Architect contract advice

We are about to engage an architect for a master bedroom suite renovation -- no change to footprint of the house, just gutting of two rooms and adjacent bathroom.
We are planning on paying the architect based on an hourly rate for design and as-needed supervision during construction. We are considering an hourly rate vs. fixed sum or percent of the project since the scope of the project and our needs during construction our uncertain.
We were wondering what type of contract should we be looking for with the architect.
The vanilla contracts he showed us seems to be better at binding us and absolving the architect of any liability rather than protecting our interests. (btw, his references are impeccable and he seems to be a really decent guy -- in fact, he says he usually works without a contract).
- Would we be better off not having a contract and just paying him after each stage of the design is completed and relying on standard tort law if he fails to perform according to "standards" of his profession? (I know that this would go against the grain of the standard advice to always have a contract...)
- Do you know of any sample architect contracts that are fair and could be adopted for our use?
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I'm surpised that you didn't seek the collective wisdom of this group to do the design and construction supervision work on your house.
But that wouldn't make much sense would it?
And for the same reasons that you wouldn't seek the collective wisdom of this group to do the design and construction supervision work on your house, you should't be looking for the text of contract terms here. Hire a professional in your area who actually knows the applicable law.
blueman wrote:

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I imagine that hiring a lawyer to write and negotiate a contract for a small architect project would probably exceed the cost of the design. Many industries use relatively standard forms and I was just asking whether such things exist for architecture that are reasonable balanced between client and the architect.
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blueman wrote:

Sigh.
You really don't get it do you?
So obtuse and so cheap.
I truly hope you don't have to find out how expensive your savings are.
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Oh great one, since I am obviously "obtuse", are you suggesting that a $3000-5000 architectual project requires a custom contract that in this part of the country could cost upwards of $500?
No wonder our country is so legally f'd up... You probably are the type who has the kid who brings in your newspapers when you are on vacation sign a contract.
Also, interesting though that half the other posters say no contract is necessary. Buy what do I know, I am just "obtuse and cheap."
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But they won't be tailored to your circumstances and unless you do that what protection do you think you're going to get that a standard form will provide? Read Hobbes' response -- it has some valid points and points you to the AIA standard form you could look at for comparison.
Alternatively, have you simply raised your concerns w/ the architect you're dealing with about what other protections you would like? Perhaps you can work something out. OTOH, you could take his standard and the AIA standard to your attorney and ask them to provide some legalese that addresses your concern(s) and then see if the architect will accept them. Probably wouldn't be but a couple hundred bucks if you don't want to get too carried away.
Of course, by then you'll probably have convinced the architect he doesn't want you as a client anyway as you're going to be far more hassle than a very small job could possibly be worth so you'll then get to start all over searching for an architect and repeat...
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The hourly rate system seems fine for your needs.

Depends on your comfort level. I'd guess that you'd find out very soon if he is working in your best interests and can terminate before much money is spent. Personally, I'd work without a contract if I felt comfortable with the guy, but that is a decision only you can make. If you have a problem and he violated the contract, how much would it cost you to sue as compared to the total cost he is billing you? Contracts are usually written in the best interests of the lawyers that will be billing you to settle a minor disagreement.
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Agreed. That was my inclination but I have seen a lot of advocacy on this group for contracts. His references are impeccable, he seems like the most decent of guys, and I have no desire to every sue anybody unless absolutely necessary.
Plus my maybe naive intuition is that you are never going to sue on small mistakes (with or without a contract) and big mistakes (as in grossly negligent) should allow you to recover with or without a contract. Plus unless you started aggressively pursuing the legal case, at best you would probably get some of your fees back rather than the full damages.
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I would speak to two or three of the architect's recent clients. You may find it less trouble to work without a contract and pay him each week. For years, I worked without a contract and both I and my clients were satisfied. It is quite possible for either party to make life difficult for the other - with or without a contract. T.
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wrote:

Hi,
I build a house recently in New York State and hired an Architect to design from the ground up. As I see it there are two basic ways to go:
1) Use the Architects agreement that he or she has 2) Use an AIA standard agreement 3) Draft your own agreement. Difficult and very costly lawyer time wise.
AIA = The American Institue of Architects, on their web site http://www.aia.org / you can choose one of the documents. The AIA documents are good, however the AIA is funded by Architects so those documents are I feel biased somewhat to protecting the Architect.
Any building project has a huge number of unknowns. Therefore pricing anything is difficult including the architect design time. Much therefore depends on how you like the Architect and how much you trust him / her. Trust I feel is essential, and here good references and good insurance coverage and a good track record is most important. What you really need in the end is a good working relationship.
In the end I went for a fix price contract for the design, which was fairly straight forward because he had the design already on his CAD system and he modified it for us, and then a Pay as you go for other work. Note you will "need" other work. This may include help in getting building permission from you local duristiction. If you are adding a bedroom, you will need perhaps permission from the local health authority (do you have a large enough septic field? etc.) The contractor may have a question ... the contractor may hit a structural issue (not that likely but it happened to us ... twice ... and we had to work with the contractor and architect to get around it ... once was a change in code for stairs, another was a bean in the bedroom at a weird angle ...) ....
Some contract is therefore I feel good to have. The more details in it the better. BUT putting in details is difficult. i.e. do you really know what you want? An extra skyligh perhaps, some cantilevered overhangs, large patio doors that require structural engineering. All these requests may add significantly to architect design and engineering time. Hence the difficulty in putting in all the details. Note an architect if he wants to get you can always bill you extra hours ... how can you check? Hence back to the trust aspect ... remember you are depending on him/her to make sure that the design is structurally sound. How much stress is in that Glue-Lam beam for a 40 foot span? Likewise your addition can balloon into some Falling Water with cantilevered balconys which is much more work for the architect.
You could hire a lawyer to look over the contract. I personally think that this is usually not worth it because there are so many unkowns anyway no matter how you word the contract it is not going to help that much. If you do hire a laywer, I would say pay for perhaps an hour or two of lawyer time and try and catch any glaring errors.
It is essential to talk to past clients, and if possible to ask to see their houses. Note it is usually possible to visit a house under construction, most people do not mind. I did this for my architect because I trusted him, and felt that I could help him. Note make sure that when you visit you are supervised. Building sites are dangerous places.
Finally my last word of advice is to epect it to take 2x as long as you thought and about 20% to 30% over budget. This is what I think is the average ....
Good luck and all the best, Mike.
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Thanks very helpful post. I think we are in a bit of an easier position in that we are working on a maybe 400 foot remodel within the footprint of an existing 4000 square foot house.
We also are fully comfortable paying by the hour since neither we nor the architect can properly gauge how many drafts it will take nor how much of his oversight time we will need during construction. Again, his references are wonderful (we checked about 8 of them) and he seems like one of the most down-to-earth and decent guys.
So, for us a contract would be more for protection against negligent design. But the more I think of it, the references are probably the best protection.
Again thanks for the advice!
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I agree and that was my inclination but just wanted to check to make sure I wasn't being "crazy" to follow references and trust rather than the legal/contract path.
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