVL shop drawings from his lumber/truss plant material provider, which will have the engineering included from others (not the Architect and not any consulting project engineers).  Your Contractor also will typically provide Energy,  Plumbing and HVAC Subcontractors that will typically layout the plumbing and ductwork in the field, as they perform the work.  This is normal.  No, Architects do not typically provide such documents and they are usually not necessary.  However, your Architect may include, in their sections and other drawings, some indications of ductwork in tight areas, to help solve issues for the Contractors in their documents (but not entire system diagrams for most architectural firms). 
YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect is normally the design entity best qualified to provide an Electrical Schematic layout plan for each level of your house, because they control the layers and know generally, where furniture will be located, and appliances, as well as cabinetry, so they are the most informed to provide this.  You can expect this to be an Additional Service fee to perform this additional work.  You can also expect that your Architect can provide you the optional Additional Service of cabinetry drawings: normally larger scale frontal elevations, illustrating the appearance of the cabinets as you stand before them, possibly along with a larger scale plan of each cabinetry area of interest.
YOU CAN EXPECT: that your Architect will likely email you several invoices during the creation of the CDs, as this is most detailed, longest and most intensive work in the project for your Architect.  His/her company will need to be compensated as they advance the documents, at least once a month, possibly more frequently, depending on the hours they are providing, which can exceed 40 hours a week, sometimes by much more, depending on the people and time involved for the various activities.  Architect are known for putting in long hours, particularly during CDs to help advance their projects.
YOU CAN EXPECT: your CDs to have bold notices on them indicating that they are not final and “Not For Construction”, until you have paid for them and until the Architect has coordinated the other disciplines to his/her satisfaction.  This is typically a legal requirement of most Boards Of Architecture across the Nation. The Architects’ final documents will normally switch this bold red notice for a green one indicating “For Construction” when the Architect believes the documents have been fully coordinated.
YOU CAN EXPECT: that your Builder will obtain your Construction Permit, not your Architect, which will occur After the next phase.

A lot of Clients stops with the Architect’s services here.  That is a mistake.  See below to understand why:


 5.a. BIDDING/PRICING (B/P) (optional)

It is highly recommended that you have your Architect perform Bidding services for you.  Unless you know a great deal about construction and are intimately familiar with every word of the specifications and every aspect of every detail of the Architectural and Structural documents, you will not be equipped to answer Contractors’ questions, or to understand the implications of various revisions, after you obtain the bids.

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to look for and solicit licensed interested Contractors.  What you cannot know: that there will be several or any Contractors interested in bidding your project.  The Architect (in this firm’s practice) will go out of their way to find at least 2 “local” Contractors and 2 “metro” Contractors to bid your project.  However, no one holds a gun to the head of the GCs (General Contractors) and if they aren’t interested, there’s not a lot you can do about that.  Hopefully there will be a reasonable amount of interested GCs willing to bid your project.  Your Architect may have more success finding GCs to bid your project than you.  Why?  Because to most GCs, your project represents one, single solitary job and they don’t know how much trouble you’re going to be to them.  However, GCs often understand that an Architect can represent a lifetime’s worth of work to them, because Architect’s are always seeking good builders for their projects.  In other words, the GCs might be more responsive to your Architect than to you. 
Assuming that there are interested bidders, the other features of this service follow:

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to investigate their State licenses to see if they are, in fact, licensed, and if this information is provided by the State, to see if there are any complaints against them.  Your Architect will share this information with you.

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to answer GCs’ questions, to issue addenda and distribute them to the bidders.

YOU CAN EXPECT: (for this particular firm) your Architect to issue one or two memos to bidders, listing several items that make this project budget-oriented.

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to issue Instructions to Bidders, listing the submittals required of the GCs, such as: insurance forms, copies of license, Bid Form(s).

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to log the various bid items into the various categories for each bid, comparing each price for each Section of the the GC proposal, and make commentary on these.

What you cannot expect: your Architect does Not choose your Contractor.  You do.  Your Architect will supply counsel; but you make the choice.


5.b. VALUE ENGINEERING (VE) (optional)

It is highly recommended that you have your Architect provide this optional service.  Your Architect is the only person on the planet who understands your project well enough to make suggestions and negotiate with one or two of the bidders to make price reductions for your project.

YOU CAN EXPECT: your project to be bid at a higher price than you would like to pay.  This is normal and happens on most projects.  Very few people are content with the pricing GCs propose.  Therefore, instead of becoming hysterical and killing your project, this is the golden opportunity for your Architect to save your project for you, by calmly discussing with a couple of the bidders what can be done to reduce the price.  If you do not have your Architect provide this service and try to handle this yourself, you will be at the mercy of the people who are likely motivated by factors that may not necessarily be entirely in your best interests.  Your Architect is the only professional entity at this point who can guard you against dangerous changes and improper profit-taking.  Highly recommended.

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to work diligently to help analyze and suggest ideas, working with the GCs (one or two) to make suggestions to lower the price of the project.

Understand that to actually make such changes is called creating “Conformed Drawings”.  There will be a charge for this.  No, this is not free, just because the GC wants to charge you more to build your project than you hoped he/she might charge. 
You can expect to pay for this service, possibly in advance.



Unless you happen to be a construction professional, it is recommended that you pay your Architect to provide this service.  This is where the Architect assists you during the construction of the project to provide various services to which you and he/she agree.

YOU CAN EXPECT: for your Architect to discuss with you and to list, precisely, which of these optional service he/she will be providing and how often and for how long.  Do Not assume that your Architect will be seeing everything that the Contractor does.  He/she cannot possibly do this, unless there are constantly on the jobsite and you do not want to pay them to provide this (that is called “Clerk of the Works”).  Do Not treat your Architect like an insurance policy, guarding you from anything and everything that the GC does.  That is not possible.  What your Architect can provide, if you wish to pay them to do so are the following (each and every service is optional and must be declared by the Architect as being provided, otherwise you cannot assume that they are):
Manage GC Pay Requests.
Review GC Substitution Requests.
Periodically Visit the Site and make a Report of that visit.
Review GC stored materials.
Answer GC Daily Questions and help resolve matters.
Crisis Management.
Coordinate other consultants.
Help you Purchase items that are Owner Provided.
Review GC Change Orders.
Review GC Schedule(s).
Substantial Completion Review & Report.
Final Completion Review & Report.
Other optional services.

YOU CAN EXPECT: for your Architect to provide whichever of the services he lists and you agree to, in writing above. 
You can expect for your Architect to invoice you for the time he/she provides for any and all of these services, possibly on a monthly advance payment schedule.


7.   WARRANTEE PERIOD (WP) (optional)

This is an optional service.  It is typically engaged by you, in the form of a phone call or email, requesting that the Architect help you deal some problem BEFORE the GC 12 month initial “bumper to bumper” warrantee has expired. 

YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to help you notify and explain to the GC why they need to fix or otherwise correct a problem during this time period.

if you agree,
YOU CAN EXPECT: your Architect to visit your project during the 10th or 11th month, performing a walk-through visit, and then promptly issue a report, copied to your GC, pointing out things that require adjustment or repair, giving the GC about a month to make such corrections, prior to the expiration of the initial main GC warrantee.

This provides you with a significant amount of assistance, and catches items that might escape your eyes, allowing your Architect to help you obtain the performance of your GC for items that could be potentially expensive for you, had you not had your Architect there to discover them.

if you agree,
YOU CAN EXPECT: for your Architect to assist you with other warrantee items, even beyond the primary 12 month initial warrantee.  Did you think that only the first year was it?  No!  Many items in your project have warrantees that exceed this.  For instance, your HVAC compressor/heat pump may well be warranteed for up to 5 years.  You may not even remember this, but your Architect will help you do so.  And there are other items, with various time periods.  Having your Architect help you when something goes wrong (you pay for his time to make an assessment), can save you tens of thousands of dollars, by having your Architect insist that the manufacturer honor their warrantee.   
You can expect your Architect to invoice you for their time to assess such issues.


8.   POST WARRANTEE PERIOD (PW) (optional)

Even after most of your short-term and medium-term warrantees have expired, your Architect can still help you with maintenance & replacement issues with your home.  Wood rots, sealants eventually fail and roofs can eventually leak.   Your house will need maintenance.  Using inappropriate items can void long-term warrantees or simply damage an otherwise good house.  For instance, using the incorrect caulk outside on your house may save you a couple of dollars on a tube of caulk, but you may have just installed something that will guarantee leaking, possibly in a place you can’t readily see, making your walls rot, growing mold in concealed locations and making you and your family sick, while damaging your structure. 

If you agree,
YOU CAN EXPECT: for your Architect to provide you with wise counsel on your repairs and maintenance, to help your home be preserved in a better manner. 


 Note: the above are not terms in a contract.  Rather, they are in general, listed above to give you a better understanding of what you can expect in each phase of an hypothetical agreement between you and your Architect.  What your specific agreement is with your Architect will govern what to expect for your Architect in which phases.



CONTACT for what to expect:  Rand@HomeArchitects.com     828-269-9046 




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