When Do I Need an Architect for a Remodel?

From stamping approvals to full service, the role (and cost) of architectural services

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As you begin planning your remodel, the question of whether or not you need an architect will inevitably arise. Typically, if your project is a whole-home total gut remodel, you will need an architect. They will determine what is possible in your building structure or lot. A full-service design/build general contracting firm can also offer comprehensive architectural services. 

After your plans are complete, you will use them to find a general contractor that meets your needs. If your project requires an architect, your Sweeten general contractor may also be able to refer one. The most successful projects will use an architect and contractor that have worked together before and complement each other’s work.

Here, we lay out the full details on when your project will need an architect and how much you should expect to pay. Our vetted contractors can help homeowners access different levels of architectural services and architects. 

You’ll need an architect when the DOB requires signed plans

First, your city/building may require you to use one. Are you are making any significant changes that require the involvement of your Department of Buildings? If so, then you’ll need an architect to make applications and pull permits. As architect Shannon Reid of Reid Wilson Architects told us, “Each jurisdiction has a clear delineation on what types of projects require a licensed professional to sign and seal the drawings. NYC is more restrictive than most, and homeowners may find an architect is required due to DOB regulations.” 

You’ll need an architect if the remodel affects walls, electrical, and plumbing

An architect is generally required when a remodel requires the removing or relocation of walls,” as architect John Kim of Kimoy Studios told us.

If walls are being moved, your remodel will likely “affect plumbing counts or locations,” and require city, as well as co-op/condo board approvals, as architect Steven Harper of MNDPC explained.

You’ll need an architect if you want a professional to manage the project

According to Shannon, “Architects often act as owner’s representatives during the construction phase.” Also, “…during construction, the architect follows the project to make sure the contractor is following the drawings and the end result is what the homeowner has approved.”

All that said, “architects are essentially professional problem solvers, so any remodel or modification could benefit from the advice or services an architect can offer,” said architect Steven.

What services do architects offer?

Given the scale of these types of projects, the money spent on architectural services is worth it! One key benefit: architects will project-manage the remodel from start to finish. This is ideal for busy homeowners or those new to remodeling. Additionally, architects use their training to create an optimal and thoughtful design to suit your lifestyle. This guarantees that your new space suits your needs perfectly.

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When you hire an architect, you can opt for a full suite of services. This includes the following:

when to hire an architect project graph

How much does an architect cost?

That sounds great, you say! But how much will it cost? For residential remodels, architects typically charge a percentage of the construction cost of a project. In major urban areas like New York City, this is typically between 15-20 percent for a project costing under $100,000. Large or costly projects budgeted above $250,000 or more can sometimes be billed at a lower percentage, between 10-15 percent.

When it comes to permit fees or application fees, they are either required fixed fees or are based on the cost of construction. These vary based on location but in general, once a project is under construction, additional fees might be paid to the Department of Buildings. Expect fees if you change the plans and the application needs to be amended, or if the construction time is extended.

The cost of an expediter is often minimal when working with the Department of Buildings in towns outside city limits (you don’t usually need one). It’s not uncommon to be able to walk into the buildings department of smaller towns and obtain the information you’re looking for without an expediter.

Some architects may charge a fixed rate, an hourly rate, or a cost per square foot. However, these fee structures are less common for full-service residential remodel projects.

Can I hire an architect for standalone services?

If you do not plan to do a gut remodel, it doesn’t make sense to pay for the full package. However, there are certain situations where you may need an architect for just one part of your project. For example, if your building requires schematic designs by a registered architect (RA), for a fairly small bathroom project.

For those who are willing to provide one-off services, you will typically work out an hourly billing arrangement. Alternately, they may charge a flat rate based on the time needed to complete it. Some architects do not charge for initial consultations. If they do, they’ll apply that cost towards the project total if you award the project to them.

Depending on their experience and seniority, a project manager’s hourly rate will range between $100 to $150. For a principal RA, expect $175 to $250. You can also request a cap on the hourly rate if you need to stay within budget.

Architect Steven told us that they typically offer “pre-design services for a modest fee (fixed cost, not hourly) that would include—among other things—a site visit, code review, preliminary budget and schedule estimates, and feasibility. This fee is credited against the fee for our full services if we proceed with a project. However, the deliverables can just as easily be used to engage with another firm if that is a better fit.”

Do you need an architect for your project? We match homeowners—for free—with design-build firms that offer architectural services. When you’re ready to get started on your home remodel, work with us to renovate with the best vetted contractors.

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More popular questions

Architects design spaces that are safe, structurally sound, and visually pleasing. Materials and techniques used in the project need to be appropriate for the application and won’t fail under normal use. An architect will be needed if a remodeling project involves moving walls or roofs. Their expertise ensures that any changes to an existing structure remain structurally sound.

In most building projects, some elements of the design will need to be tweaked during construction. Small adjustments like changing the floor covering or paint color will not involve the architect, so the builder can proceed without approval. Changing structural elements however, like adding an exterior door or moving a wall will require the input and approval of the architect. 

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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