Perception of Architect’s Fees

A little story, by James Spencer, ArCH, Architect, of James Spencer Architecture, Alexandria, Virginia:


A couple planning a home renovation in the Washington, D.C. area sit down to a meeting with a local Architect.  The husband appears irritated, so the Architect asks if everything is okay.  The husband says:  “My wife dragged me here.  We’re not rich.  Only rich people hire Architects.  I think we’re wasting our time meeting with you.”

The Architect blinks, then leans back in his chair, then after a few seconds, says: “So you think only rich people hire Architects?”

The husband nods affirmatively.

The Architect then says: “On a typical home improvement project, what many people often do is call a Contractor first.  Do you have any idea who the first person that the Contractor calls, when his meeting is over with the owners?”  The Architect arches his eyebrows.

The husband shakes his head no.

The Architect nods, then says: “The first person the Contractor calls after meeting with the owners is me: an Architect.  Do you want to know why?”

The husband looks confused but nods yes.

The Architect responds: “Because the building permit drawings your Contractor needs to pull the permit come from an Architect, typically.  The Contractor pays the Architect to do this.  Can you guess what happens then?”

The husband leans forward, even more confused.

“I’ll tell you,” says the Architect: “The Contractor then gives you a bill, with the Architect’s fees marked up 200% to 300%.  This is why you and many others think the Architect’s fees are so much higher than they really are. Did you know this?”

The husband leans back, his face understanding finally what has been going on during previous efforts.  He scratches his chin, then starts to smile.  “So, you’re telling me that what I may have been paying Contractors before to sub-out Architectural work has been significantly marked-up and I’d be much better off if I simply came to the Architect first.  I’d save that huge mark-up and be talking directly to the professional creating our design!”

The Architects smiles.  “You understand, sir!  But we’re not done yet.  Most Builders that hire my firm aren’t really interested in us exploring creative design solutions, which is one of the main strengths an Architect provides.  So if you really want some options from which to make choices and have a design based on your Lifestyle and Land, you’d be so much better off hiring your Architect first.”

“I see,” says the husband.  The wife now chimes in: “So if we hire you now, before the Contractor, you can help us by designing what we may not have thought of, based on how we want to live, because we’re not designers and neither is the Builder, but you are!”

The Architect smiles broadly and claps his hands.  “Now you’ve got it!  That’s exactly my point.  Why would you go to a Grocer if you needed dental work done?  Same thing in this instance: why not first go to the best source of design?  An Architect is trained to design.  A Builder is trained to Build.  Might be a more successful project for you if you have the best people for each type of work doing those things.”

The above mind-movie is based on a true story.  Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.