How Much Does an Architect Charge
(A Guide to Architect Fee Structures)
Architects may calculate and assess their fees in one of three primary ways:
A percentage of the estimated construction budget
Cost per square foot
Keep in mind that these fee calculations are for the architect’s services only and typically don’t include consultants work, reimbursables (e.g. printing and travel), etc.
An architect’s set of drawings includes all of the information necessary to permit and build a project. The size of the set can range from a few drawings for a small remodel to dozens of sheets for large additions or new construction. Consultant drawings are coordinated and incorporated into the set.
Similar to other service professionals, such as lawyers, architects can contract with an owner for an hourly rate (typical range of $75-$200/ hour). Sometimes this type of contract is accompanied by an estimate of the total number of hours the work will take, or even a not-to-exceed clause (maximum billable hours). While an hourly rate can be advantageous for projects with an undefined or highly limited scope, it is not as commonly used because most homeowners are uncomfortable with an undefined total fee. The hourly approach is more common for additional services that arise during the course of a project.
Percentage of Construction Budget
This fee structure is based on a percentage, typically 8%-15%, of the construction budget. This can be based on an up-front estimated budget, or set to fluctuate as the budget does (for example, if bids come in higher, the architect’s fee is adjusted). Clients often take issue with the latter option, as it appears to favor the architect increasing the scope or selecting expensive materials and methods. More common in small to mid-size residential remodel projects is a percentage based on an estimated budget. This typically requires the owner and architect to agree on a reasonable budget for the project (based on an estimated cost per SF). This is necessary because owners often have unrealistic budget expectations, whereas architects have more experience and, therefore, a better understanding of what the true construction costs will be.
Example: if the agreed upon project budget is $150,000 and the architect charges 10% of construction costs the fee would be calculated as follows:
$150,000 X 10%= $15,000.
Different architects include different project costs as part of their percentage calculations. Items often excluded are expensive fixtures or materials and coordination of consultant work.
Cost per Square Foot
A cost per square foot fee is based on a rate ($ amount) that the architect multiplies by the project square footage to come up with their total (fixed) fee:
Example: 1,200 SF of remodel at $8/ SF = $9,600 fee.
Individual rates vary but a general range is anywhere from $5/ SF- $15/ SF. Some reasons for the wide range are architect experience, reputation, firm structure and level of services provided (inclusiveness/ detail). Other variables include type of project (remodel, addition, new construction, type of room, etc.) and zip code (local building costs). This is probably the most straightforward way to establish a fee and homeowners often prefer this approach as it eliminates the potential budget conflicts of interest inherent to the percentage of construction budget method. The disadvantage for the architect is that projects vary greatly in complexity. If an owner, for example, selects a complex cladding system (exterior siding), then the architect will either be forced to absorb the hours and cost to properly detail it or omit this work and therefore leave the drawings incomplete. Architects can try to anticipate the complexity of a project, but because owners often increase project scope, or change key components, it can be difficult to properly account for everything in their fee. Major changes to the size and/ or parameters of a project typically require a change to the contracted fee (additional services).
Interior elevations, wall sections, hand sketches, 3D models, and detail drawings are just some examples of what architects can, but don’t always, provide. These drawings can be important for more complex projects or more discerning clients. The drawings shown above are only a small portion of what was required to design, permit and build two different projects (one new construction and one major addition).
Some architects may be willing to negotiate the way in which their fee is calculated, or even the fee amount itself, while others are less flexible. Be sure to ask these questions during the architect interview/ selection process. Keep in mind that some may be willing to give this information over the phone, while others may prefer to meet in person and/or send a formal proposal. As always, make sure you know what drawings and services each architect’s fee includes and weigh all other relevant factors.