Do you really need to hire an architect?

Renovating your home: Do you really need to hire an architect?

Whether you plan on renovating a small space in your home or building a new house from scratch, there are a lot of factors to consider when undertaking such a project. One of the first decisions to make is your team; do you need to hire professionals to help you, and if so which ones? Is a contractor enough? Or do you also need an architect? You might have some reservations about hiring an architect, like the cost for example, or worries that the architect’s ideas would clash with your own, designing a space that doesn’t suit you or align with your best interests. These are all valid concerns! On the other hand however, what would the benefits be of hiring an architect and how could you remedy the concerns?

We should first probably acknowledge the elephant in the room. We are architects and as the saying goes, “never ask a hairdresser if you need a haircut!” Having said that, in this article, we do our utmost best to speak objectively and from factual experience.

The pros and cons of renovating with or without an architect. Helping you decide whether you need to hire an architect or if it is best for you to go at it alone.

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Do not underestimate the time, money, focus and effort needed to conduct a renovation.

Whether it is one room or an entire house, undertaking a renovation project is not an easy task. If you decide to do it by yourself, make sure you have the time, energy, effort, focus, and of course skills required to complete the project. It is also very important you are prepared for some unexpected complications along the way. You may think you only need to demolish a simple wall but after the first few hits of the sledge hammer, you are faced with a surprise… you just broke through some water pipes! A small mistake like that can end up costing you a lot of extra time and money just to rectify it, at which point you still wouldn’t have come close to your original goals with the project.

Before starting any project, an architect has the ability to check all ‘invisible’ items. In this example, they would check to determine the nature of the wall, the risks, alternative safer options, the requirements for any permit, etc.  Having an architect on board would ensure all these factors are considered, and problems are avoided before they arise.

If you hire a contractor, do you still need an architect?

It is quite common for people to hire a contractor, without an architect. Many contractors would even advise you to proceed without an architect, and whilst that may seem cheaper at the beginning of the project, it doesn’t always end up being cheaper at the end. Of course certain projects can be done without an architect. In our experience, you can only get away with that when the project is a ‘one liner’, i.e. focused on a single task, and when you have the knowledge to supervise the contractors’ work. Contractors tend to work on site directly, without drawings or documents that demonstrate what they will do before they actually do it, thus depriving you from the thinking and decision process. Unfortunately, if something is done either incorrectly or not to your specifications, it can be very costly and time-consuming to undo it. The use of ‘intimidation techniques’ is not entirely uncommon, it can happen that a contractor attempts to convince you that the construction cannot be done any other, cheaper or better way. Working with contractors directly can sometimes be tricky unless you know and trust them. We have previously had clients come to us after having worked with a contractor for months, only to find themselves with more work to do than when they began.

Another potential aspect of working directly with contractors, is the fact that many tend to rely on you to come up with the design and details of the project. Many contractors simply execute what you ask them to do, sometimes without advising if it will work or not. On the contrary, when an architect is on board their first task would be to elevate the design and vision for the space, communicate it with the contractor, and of course supervise their work closely. It is also worth noting that some contractors are more thoughtful with their work when an architect is onboard. Architects expect things to be done a very specific way so they ensure nothing is done too fast or carelessly. Part of their job is to consistent quality assurance, for example confirming the right materials are being used.

While the design might be more practical and straight forward when you go straight for a contractor, it may well lack the creative features and innovative solutions that a professional architect would bring to the table.

Don’t get us wrong, not all contractors are this way. We work with some outstanding contractors that do amazing work. If you do decide to go for a contractor directly, do use the advice above to screen for the best ones!

Deciding whether you need an architect as well as a contractor is highly dependant on the vision and type of project in question.

Architects might come with some added benefits.

Beyond the obvious benefits of hiring an architect, here are a few that you may not have thought of already.

Before you start your project, it is strongly advisable to check for permits requirements and other regulations in your city. This may include compulsory setbacks, land use code, building code, construction methods and materials, timetables and also possibly environmental conditions such as including green-roofs, solar panels…etc. In addition to all these rules and regulations being difficult to locate, once you do find them, they can be difficult to understand if they are overly technical. Of course, an architect would be well aware of these regulations and how to obtain the appropriate permits. This includes helping you with preparing the necessary documents and applying for the required permits. A good architect knows the rules; a great architect would be able to come up with creative solutions that give you what you want whilst respecting these rules. They would also be able to negotiate with the city to get the approvals needed. 

Having an architect who is well-connected to contractors, subcontractors, engineers, and the industry as a whole will also benefit your project significantly. First and foremost, this would enable the architect to swiftly locate the appropriate expertise to assist with your project and provide you with several bids from several contractors. Doing so would allow you to compare several options and select the best quality/price. Discounts are another perk of having a well-connected architect, a well-connected architect could be able to negotiate significant discounts on materials, finishes, and furnishings on your behalf. While not every supplier gives discounts, some do so because the architect is a returning client for them or because they want the architect to be a returning client in the future.

AKKA Client Case Study:

We’ll give you an example of that from our own experience. For a recent client of AKKA, we were able to get a 63% discount on one single order of high-quality Italian furniture for them. This saved the client more than €7750 off the original price. A few days later, we were also able to secure another 58% on another order, saving them another €7000, resulting in a total of €14,750 saved! And this account for only 2 of the discounts we arranged for them. As you can see, a good architect can practically pay for themselves!

Whether you need an architect or not, depends on a few factors. For small renovation tasks, it might be possible to go down the DIY route, or work directly with a contractor. However, for many other types of projects, it is arguably safer and cheaper to hire an architect. This is presuming of course, that you hire the right architect: for this, see our article on How to choose the perfect-fit architect for your project. If you are able to hire a great architect it is a no brainer decision, they pay for themselves many times over by anticipating problems, avoiding mistakes and providing generous discounts!

If you are considering a new project and are looking for an architect, you can check out our website or get in touch with us, we would be happy to schedule a conversation with you and help you with any questions you may have.

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