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Finding a good architect/designer

thegiz | Posted in General Questions on

Hope everyone is doing well, just want to see if I can get a little advice. Looking to add an additional bedroom, and have talked to several architects. So far I have not met a single designer that was able to look at my layout and give me an opinion on what is the most economical way to add space. Or they want to add on to the project to make it bigger than it actually needs to be (telling me I must make my kitchen bigger as well to get approval for work). I also feel they don’t have the skills for more creative ways such as bumping out or a cantilever over the existing foundation to save on the overall cost. Are there experts in this line of work, maybe resources I can read, or architects that may not be local but can provide online services? Maybe I’m skeptical but I feel that the architects I meet are chasing after the larger jobs, maybe because they will have more work to do and can charge a larger fee. This is also based on locality but with a bump out is the permit process less extensive. I’m getting a minimum architectural fee of 13,000 to add one room.

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  1. nynick | | #1

    Take a trip to Town Hall and see if you can have a quick chat with the Building Inspector. Tell them what you want to do. They see every project in town (and will certainly see yours!) by every architect/designer. Maybe they will have some recommendations?

    1. walta100 | | #3

      I like your idea nynick but most cites and states have made rules that prevent officials and staff from recommending contractors as it could have the look of corruption.

      If the staff is allowed to make recommendation could someone pay the staff for each recommendation?

      Generally, the only thing staff is allowed to do is provide a list of the approved providers.


  2. mr_reference_Hugh | | #2

    Two suggestions based experiences doing the same thing you want to do but with a larger addition.

    1. Post on this Q&A
    - what you want in terms of space eg dimensions
    - am explanation or description of how you will use the space
    -rough sketch of current floor plan and maybe some pics of the house
    -rough sketch of what your best idea.of how to do this (if you have been able to get that far)
    - constraints and issues you have already identified (very important to include)
    - something showing how the house sits on the lot in relation to the lot lines.

    2. Ask a builder, not a designer. I have a deep appreciation and respect for designers/architects but builder have hands on experience modifying houses. I would offer to pay the builder/contractor for their time - to be fair to them.

    Hope this helps.

  3. walta100 | | #4

    Make the meeting is about deciding how well your personalities will work together and if you like their style of design.

    I think you need to talk about similar project they have completed and about the challenges those projects had to overcome.

    You cannot expect someone to give you their best ideas about your project for free at the first meeting.


  4. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #5

    I seldom work on remodels or additions since they are small jobs and folks don’t want to pay a fair price. A good and experienced Designer or Architect is not charging for the time spent in designing your project alone; he/she is charging for the years spent on education and experience, just like other professionals.
    Another reason I don’t work on remodels is that you don’t know what conditions exist behind the wall, any visible structural issues, soils report or foundation issues. So, unless there’s an Engineer’s report or a professional assessment on the property, many professionals won’t touch it.
    Just because you think it’s a simple room addition, it may turn into structural issues on the foundation, walls, beams, columns or roof. Your $13k bid may be just “I don’t want to do it” thing.
    Many folks end up hiring a $2/sf draftsperson, who most times have no education nor experience in the industry, provide incomplete sets of plans with no details or specifications. That is what in our industry is normal.
    I suggest you contact an experienced and reputable remodeler. He/she can recommend a design professional or draftsperson based on his/her assessment of the job.

  5. hughw | | #6

    As an architect, I can tell you that things aren't usually as simple as they seem at first sight. Any professional, or tradesperson, should not only be paid for their time, but also for their skill, their insight, their competence, and their taking on the responsibility of even a small project. The issue for such a small project is that chances are, there's very little difference for an architect than in doing a project twice or three times the size in terms of time expended in drawing, approvals, and administration. Thus, the fee may seem disproportionate to the size of the project.

  6. Expert Member
    DCcontrarian | | #7

    There's a saying, "to get friends, be a friend." The corollary is that if you want good people to work for you, you should be a good person to work for.

    It always helps to understand the other party. The biggest key to success for an architect is avoiding the problem clients. So when you're interviewing them, they're interviewing you, looking for warning flags. A big warning flag is not knowing what things cost and being obsessed with doing everything the cheapest way possible. Yes, in construction everyone is cost-conscious all the time, but it's possible to take it too far. Another, maybe not quite so serious, is not knowing what you want. This is a bit of a fine line, because the architect's job is to guide and advise the client and if the client knew exactly what they wanted they wouldn't need an architect, but the architect also has to be wary of someone who's going to waste a lot of their time.

    I think you'll have better luck if you spend some time firming up more of the details of the project. You need to have a conversation with yourself (and your family) about what you really want, and how much you're willing (and able) to spend to get it. Then you need to find out if it's possible to get what you want for what you're willing to spend. I'm not talking detailed estimates, just talking to either people in the biz or people who've had similar work done recently and say, "hey, do you think it's crazy to put on an addition of XXX square feet for $YY,YYY?" If they say, "that sounds about right" then ask them how they go about doing a project like this -- do they start with the contractor, the architect, a design-build firm?

  7. drewintoledo | | #8

    I agree with MR_REFERENCE_HUGH. Post information here. I guarantee you'll receive constructive information. How do I know? The house I am building was darned near designed by members of this forum!

  8. thegiz | | #9

    Good evening, thank you everyone for your sound advice. Yes I do understand the importance of paying an architect for their services but getting frustrated. This is an old family home so would like to make it bigger and stay within the area. However seems what I want is nearly impossible or the cost is not worth the effort. On the fence of just selling and moving on. Based on what I’m reading i want to avoid opening up and touching old parts of the house as much as possible. I do have room on side of the home that I think would cause the least disruption. An old covered up window could be the entrance to addition. The goal is to add a master bedroom and bath off of the first floor kitchen. I do have a existing bathroom on the first floor that I could just add on to. There is room on the second floor on rear of home but accessing the space would mean ripping open the roof and adding on and supporting a longer second floor. Also I would have to change the floor plan to access that part of the home. I guess my question is what range of cost is something like this entail. Where would be my best direction to take? I attached the first floor plan with a picture of the side of the home. The home is on on a hill.

    1. Expert Member
      Akos | | #10

      There are too many unknowns to say what the addition will cost. Lot of it also depends on local costs and how much demand there is for contractors. The simplest is to extend the main floor over a new crawlspace, if you can build onto the side of the house it would be a pretty simple addition. The cantilever on the 2nd floor is possible but will be very expensive and disruptive.

      In lot of cases, moving to a larger home is the cheaper answer.

  9. nynick | | #11

    Everybody is least they say they are. This gives them more reason to choose the jobs they want, or can make the most money on, or that are easier etc. Yours isn't all that easy or big enough for someone to make a ton of money. Once again I'd recommend talking to some local officials and friends to try to get some leads on good renovation experts who can help you navigate the project. Check their references well.
    You haven't told us your location. I'm in New England and recently got estimates for my (big) job and they were shockingly high. Nobody builds anything in my neck of the woods for $200 psf anymore. Plus you have all the trades. involved in your (smaller) job. Foundation, carpenters, roofers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, HVAC...everybody.
    AKOS is right of course. Too many unknowns. Plus, you never know what you're going to find when you start opening up old walls.
    If I had to guess, I'd say $300-500 psf in my area, depending on your choice of finishes and materials. Could be a lot more.

  10. thegiz | | #12

    It’s hard to see costs, I suppose an architect is the initial investment. I’m in lower westchester county, NY one of the most expensive areas to live in. Which means costs will be high but I will get a higher return on investment. It’s difficult to know if it’s worth it just to move to a bigger home. However with higher interest rates it will cost me
    more over the long term to mortgage a new home. I have a contractor that is willing to do it, and a mason for foundation work. I just need to start off with the initial blueprints and permits. It has been a year since calling architects, at the time business was booming as it still is but I think it is slowing down. I had at least 2 architects that were honest and said they couldn’t do it because they were too busy with larger jobs. I’m assuming as demand slows down I will have more people willing to take on this job.

    1. mr_reference_Hugh | | #13

      thegiz, of course, there are reasons to just sell and buy elsewhere but such a transaction has costs that we often don't consider (read more here):

      I would not try to convince you to stay or move, just sharing ideas if you want to add on to the existing house and you want to don't want to open any walls.

      My understanding:
      - "I want to avoid opening up and touching old parts of the house as much as possible".
      - "I do have room on side of the home that I think would cause the least disruption.
      - "An old covered up window could be the entrance to addition."
      - "The home is on on a hill."

      I was hoping really hoping to see a few detail like where the location of the old covered up window, whether that window was wide enough to be converted to a door (e.g. 36" or more) and an outline of the house in relation to the lot line to understand where your extra space on the lot is located (side of house, rear yard).

      My assumptions:
      - You would connect through the rear door that lead to the balcony/deck.
      - You cannot connect through the rear of the basement because this would require cutting open the basement wall.
      - If you want to provide additional details, I would be happy to modify my suggestion.

      This suggestion still requires connection of electrical - but wires can be run outdoor in conduit relatively easily... all things considered. The bigger issues with my own suggestion are the height of the old vs new basement footings and the plumbing.

      I will attach a few images based on the assumption that you want to remove the deck and make the connection/addition at the rear of the house through the kitchen.

      In terms of cost, there are to many variables. I would expect that if you have a contractor that you are speaking with he should be able to give you an idea.

      1. thegiz | | #18

        I attached a rough drawing of the set up. The one issue with taking out the rear deck and patio underneath is that the house is long and narrow to begin with. So this would take out what little I have of rear yard space. There is a basement entrance in the rear so the basement wall would not have to be cut however to gain access to a rear addition. I’m only about 4 feet from property line on my right and a little over 26 feet to my left. I also have a 2 car detached garage in rear of yard on the left side. The way I see I have 4 ways to approach this project.

        1. Cantilever out 2nd floor in rear. Very destructive, I would have to change the layout of 2nd floor and I would not gain much space.

        2. Extend addition to the left side of house. Leave 2 car detached garage in rear of yard. Extend addition enough that I can still access driveway to rear garage. I also have 2 options here use an existing 1st floor bathroom and make that a guest and master bath combined or build a separate new bathroom. Not sure how this would change overall cost.

        3. Remove 2 car detached garage, attach a single car garage with master suite above. Only issue is access from old part to new bedroom. Not sure of 2 sets of stairs is a weird concept(one set of stairs from garage to master suite only.) one architect mentioned this as a possibility.

        4. Use the rear patio and deck and turn that into the addition and either loose the yard space or tear down old garage to relocate it closer to front of home.

        Obviously a lot of variables. Ripping out a 2 car detached garage would be a mortal sin to many on this forum but would open up yard space. Open to any honest suggestions. Thanks for all the advice, and getting an appraisal would certainly help.

        1. Expert Member
          DCcontrarian | | #19

          You need to find out what your local zoning is. Zoning is hyper-local, and there is no logic behind it, it's not something you can figure out, you have to find out what it says. Here in DC, if you're a homeowner you can go talk to the building department and they will tell you what the zoning for your lot allows.

          Not that this would have any bearing on you, but just to give a flavor for the kinds of things you might run into, here's how a lot like that would be treated in DC:
          * You'd need to have the house be 15 feet away from the property line at the front, 25 feet at the back and 8 feet at each side.
          * Since the existing house is only 4.4' from the side, that's an existing non-conformity. You'd be allowed to keep it, but you couldn't make it worse (ie make that side of the house bigger). If you modified the house significantly you'd have to fix the non-conformity.
          * The footprint of the house couldn't be more than 40% of the lot area, and the total square footage of the house couldn't be more than 80% of the lot area.
          * A single-family home would be required to have a garage, and the garage would be required to have a driveway.

          Again, you have to research the local zoning. This is going to have a big impact on what you can do. It also impacts the value of the house and of improvements. In many cases an existing non-conformity makes a house more valuable than similar houses.

    2. Expert Member
      DCcontrarian | | #16

      Hire an appraiser. Ask him to estimate the value of your house as-is and with your proposed addition. It's what they do. He won't need a plan, just how many square feet and how many bedrooms and bathrooms. Around here it costs about $500.

      Figure that between commissions, transfer taxes and moving expenses moving will cost you about 10% of the cost of your house.

      That gives you one side of the build-vs-buy equation. The other side is how much it costs to build. Dollars per square foot is the usual metric. From the numbers you gave the appraiser you'll know the most that can be. That at least gives a starting point for discussion.

  11. nynick | | #14

    I also have a house in northern Westchester and grew up in southern Westchester. Yes, you are going to be paying top dollar and your taxes will go up to boot!

    Be careful trying to justify ROI on home improvement. They are usually losing propositions, dollar for dollar, short term. In some cases you can break even, but those are usually things like kitchens and Master baths.

    I'd say you'll be in the $300-400 psf range.

  12. Expert Member
    Akos | | #15

    As others have suggested, you don't need an architect, you want a design/build contractor.

    If you don't mind the legwork and managing the project, another option is to find a registered designer. Around me a designer has a BCIN number and can generate drawings for small projects that the city will accept. They are used to working on residential and will take on smaller projects. Once you have the design, you can provide it to a structural engineer to detail and stamp.

    I have done a small cantilevered 2nd story addition and can tell you it is about the same amount of work as doing a full story but you get way less space. This was over a brick house where there were no modifications needed to be made to either walls bellow or footings. Your place looks stick built, most likely it will need additional structural support. Don't be shocked by the cost. If you want some semblance of ROI out of the project, make sure to get an extra bathroom and bedroom out of the build.

  13. DavidDrake | | #17

    "The goal is to add a master bedroom and bath off of the first floor kitchen."

    You don't say how large an addition you are planning. From your description above, I'm guessing at least 350-400 SF, esp. when you include circulation. At $300-400/SF cost of construction, $13,000 for the architect is ~10%.

    That doesn't seem out of line.

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