How To Find An Architect In Chicago and Other Big Cities
I have learned A LOT in the last 18 months about building a custom home. There is way more to it than I ever thought would be possible. I often live in la la land when it comes to my expectations vs. reality. The information below will greatly guide you through how to find an architect within your budget. I WISH I had had this information prior to our search!
For months, my husband and I thought we would put an addition on our home. Possibly a second story. But then, we decided to just go for it and build a new home from the ground up. Well, let me tell you, this would not be happening at all if my husband was not in the business already. It was reassuring to know that he at least did this kind of thing for a living and would be a helpful guide throughout the process.
After we decided to build, and we purchased a lot to build on, we then had to find an architect. We were starting from square one. I did not know anything about what this would cost us. To be honest, the only people who I am close to that I know have built a home from the ground up in the past, are my parents. However, we cannot compare our architect shopping at all. Their home is in another state, in a rural area. The cost for their drawings was low. Very very low. It was not good for me to know this number because I went into this project with the expectation that an architect would cost us just a couple thousand of dollars.
After reaching out to many architects in the Chicagoland area, I received my first email back. The company was willing to take on our project for a low low price of between just $60,000 and $80,000. Before I passed out, I wondered if this also included the house. It did not. This was for the drawings and home design ONLY.
Now, this was for a 4000 square foot hypothetical home. The cost per square foot that we were initially quoted was $15-$20, which is how I arrived at the $60,000-$80,000 range (which also included interior work as well as basic architectural work). At that point, I figured we were screwed! What were we thinking?! We bought the land, but could now not afford an architect! The good news is, the numbers began to look better.
I soon realized that most architects preferred to meet with you first before giving out price quotes. This makes complete sense. This is a relationship that you are entering so it is good to get to know one another first prior to spewing out numbers.
We did receive a few more estimates over email, which I greatly appreciated.
The next quote was for $9.50 a square foot to $18 per square foot ($18 if we were to have the company do everything including interiors and finishes). At this point, we cut our project to 3000 square feet. At $9.50 x 3000 square feet, this would come out to $28,500. I was still choking over these estimates.
Our next quote was a respectable $5 per square foot for a custom design. At the time, this was still high for us, but much more reasonable than the first quote. We almost went with this company. With every quote, we scaled back the size of our project more and more.
Then, we found our guy. He was local to the area. He did want to meet with us first, which I agreed to since he was close by. He rates were respectable and fair, and he had a huge new block of homes that we were able to tour to see his work. We were in love. His rates began at $2.50 for a non-custom design, up to $4.50 per square foot for a custom design. After redefining our 4000 square foot dream home (who did we think we were, anyways?!) down to a 2500 square foot project, we signed on the dotted line with our architect.
How To Find an Architect Within Your Budget
This whole process of finding someone to work with on our drawings took 3 months. Here are my tips on how to find the perfect architect for your budget:
1) Research the cost of an architect in your area.
This was difficult to do. I initially turned to google to search for "the cost to hire an architect in Chicago". When reading about estimated costs, be sure to take note about the author of the information that you are reading. If the information is coming from an architectural firm, you will receive info based on their rates. I read the following info from the interwebs:
-Architects will charge per hour, per square foot, or as a percentage of your building cost. One post said 10-15% of your building costs
-I have seen quotes for HIGH-END residential homes for between $250-$400 per square foot. This surely includes many architectural things (except for the construction of the house itself, of course!)
-One person commented that he likes to charge below the industry average of 12-15% of the total project costs, and he keeps his rates around 7% (If your project is $400,000, this equates to $28,000 for drawings)
-Another post stated that you can expect to pay $2-$5 per square foot for concept development, and $1-$4 per square foot for construction document production
-One other cost estimator suggested 10-17% of your total project cost
I am not really sure about this percentage of project cost estimate. If the 10%-15% of your total project cost estimate was correct, then if your construction budget for a 2500 square foot home was $300,000, then that comes out to $12-$18 per square foot. Thankfully, our guy worked with us on a cost per square foot basis, at he was in the $2.50-$4.50 per square foot range.
2) Price isn't everything.
You must LIKE your architect. After all, this is going to be the person designing a home for your family. He or she needs to be easy to work with are receptive to an ever changing mind (well, this might have only been true in my case!). Our architect was the ying to my yang. I was wildly creative and had some nutty ideas, and he listened to them all and turned them into reality.
3) You're most likely going to have to meet with several people.
This is the hard part (and time-consuming for both parties!). I am so glad the firm that quoted us $60,000-$80,000 for drawings gave me numbers up front. No matter how much we would have liked this guy if we met him in person, under no circumstances would we have been able to afford a project with him. This might be a painful part of the process because, given the HUGE range that is out there, there is a good chance you will end up meeting with someone totally out of your price range.
This is good to do however because you will learn a lot about the process and about the different styles that people will have. They can show you books and 3-D images of homes that they have designed in the area. And, if you find an architect who you love, but is out of your budget, discuss with them a non-custom home option. There's a chance that they can take a home they have already designed and then modify a few things to fit your needs (at a lower cost than a custom home project).
4) This process will take months, but in the end, you will feel more comfortable about your decision.
I may have had the initial (and unrealistic) thought that an architect in Chicago would cost under $3,000 based on my parent's experience (even though theirs was in a different state). Meeting with people, and hearing their pricing is how we learned what we can afford and what is reasonable. Everyone is going to have sticker shock at first. Did I really think I'd ever spend $2500 on wedding photography when I got married several years ago? No! But you hear a price, you become numb to it, and then you can basically consider yourself more educated when the whole process is said and done.
Meet with as many people as you'd like, and do your best to get an up front estimate so that you can truly know if someone is wayyyyyy out of your price range. This is how we learn things that are in unfamiliar territory to us.
All the information above is for architecture drawings ONLY. This is a much needed first step in the process of home building. You need these drawings before you look for and select a builder, before applying for a loan, and before submitting for permits. Your builder will use these drawings for their bidding work. You are going to spend a good chunk of money just to pass GO. There is still a lot more work ahead of you after finding an architect and having your home designed, but after your drawings are stamped and completed, things will move along faster for you.