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 August 1, 1999

HOW TO CHOOSE A CUSTOM HOME ARCHITECT

One of the best marketing strategies for good architects is their actual work. So if you’re looking for an architect for your dream home, look around for beautiful and functional houses and happy homeowners.

Don’t be shy about knocking on a few doors and asking who designed some of the homes you admire. Once you find a few names, interview past clients and look at some portfolios to get a sense of how the architect works.

Friends also may have recommendations, and architectural firms do advertise in local publications and home magazines.

When you make an inquiry, ask for references. Check credentials, making sure the architect is licensed. Make a call to the state licensing board to check if the firm has received any complaints or has been sued.

You also can call the Denver-based American Institute of Architects for their free referral service. Firm profiles can be faxed or mailed to you for free. Its Colorado North Chapter represents Boulder County and much of the Front Range and leading projects are recognized by the chapter each year. For the referral service, call the AIA at (303) 446-2266.

But finding your architect depends almost as much on you. Good chemistry should not be underestimated. Sit down with him or her for a few minutes. Is this person likable? A good architect should ask you just as many questions as you ask. A custom home means it is designed to fit your lifestyle, so your architect should pay close attention to details such as how many kids you have and how long you plan on living in the home.

Remember you’ll be working closely with this person for possibly up to nine months, so if communication isn’t ideal, it may show in your house. Create communication with all of those involved in the design. Will your plans be passed on to a draftsman or will you get one-on-one consultation?

For a custom residence, smaller firms may be give your more attention and direct input. If you do choose a larger firm, which may have more experience with different styles, etc., create communication with all members of the design team.

The better the architect, of course, the more it probably will cost you, but some guidelines could help trim excessive costs from your project.

Before choosing an architect, articulate what you want in your home. Make a priority list of all aspects such as budget, style, space allocation and overall ambience. Help the process by taking photos of homes around town you like or cutting out magazine pictures of impressive architecture. The more specific your plans and budget, the less time and money are wasted on discarded plans and guesswork.

Also, think about the process of how your home will be constructed. Some firms handle all aspects of design and construction, while some only handle the designs. Breaking the process into separate projects may be more expensive.

A good architect should provide clear sketches and drawings, but if you’re not sure how your ideas will translate into something tangible, ask for a model. A standard cardboard model will cost about $800-$1,000, but it’s worth it if it helps smooth out misunderstandings and answers questions.

A rough cost guide is about $125-$200 per square foot for a medium-level 4,000-square- foot Boulder home. A good architect should be able to work within your range, but if an architect seems expensive, it’s probably because he’s earned it. Five to six years of experience, or roughly 120 homes, should be the minimum.

One of the best marketing strategies for good architects is their actual work. So if you’re looking for an architect for your dream home, look around for beautiful and functional houses and happy homeowners.

Don’t be shy about knocking on a few doors and asking who designed some of the homes you admire. Once you find a few names, interview past clients and look at some portfolios to get a sense of how the architect works.

Friends also may have recommendations, and architectural firms do advertise in local publications…

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