Hiring an architect is a big decision, and much of the time it can boil down to costs.
Many prospective clients see a wide range of fee structures - and we don't have a magic method on trying to provide a fee on the onset of a project.
First things first, "what are architectural services?"
A client is essentially hiring a professional to develop a building design from nothing. The costs involved includes paying for an architect to lay out a process to get a client from imagination to construction. The number of architectural parameters is vastly different between clients, on top of the variables of "human chemistry".
I'll reiterate, there are two aspects that greatly affect the cost surrounding the costs involved in an architectural project:
Architectural Parameters - the particularities of the site/property, the building program (including the number of bedrooms, washrooms, location of kitchen), project budget and timeline, and the overall goals for the building.
Human Chemistry - each client is different. Some clients know exactly what they want, and some clients don't know or have good skills in spatial awareness. No matter which category a client fits in, there's a large unknown of how long something might take as each relationship is different. Sometimes a confident client might see exactly what they want, but may not like it once it's presented before them. And sometimes a client that does not know what they want can see our first schematic design and fall in love with the project.
With all this having been said, it's a rather unfair task to ask an architect to provide a fixed price for architectural services from start to finish. However, most prospective clients struggle with financial unknowns - especially people who have a fixed budget and are about to embark on a project that represents a majority of their accrued wealth.
On the business end of architectural services, small projects are difficult from a financial perspective. The start-up costs are similar to larger projects (measuring and providing existing building drawings, along with the necessary kick-off meetings to understand the project scope). In comparison to large projects that have an economy of scale, the smaller projects (under $50,000 in architectural fees) tend to provide a near zero profit margin.
To combat this issue, in moving forward with new small projects (fees under $50,000), we will be testing out a system of providing fees based on an allocation of time. At the end of each month, we will know if the project is on track, or whether we require more time to develop. The goal is for the pricing to match each client's relationship.
Conversely, the secondary goal is to help each client understand the value associated to the time involved in each task. Up until recently, most of our clients utilize our time indiscriminately (which is good for providing architectural services, but financially bad for the business).
Our goal is to have a 10% profit margin. For full transparency, below is a chart of the business costs, which breaks down to about $75/hour to run a viable practice. This table is constantly updated as some costs can fluxuate over time.
The tricky part on my end is maintaining productivity on project tasks. Design is not a straight path, we hit forks in the road every day, which makes our job a lot of fun (but makes a business very difficult).
What I am trying to convey in this post is that hiring someone to design your forever home, or your new store, or your new dental practice is not an inexpensive endeavour. You're hiring someone full time to figure out a design from nothing.
As a mental exercise, think about how many hours a task will take at your own day job. That's the production side of our work. Now, step back and retrace the amount of time it took the company to develop that particular task (figuring out the series of steps to design an efficient and effective workflow for that task). Pretty soon, you're at 500 hours of human time - which is a heck of a lot of money.
Architecture is similar in that sense. A client wants to renovate their house, and on the onset, we know it will automatically take us about 25 hours just to get the project measure, drafted and discussed. The actual design portion comes next, and it can take hundreds of hours to figure something out for each client.
'But Jason, there's this other designer who has quoted me $2500 to design my house, why are you so expensive?".
From our business metrics, $2500 equates to about 4 days of work in the real world. If you're comfortable with a practice spending 4 days to design something to last 100 years, then I must commend you on your risk tolerance.
Even at $8000, that's about 2.5 weeks of human labour time. It's a lot of money, but at the same time, it is not a lot of money.
I haven't figured it out, and I don't know how other designers are able to do it - perhaps they care less about delivering something specific to clients, and are instead fine with rolling out cookie-cutter designs on mass. this attitude towards design goes against my core principle of trying to do some good in this world, but also conflicts with my compulsion to try and provide architectural services to a wider demographic.
Perhaps this is where AI can somehow help in all this - but like any new technology, it still requires time and effort to masterfully engage with (which cost money, haha).
As a constantly evolving practice, we will continue to reflect and revise our business methods. At present, I am stuck with our current business costs, which we will look to try and optimize as the business continues. Our role as the human mind-trust to your project should not be dimished, and I hope that this post can help convey the costs involved in the development of your future project!